WSJ Op-Ed on the Effect of Television on the Church

In an Op-Ed in Friday’s THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, Phillip Kevin Goff (director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis) comments on the way “Christian” television has changed the way church is done today. His concluding three paragraphs are telling:

If American culture has moved toward evangelicals’ practice of making the personal public, so religion has moved in the direction of the broader culture. The way worship is conducted in growing numbers of evangelical congregations now replicates what once was confined to the TV screen. Sitting in your living room, you may feel just as close to the pastor as you would at the 5,000-person megachurch down the street. Unless you join one of the megachurch’s cell groups, these institutions can be as impersonal as mass media. Moreover, a visit to your local megachurch–including Starbuck’s coffee, entertaining music and drama, and a short talk that seems less like a sermon than an inspiring self-help lesson–will not seem much different than a trip to the mall.

Those who worried during the advent of Christian radio in the 1920s and the dawn of television in the 1950s that church attendance would drop were dead wrong. What these things did change was the way church is done. In their attempt to transform culture, evangelical Christians found they had to imitate it in order to attract an audience.

These changes indicate something important. First, American culture, even in its most secular forms, may be quite religious in its growing focus on the interior life. Second, because of mass media, religion in America is increasingly tied to secular culture in its presentation. Looking back, the ’80s slicked-up televangelists don’t look as strange as they do prescient.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.


  1. He makes an interesting point. We have let the world influence the church until the church has adopted the spiritual temperature of the world.

    Could this be lukewarmness?

  2. What is now seen in the eyes of this writer, had been known by countless Christians years ago. Using a pragmatic aproach to evangelism is going to make the church like the world.

    His comment on mega church’s worship services being no more impersonal than a T.V. is right on. The goal of such worship is totally self-centered, instead of being a body of believers praising their God. You come, get your fill up from the up-bet music and practical message and leave. You can do all that in your house, sitting on your lazy boy, drinking a Dr. Pepper.

    Sunday mornings worship should be about God and His children. Not on me alone.

  3. Exactly. And while the effects of radio and TV may not have made Americans less likely to go to church, the effect of those things on worship services has created a consumer mentality that makes even mature Christians less likely to commit to building up and edifying a local body of believers. We church-hop whenever we found out the worship leader down the road has a better voice or a great new guitarist working for him. We still go to church, but we’ve stopped being the church.

  4. Thanks Charlie and Bobby for those insightful comments. But, Charlie, what’s wrong with sitting in my lazy boy and drinking a Dr. Pepper!?!?

  5. sorry, I did not make my meaning clear. There is nothing wrong with sitting in a lazy chair drinking Dr. Pepper. What is wrong is that there is not though of community in mega-church worship services. What I am saying is. If someone comes to church to just get somekind of emotional high; there is really no point in getting out of bed on Sundays. You can flop in your lazy boy, open some cola, pop in a worship CD, and let the emotions flow. After a few songs, put in a short sermon CD and your done.

    I believe coming together as a body of believers is what God was of us on Sunday mornings. Therefore I need to keep the needs of my brothers and sisters in Christ in mind. Sunday mornings are not just about ME meeting God.

    Hope that clears things up.

    Soli Deo Gloria

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