Telecasting the Advent Message

RADIO AND TELEVISION EVANGELISM: Telecasting the Advent Message

An article commenting on Television evangelism in the 50s

Telecaster, "The Bible Heralds,'' Baltimore

To the uninitiated, television seems to be a "look-see" attachment for the radio. Mistakenly we fear, ministers and evangelists will be tempted to believe that having had radio experience, they are prepared to proceed with the same setup on television, since the audience has evidently only "added its eyes to its ears, with this new communications miracle. Experience leads us to believe that any resemblance between radio and television is, in many respects, accidental. Television is not radio, either from the broadcasting viewpoint or from the receiving end, as technician and housewife will promptly agree.

Television more nearly follows the pattern of the Hollywood movie set, but to date lacks the "skilled talent of the movie industry. As yet the appearance of movie stars on television has not enhanced their stellar fame. The audio of television is secondary to its video properties. We are learning that what one does on television is usually more effective and longer remembered than what he says. Television means action—real, live action. It must involve the illustration of truth by visual means even more than by word of mouth. The words, "I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day!" apply to television and the presentation of the religious program.

We are asked, "What has experience taught you about the giving of the gospel on television?" Four months is so brief a schooling that we hesitate to attempt an answer to the question. In the months of experience now behind us we have learned a bit painfully what novices we really are. Nor are we alone in this respect, for television experts also admit they are "green" on the know-how of the religious- telecast. To date we are much better informed on what not to do. Like Thomas Edison after 720 unsuccessful laboratory trials to develop a a new device, we can say only, "We have found some of the ways that will not succeed." We are learning by the trial-and-'error method, and our stock of information is better cataloged in the negative than in the positive. Doubtless there are many ways to succeed that are far beyond our present concepts. Television is so new, its audience is so unskilled in television tastes, and its producers are so amateur that he who enters the field must be gifted with fore knowledge unless he learns the art by the process of elimination.. Doubtless this will be especially true of the radio evangelist.

When we consider the public taste and the TV diet they are fed today, a religious program over television presents a major challenge. The evangelist must remember that competitive television channels are offering a variety of dramatic action at the very moment telecasting. The program with the greatest "eye appeal" gets the bulk of the television audience. This was indelibly burned into our conscious ness a few weeks ago when we found ourselves without an audience one night while Bob Hope captured American television fans with a Hooperating of 49. Naturally we cannot use Hollywood as a pattern for our work, but from such experiences we should learn to produce the best, which our message deserves. Why pay the same time charges for an audience of ten thousand as for a hundred thousand or more fans, when a revision of one's programming will make the difference.

The minister owes it to the world to present a program of such interest and appeal that the greatest number of hearts and minds will be reached. We hold to the conviction that evangelism by the sermon method will not long survive effectively on television. This infant medium of communication will, erelong, grow to maturity, and unless we grow up with it we shall find ourselves outside its opportunities. Already studies of television possibilities are being made by the greatest religious body, and one day it will invest in a telecast that will overshadow anything less than the best. We find ourselves the subject of their study and observation thus early in the business. God has- provided television to hasten the giving of the third angel's message. We must hasten to take advantage of the gift, but we must not rush in foolishly, but give of our best.

Why not just preach on television? We tried it. A minister standing before a camera or behind a pulpit does not make desirable video subject matter. The tendency will be to drift into a pulpit tone, stiffness, and affectedness. Bright lights, moving cameras, close program- timing—all do things to the preacher. It takes time to develop ease and relaxation under the stress of the occasion. Pulpit gestures are out on television. The hand stretched to one side will in all probability be outside the picture. If stretched forward toward the camera it develops undue proportions, and in either instance is undesirable and grotesque. Far better to be seated at a desk or in a living room chair, handling objects at close range and with movements that are obviously natural. Wetting the lips with the tongue makes an amusing sight, for the tongue will appear far beyond its true length. Other movements must be as carefully guarded.

Not every preacher is telegenic. Television cameras have a way of distorting good-looking faces. Fine features are often unflattered thereby. The long, thin face seldom makes good subject -matter for TV cameras. It distorts too easily. A full, round face with a pleasant expression is best. Dark skin and hair reproduce to better advantage than light. Bald persons and those with thinning or gray hair are at a real disadvantage visually. Television adds years to the appearance of such persons. Blond persons may find this true of themselves too. Blond or red hair tends to fade out in an uncomplimentary manner. A light skin and a dark beard may make the close-shaven evangelist look somewhat like a bewhiskered knight of the road. Any preacher with the TV urge should first take a screen test, with his wife along and in a critical frame of mind. When she sees him on the screen she may wonder why she married him, or she may discover his unrevealed glamour, to her joy. One never knows. He might just look natural.

As long as television is limited to black-and- white production, the minister will do well to leave his black Sabbath suit in the closet. Black and white should be avoided together. A white dress on a woman is equally undesirable. Black throws shadows across the screen at times, and will always show a wide white band of light on the floodlight side of the figure. Grays and browns seem more acceptable at the moment for best camera work. Colors on the upper half of the color scale tend to show lighter on television. Colors on the lower half will probably tend to be darker. The dark gray suit will look black. The light gray will be lighter. One should avoid distinct stripes and patterns in men's clothing. Care should be used in making suitable contrasts and harmonies in clothing and scenic backgrounds. A patterned suit in front of a set designed with bars or lines will conflict. Counsel with the TV art director in detail will save some unhappy combinations.

The religious television program is fraught with numerous pitfalls not to be discovered in a few short months of telecasting. The program may be undermanned. Who wants to sit and watch one lone evangelist for thirty minutes, no matter what he does? Beware of doing the "whole show," lest the audience be soon "fed up." We think of a network program of some popularity where this impression prevails concerning the evangelist and his family.

The danger of overstaffing is equally perilous. Too many faces are confusing and equally as undesirable as only one. Look for the happy medium. In selecting personnel for the cast, look for the following characteristics: a photo genic face, pleasing personality, genial atmosphere, dramatic talent, and a full, resonant voice. Above all these, Jesus Christ must be seen and felt in every portrayal. Sincerity is as obvious as the face that reveals it. The opposite is equally true. We must never let physical characteristics outweigh the spiritual if souls are to be won to Christ.

If direct preaching is not the most effective means of giving the gospel on television, how then shall we present the message? We have sought to answer the question by creating a set, "In the Pastor's Study." Here we interview and here we counsel. Simple, human-interest scenes, acted out in a natural setting, give opportunity to reveal Bible truth with ease and appeal. These scenes are filled with action and interesting conversations that hold the eye and catch the ear. We talk to each other while the audience listens in. They get the message without realizing it. They feel that it is the other fellow who is being told and they like that. The point registers just as effectively and with no offense. A fifteen-second introduction to the main set with the message introduces the subject; then comes the interview followed by a fifteen-second climax—a spiritual appeal direct to the audience. We try to leave the appeal in question form, as, "Friend, is Jesus your Saviour too?"

Do not urge the appeal. Let the Holy Spirit do the impressing. The music immediately following will seal the impression, if used wisely. Obviously the same approach every week would eventually stalemate the program. Variety is essential to success. We endeavor to have that, and feel that it "pays off.".

We feel that two men work to advantage on the program. One presents the message while the other handles the "commercials"—the Bible school, "book for the month," prayer-request list, Bible quiz question, et cetera. These too must be varied a bit. Acting out the various stages of a Bible school lesson as it is processed, from office to student to office, is effective. Even the mailman can be pantomimed. One who has taken the course may be interviewed for a minute. A letter from a present enrollee expressing joy and blessing is helpful. Occasionally a doctrinal question is raised in the minds of the audience and left unanswered. They are invited to take- the course and learn the Bible answer. We are constantly striving to -create the desire. Simple, true-to-life scenes prove effective.

Our prayer list draws a very heavy response and provides means for personal contact. We recommend some dramatic form of this set to any television evangelist. We may portray simple life incidents snowing the need of prayer. We may interview one whose prayers are answered. Care here should be used to avoid the spectacular and the miraculous. The public want to believe in prayer, but they cannot be made to believe the impossible. They have been' fooled by the "divine healings" of roving evangelists. Pantomimed scenes that teach prayer needs are excellent. A one-minute statement of what prayer really is can be effectively featured weekly. A "visible prayer list may be featured on the program, but it should be varied in form and appearance, lest it grow stale and lose its objective. A prayer-request list, or book, or scroll, or box can be used for variation.

Where a request is read on television the name of the one requesting should be withheld. We must encourage a feeling- of confidence in the handling of these personal items. After the prayer requests we offer an audible prayer for these requests, for our audience, and for the program. Let the audience hear you pray, but do not let them see you do it. The modes of prayer posture vary with Protestant, Catholic, and Jew, so that you can hardly please them all in any posture, you take. So be heard, not seen. Video can show prayer pictures, prayer mot toes, or slides while you are praying.

—To be concluded in August



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Telecaster, "The Bible Heralds,'' Baltimore

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