The eyes have it

According to research, people obtain 83 percent of their information through sight How can communicators of the gospel use the visual to be more effective?

Victor Cooper is an associate director of the General Conference Communication Department.

Christian communicators may become more effective by making greater use of the visual medium. "Seeing is believing," as advertisers know. That's why they use the television screen to sell soap, cars, mouthwash, and a host of other products and services. According to studies by the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, people often obtain 1 percent of their information through taste; 1.5 percent through touch; 3.5 percent through smell; 11 percent through hearing; and a whopping 83 percent through sight! And when you use sight and sound together ...! That's why television is such a powerful medium of persuasion.

Advertisers know that the visual is compelling. Do the communicators of the gospel know this too?

Effect of television

Years ago the church pulpit used to be the most influential communicator in society. Then came the press, radio, and television. Television has now become the most dominant influence in shaping people's lives. By the time today's average North American teen-ager graduates from high school he has spent fifteen-thousand hours in front of the screen! So, television can easily have greater leverage on his attitudes, beliefs, and value systems than parents, school, or church.

It is for this reason that many evangelical preachers are exchanging their pulpits for a television studio, from which they can hold sway over larger and more attentive congregations.

We hardly need reminding that the enemy of all Christians is successfully using the visual to attract and deprave his willing followers. But that is no reason for the Christian church to ignore or reject use of the visual as an aid to the instruction and growth of mature Christians. To do so is to pretend that all Christians are blind and to abandon the field to Satan. We Seventh-day Adventists have undertaken a divine commission to "teach all nations" (Matt. 28:19). It would be foolish for us to ignore established learning patterns. Eighty-three percent is a figure to remember; the visual medium is very important.

Historically, Adventists, along with other Christians, have relied on an aural ministry preaching, oratory with evangelistic gesticulations accompanied by a few visual aids such as prophetic charts and a menagerie based on Daniel and Revelation. But members of our congregations today have been nurtured on more compelling visual fare. Many, especially children and youth, have had their minds excited by the television screen since before the dawn of their memory. The flannelgraphs, magnetic boards, chalkboards, et cetera, that Sabbath school teachers use in an effort to provide visual impact often come off second best in the children's minds compared with the exciting stimulation of professional television. If this is so, just imagine how dull the church service especially the sermon is likely to be considered!

Visual aids in church

Admittedly, spiritual truths, more usually caught than taught, are not easy to illustrate. And, indeed, some may even consider that the use of any visual aid on Sabbath, particularly at the eleven-o'clock service, is sacrilegious. It may be so if it takes the mind away from the spiritual. But that need not be the case. The ever-increasing challenge of the church is to use the visual to assist in the understanding of Scripture and the comprehension of spiritual truth.

Most Adventist churches recognize this need and include at least a screen and projection facilities in their church sanctuaries. They have found that both inside and outside of worship services there are many uses for the visual medium. Many churches are using cameras, filmstrip projectors, slide projectors, overhead projectors, posters, bulletin boards, banners, pictures, maps, models, exhibits, and displays. But if the church is to take seriously the challenge of today's visually oriented society, it must be accepting of new technology and innovative in its use of established visual tools.

For example, Scripture passages may come alive for worshipers when ''translated'' into the visual medium. The New Media Bible in film or videotape (with archeological commentary on filmstrips) is a useful adjunct to a worship service. The books of Genesis (18 films) and Luke (15 films) have been completed.

Films and filmstrips on many topics are available from various departments of the church and from the Adventist Media Center in Thousand Oaks, California, as well as from many sources outside the church.

Videocassettes are becoming increasingly available. These may be shown to groups and small congregations on a videocassette player that is easily attached to any television set. Under the title "Life Spirit," sponsored by Life Video, Inc., a series of 21 Bible studies covering basic Adventist doctrines and dealing with such problems as guilt and suffering have been made available on videocassette.

There are immense possibilities in creating visual communications. Yes, their preparation takes time. It also demands money, effort, and expertise. Communication processes are more complicated than they used to be. But Christian groups are developing these skills. Some have progressed from single-projector presentations (incidentally, there's nothing wrong with a single projector) to multi-projector programs; some have advanced to live or taped televising. Audio and video cassette tapes of services and Sabbath school classes can be distributed to shut-ins and to cable-TV stations.

Indeed, many television and cable-TV stations are looking for good programming. Dramatizations of Biblical stories, life situations showing religion in action, interview programs, church news, mission programs, all call for visualization. And local television stations can use a variety of programming suited to their requirements.

What does the future hold?

It is estimated that the demand for telecommunications services in North America will grow fivefold by the year 2000. Outside North America growth will be rapid too.

In France the telephone company is saving money by eliminating printed telephone directories and giving each subscriber a home screen and keyboard where he can type in the name of the person whose telephone number is needed and receive an immediate readout of the number on his home screen.

Videocassettes are now plentiful. Video discs are also in the shops. When will the first Adventist material be available?

Videoconferencing is expected to become a partial substitute for business travel.

Cable-TV, which now serves 18 percent of the homes in North America, will continue to grow and expand with the use of satellites. The use of satellites will decrease costs and make the delivery of video signals easier. Tremendous communication opportunities are available for the church to use! The joint use of a satellite channel by a variety of churches is presently under consideration by the Communication Commission of the National Council of Churches.

Already the National Christian Network, a network of independently produced Christian television programs operating out of Cocoa, Florida, is broadcasting to cable-television studios via satellite. Should there not be more than one Adventist program on that network?

Our hospitals have led the way in using video for patient and staff education. But more video programming is needed in such areas as health education, drug dependency, nutrition, parenting, home and marriage, children's programs, archeology, biology, astronomy, history, et cetera. More education materials in video could be used by denominational employees in medicine, nursing, and education. Ministers, departmental personnel, and executives could all benefit by using denominationally produced video materials.

New visual ministries

Electronic preachers, such as Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, and Robert Schuller, are using the media in a new style. Some believe that the local church gets weaker as the electronic church gets stronger. But Falwell, speaker on the Old Time Gospel Hour, says he believes God gave television primarily for the propagation of the gospel, and he buys prime time to enter major markets in his ministry. "Television as I see it," says Falwell, "is the most effective medium. . . . There's something about looking that fellow right in the eyes as you present the gospel to him. . . .

"From the ministry side, the opportunities for television are unlimited, the potential is as it never was before. Our biggest problem is not buying time. It's making sure that the time we spend on the air is effective." (Excerpted from Falwell's address to the opening session of the television workshops at the 1980 NRB Convention in Washington, D. C., and quoted in Religious Broadcasting, April, 1980.)

Adventists have broadcasters with similar convictions. It Is Written, Faith for Today, Breath of Life, Destiny, Ayer Hoy Mariana, II Escrit, and others have already accomplished great results by faith. The It Is Written teleseminar program on March 1 was an exciting development. But in the future we will need more faith, more money in program production, more TV spots, more preachers involved, more administrators communicating in the visual medium, more ministers with a video ministry, more departments of the church involved in communication by video, more variety of programming.

In face of the recent surge in the number of electronic preachers and the high cost of prime time, and recognizing both the power and the inadequacies of the mass media, what shall we do?

Dr. William Fore, a United Methodist Church minister and head of communication for the National Council of Churches, summarized his reactions in an article in TV Guide (July 19, 1980) entitled "There is no such thing as a TV pastor." Arguing that human contact, which television cannot provide, is the essence of religion, Dr. Fore said, "The answer is that local churches must become more dynamic and exciting and relevant using radio and TV to reach limited audiences, but basically helping more people work out their problems together in the communities in which they live."

We agree with you, Dr. Fore. The most promising and exciting potential in Christian communication lies in its creative use by an imaginative local pastor to assist him in his personal ministry to people. The successful Christian communicator will develop a blend of sight, sound, printed word, and personal contact.

But if you, as a Christian preacher, had to confine your communication either to the oral or the visual—which would you choose? How would you vote? For or against the visual? Remember the 83 percent!

The ayes have it!


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Victor Cooper is an associate director of the General Conference Communication Department.

April 1981

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