TV ministry: sophisticated, expensive, and effective

Recently MINISTRY editor J.R. Spongier talked with the three individuals leading out in the television components of the SDA Radio, TV, and Film Center: Charles D. Brooks, Breath of Life; Dan Matthews, Faith for Today; and George Vandeman, It Is Written. They discussed the scope of their present operations, their plans and dreams for the future, and a combined television offering that will be received in Adventist churches on February 11.

J.R. Spangler is the editor of Ministry.
Spangler: Chartes, Breath of Life is the newest of the TV ministries represented here. Tell me a little about its background and what it is presently doing.

Brooks: Yes, we're still the little child among the giants! Breath of Life is in its tenth anniversary now, and we're proud to be a part of the television ministry of this church. Right now we are mainly on the PTL cable network with about 1,200 outlets. We wish we could be on the regular channels, because so many people still don't have cable television in their homes.

Spangler: You're not on any regular channels now?

Brooks: I didn't say that. We are on about a dozen channels, but most of our programming is on the PTL cable net work. Our need right now is to get on more regular channels so we can concentrate on particular cities and encourage everyone to watch. Then we can better follow up that kind of coverage with our evangelistic crusades. Right now we know we are on in certain areas, but we don't really know how many people actually may be able to view the program.

Spangler: But cable is growing rapidly, isn't it?

Brooks: No doubt about that. I'm meeting people everywhere I go who say, "I watch you every Saturday." We have received more than two thousand responses in a measured period of time, so we are hearing from people.

Spangler: Now, Breath of Life is aimed toward the black population, but I'm sure you must have white viewers as well.

Brooks: Yes. Ours is a cosmopolitan ministry. Recently a group of ministers who had been sent out to check on the interest names we had sent to them told me that in almost every case the home to which they went was a Caucasian home. We're glad for that.

Spangler: Dan, before we go on to look at what each of you are doing in your television ministries, tell me about this new television offering.

Matthews: For as many years as I can remember, a Faith for Today Offering has been received in the churches during February. We now have not one, but three, television ministries. Yet until this year there still has been only the one designated annual offering. We felt that it would be advantageous and more equitable to all of us if we united in an annual Adventist Television Ministry appeal. Action at the Annual Council of 1982 formalized this idea, so the 1984 offering will be not just a Faith for Today Offering as in the past, but a television offering that will help support all three components.

Spangler: And this offering is to be received on February 11?

Matthews: That's right.

Spangler: George, you've been doing some exciting things with the mini-series idea. Tell us about that.

Vandeman: We're very enthusiastic about the mini-series. But first, let me add something to what Dan said. Combining the three denominational television ministries into a single annual offering is a new concept. We all appreciate what church members have given through the years in the Faith for Today offerings and also in their support for our other programs. I hope our people understand the thinking behind this united television appeal. Television is expensive. No question about that. But when we understand its terrific potential for reaching people, we see that it is also very inexpensive per capita. Actually, TV is the most sophisticated marketplace in the world, and it thrills one to think that Adventists can be right out there in the midst of it. It's true that television costs money, but those dollars go a long, long way in building a correct image of the church and teaching our message. Thousands, perhaps millions, of persons we have never met will someday be found in the kingdom as a result of such widespread witness.

Each of us is concerned, of course, about faithfully fulfilling his assignment and about the outreach of his own broadcast. But we are all praying for one another and working together in a complementary ministry. Faith for Today has done a splendid job with its assigned role; It Is Written has been given a different responsibility—to deal with Bible truth in a documentary style. Breath of Life has yet another job description. Each is unique, yet each complements the others. We are thankful for the new offering and hope that our people will realize that the task before us in television programming is—well, staggering. I don't know a better word to describe it.

Spangler: How many stations is It Is Written presently on?

Vandeman: The number varies. We are covering about half the United States, 85 percent of Canada, and about the same percentage of Australia. It Is Written is on satellite, too. We are grateful that we can air our program on three of America's four large satellite stations—Atlanta, San Francisco, and New York. We hear from as many as forty States a week from just the Atlanta and New York stations.

Spangler: Charles, Breath of Life is using the Andrews University 800 number also, isn't it?

Brooks: Yes. That's what I meant when I said we have received a measured response of more than two thousand phone calls. I didn't mention a moment ago that our program is carried in several Caribbean islands and also in the South Pacific. Many places in Africa would like to have the program, but we haven't been able to afford transferring the tape into a format they can use.

Spangler: You never did tell us about those mini-series, George.

Vandeman: We've found this concept to be very effective. We've had a mini-series on health, another on the roots of our Bible, and we're planning a mini-series titled Who Are Seventh-day Adventists? It will be aired the last three weeks of this March. Plans are being made in each local field to take advantage of this program. It will focus on Adventists as people who are interested in preparing the whole person to live in a broken world. That will be the theme. Much that we do and believe and teach springs from this concern to help people become whole persons in a broken world and to prepare for the great day.

Later in 1984 we hope to produce a series on the contributions of various denominations—Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, et cetera—to the faith of the nation. We will focus on those teachings each church has championed through the years, and then we'll put them all together in the context of Revelation 12 to show how God has commissioned this people to complement with the end-time message the spiritual contributions of these various groups.

Spangler: Faith for Today, Dan, is the oldest of the church's, television programs. What plans does your office have for the future?

Matthews: Right now the most re warding activity is arranging one-hour specials for release in prime time. Every one knows that prime time is the number one audience in television. Yet unfortunately, throughout our history we have largely been relegated to the smallest audience slots—Saturday and Sunday mornings. Our assignment at Faith for Today is to reach the general viewer, the person who would not ordinarily be interested in a religious program. So we've been trying to reach that large, prime-time audience in terms it under stands—everyday living, health, social relationships, stress, and similar issues. In Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., we have been able to negotiate for time on network and large independent stations. We praise the Lord that recently we received more than four thousand responses from two single programs. And for 1984 we are projecting to broadcast one-hour specials in the top twenty television markets in North America.

We are also in the process of distributing a program intended for the youth audience. We're deeply concerned about values programming for young people. Faith for Today has produced a pilot that portrays positive life-style alternatives for upward mobile young people transitioning to adulthood. We believe we must make an effort to assist in upgrading general television fare. The Lord is opening doors at the top executive level of the entertainment industry for us to share this concern with those who can help match our conviction with actual program exposure.

Spangler: And this year's combined television offering will play a large role in how much you're able to do, won' t it.? How much has Faith for Today received in previous years?

Matthews: In 1982 our offering was approximately $400,000. I think we'd be short on faith if we aimed for less than $ 1 million for our combined television ministries in 1984. I'm personally very pleased to be able to participate with It Is Written and Breath of Life in what I see as a complementary television ministry targeted to specific goals and groups. I don't think of us as three separate programs vying for certain segments of support from the church. Rather, I see us as a united television ministry, and this is our maiden voyage, our pioneering opportunity to exhibit to our constituents our common ministry made up of special programming to specific targets that need to be reached in our great television challenge.

Spangler: What about follow-up?

Brooks: We've been somewhat limited in this area because of a lack of funds. But we offer Bible lessons. Our main thrust, however, is actual public evangelism. We go into a city where we have been on the air for a sustained period of time and hold major evangelistic campaigns. God has given us more than 2,700 baptisms in these meetings so far. I'm leaving shortly for the Caribbean to hold another meeting.

Vandeman: I think each of us, Bob, senses that follow-up is our critical need. It Is Written is developing a new idea—at least for us. This past year we have prepared a video-cassette follow-up ministry in which I give thirty lessons on every phase of our message with a built-in strategy for decisions that can lead to a final commitment for Christ and the church. Two lay members have financed this project (at a cost of $250,000), and because of this gift we will be able to pass this tool on to workers and members very inexpensively. We're testing the lessons now in various conferences.

Spangler: How about follow-up at Faith for Today?

Matthews: We share some Bible courses and counselors with Breath of Life, and it's been a pleasure being united in this way. We have a Bible correspondence school with five major courses. We're experimenting as well with some seminars dealing both with felt needs and Bible topics.

But the follow-up idea that has most excited me recently is what we call the Faith Associates program. All three of us know how heartbreaking it is to read the volume of mail that we receive from our viewers—people we don't know and will probably never see. They have so many needs and problems. Our pastor hearts want to go and minister to them individually, but it's physically impossible. We believe the Lord helped some of our people to originate the Faith Associates concept. This is made up of some 1,200 church members across North America who are ready at a moment's notice to go and be a Christian friend to someone who has written us and expressed loneliness, uncertainty, or some other real problem in his life and who has asked to have someone visit him. We don't know how many persons are now members of the Adventist Church as a result of these contacts, but we know of many who are.

Spangler: I've been impressed talking with you at the unity I see exhibited here, cooperation rather than competition. I appreciate the reaffirmation that we are all in this great work together trying to help people find Christ and His kingdom. I'll be praying that you reach that $1 million in the Adventist Television Appeal February 11!

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J.R. Spangler is the editor of Ministry.

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