Another victim of mass marketing’s decline

The earliest players in every new form of mass communication were Christian evangelicals. The printing press was built to print the Bible. Evangelists were there when radio came along, and two of the transponders on the very first Satcom satellite were owned by televangelists. Whether standing on a soap box in the town square, in a huge tent that moves from town-to-town, or beaming down via satellite, evangelical preachers have depended a mass audience to deliver their message of salvation even if they only “reached” a few.

As I got deeply immersed in the Internet during the 90s, I kept asking myself, “Where are the evangelicals?” There were a few Websites and some good research tools, but missing was the kind of leading edge entrepreneurial efforts that accompanied other communications breakthroughs. My question was answered yesterday in the Senate hearings about indecency.

The FCC appears ready to do a flip-flop on the idea of letting cable subscribers pick and choose the channels for which they wish to pay. This is called “à la carte” pricing, and it’s very definitely a form of unbundled media. That means the idea of further empowering end users of media would be advanced, and it’s something I’ve been talking about for quite some time.

The FCC is being urged to do this by the Parents Television Council (PTC) — a lobbying organization that claims to speak for parents. It doesn’t, but that’s beside the point. The PTC believes that à la carte service will make it easier for the FCC to regulate what it views as indecent content in our (your) homes. You’d think that evangelical ministries would support this idea, but they don’t. Why?

Because they rightly believe that their potential reach would be harmed, if subscribers were permitted to pick and choose what they’d want to pay for. In other words, anything that undercuts mass marketing is inherently bad for evangelicals, and that includes the Internet. Evangelical organizations need new blood to sustain growth, and everybody knows the size of the crowd usually determines the size of the offering.

But the ground online is level and interactive. One-on-one communication works best here, something you’d think would be ideal for the message of Christianity. It’s not, because the dynamics of group in the hands of a charismatic speaker are a necessary part of the way evangelicalism is done.

This is hugely significant, imo, because it says a lot about the core struggle underway in our culture — the empowerment of the individual at the expense of our institutions. Like the Wicked Witch of the East, the house of consumers is falling from the sky, and mass marketing is unable to get out of the way.

Oh my!


  1. Perhaps the collapse of mass marketing is actually a plus as it pertains to the Church. I believe the dominance of mass marketing has directly fueled the plague of complacency in the people of God (e.g. relying on their pastor, favorite televangelist, “Sunday School Teacher”, missionaries, etc for taking the love of Christ to the people of the world.)

    Maybe this fall of the mass marketing monster will actually force those who call themselves followers of Jesus off of their cushy pews, out of the church buildings, out from in front of their TV’s, and into the place that Christ has called us to–the world.

    btw–as you noted, I think conversation and relationships is what God had in mind for us in the first place…how else can you make disciples?

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