Christian media is a positive force in speaking to the world about faith-based arts. Music, film, books and every area of the arts that have a Christian emphasis can be promoted through radio stations, printed media and the internet. The people involved in spreading the news about Christian arts play a huge role in presenting the Gospel to the world. The question asked in the first two parts of this series, relates to the audience. Just as artists need to be aware of their niche audience, the media must decide who their audience is and focus their efforts toward that demographic.
Is Christian media really just â€˜singing to the choirâ€™ or can it make a difference in the secular world? In the first part of the series, we looked at Christian films and how they present the Gospel. Many of the art forms are media in themselves, and reach an audience that only they can touch. Southern Gospel artists have their fans as well, a group of listeners that some would say is diminishing and needs to be expanded. Can media assist with this expansion?
In the last of this three-part series, we look at how those involved in the promotion of Christian music view themselves. Is it possible for the magazines, websites, blogs and radio stations that promote Southern Gospel to really reach their world with the Gospel? Should that even be their focus? What is the heartbeat of Christian media?
Mike Jones, owner of Radio CIA, an internet-only radio station, based out of Fort Worth, Texas talks about his reasons for running a 24/7 Christian station. â€œGod’s message will reach people, if we just spread it,â€ says Jones. â€œMark 16:15 tells us to take the Gospel to the world, and the Internet has a powerful reach. I know of several people who have accepted Christ as a direct result of listening to Radio CIA, and that’s a good enough reason for me to keep the station on the air!â€
Many media people refer to the Great Commission of Christ when asked about their work in this industry. However, we often wonder if our words, like that of the music we promote, are only reaching those who have already heard and accepted our faith. Are those involved in the entire Southern Gospel industry in reality only preaching to the choir?
Stephen Gannon, former Southern California Regional Manager of K-LOVE and Air1, and currently a business development consultant in Christian music, offers this perspective. â€œEmbedded within the music, melody, and lyrics of Christian music are words written by men, but words designed around or even quoting words of scripture,â€ says Gannon. â€œGod promises that His word will not return void, without achieving it’s purpose. So throughout the United States and increasingly the world, God’s very words are going out to people nonchalantly in their cars, in their homes, at work, even in prison.â€
Gannon continues, â€œThese people may have just had a fight with their significant other. Some of them have spouses who have said they are leaving. Others have just been informed they are nurturing a malignant tumor. Some have daughters and sons being shot at in Afghanistan. Others have children who didn’t come home from school. Some have lost everything in a financial collapse.â€
â€œFor those people and for others who are listening to Christian music, God’s word reaches down to their hearts and minds, and touches nerves between heart and soul, joint, and marrow, in places where no other words are allowed to reach, and infuses people with hope and encouragement.â€ Gannon concludes, â€œThe question was, â€˜Is Christian music effective in reaching people with the gospel?â€™ Yeah, I would say that it is.â€ As Christian music reaches out with hope for those who feel hopeless, the media promoting that music assists artists in getting their words into the ears and hearts of the listeners.
Evie Hawkins, publicist with EHA Nashville, is involved with Christian artists and media. As an expert in artist management, she is aware of the assistance that media can provide. As a columnist for SGM Radio and SGN Scoops, she discusses the role that media has to play in the Christian music industry.
â€œI think SGN Scoops is the fastest growing SG media out there,â€ says Hawkins. â€œI see it gaining popularity each year that Rob Patz has taken it under his wing. I’m involved because I want my grandchildren and great grandchildren to be able to know about my favorite music, Southern Gospel. The education and awareness SGN Scoops offers will help us all in our mission to pass this beautiful artform on to our offspring for generations to come. Thank you all for what you do!â€
Rhonda Mitchell Frye, Southern Gospel artist and Editor-In-Chief of SGN Scoops, commented about this subject in her editorial in the August 2011 edition of Scoops. Frye says, â€œI felt strongly I should stick to writing about what why we do what we do. Before all of us were saved, we were individuals; with a mind of our own to do what we wanted. When we stepped into a covenant relationship with God, we died with Christ then were resurrected to new life; no longer an individual but a part of a whole.â€
Frye continues, â€œYes, a part of the body of Christ where He is the head. We have been integrated into a family! Each part works together, or should, for one purpose and that is to bring the lost to Christ. Everything revolves around that. Period. Life is all about relationship with God. Period. God uses these parts and makes teams to win the lost, because He doesn’t want anyone to perish. God uses many methods, but one is Gospel Music.â€
â€œHe starts by whispering a message in song that will either inspire Christians or to convict and lure sinners to Him. He gives the music, then He uses a team of people to deliver it to the people and that’s where we fit in. At Scoops, we are that link, that bridge that connects the artists and the message with the fans. We minister to the artists by providing encouragement and support and trust me, that’s huge!â€
â€œSGN Scoops is a tool. Gospel Music isn’t just music. No! Lyrics are deep truths, biblical principles and often the very words of God, Himself. I’m a songwriter and I know what its like to feel the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit upon me when He gives me a song. So, as media, we play a huge role in getting those messages of hope out. We support the messengers and play a huge role in connecting them to the audience.â€
Stephanie Kelley, Graphic Designer for SGN Scoops, comments: â€œAnything that we do unto the Lord should not be judged by others or discredited. The Bible tells us that the Lordâ€™s word will not return void and I believe this is true with Scoops. God has used this platform to advance ministries who uplift the Name of Christ and tell others about Him. God has used Scoops directly in peopleâ€™s lives. Though we hear of some of the ways Scoops has been used, only God knows how many lives it has touched. Many who are blessed or encouraged will never tell us. Focus on God and do your best for Him and He will direct your paths.â€
What Kelley and Frye say regarding SGN Scoops can be directed to all who are working in Christian media. As a bridge from the artist to the audience, the media connects people to ministries so many may hear words that they may not have heard otherwise. Artists find their audience increasing and lives are changed by the power of the word of God.
Melissa Flores, General Manager of Heâ€™s Alive Radio, comments: â€œChristian media ministries have learned in recent years to work well with others. It would seem that we have learned the value of promoting those who are saying things that need to be heard. Media is, by nature, a conduit through which ministry flows. For some ministries, Christian media is merely a megaphone for the amplification of other voices. Sometimes, the media ministry has a voice of its own, through the staff that has assembled around the mission. Each media ministry must be faithful to its own mission; giving air to the gospel in whatever way is most effective for them. He’s Alive happens to champion the voices of others, while at the same time possessing a voice uniquely our own. That blend is one we relish.â€
Still, says Flores, there is room for improvement. â€œWe could improve our presentation of the gospel by telling the story better. Our presentation, in most cases, is dated and out of touch with our times. The values and truths of the gospel never change, but our method of communicating it must, if we want to continue operating.â€
Flores has a personal connection to the work she performs at Heâ€™s Alive. Media is more than just a job for this industry professional. â€œI work in Christian media because I’m called to it,â€ says Flores. â€œCall me old-fashioned, but I believe there is an anointing on my life for communicating the gospel, and for connecting others to valid ministries through radio and the printed page. Media is no longer an elective for the church, but an integral part of reaching our world for Christ. Because it is evolving so rapidly, we have yet to see what Christian media will become.â€
Jonathan Edwards of KWFC Radio, agrees with Flores that the method of communication must keep moving with the times and increasing in the level of professionalism. Edwards says, â€œI think that we are giving a platform for our music to be shared with others thru radio, video or written word. We have a variety of outlets and I think we are beginning to tap what all is available to us.â€
â€œHow effective are we at sharing the gospel?â€ Edward says, â€œTo be honest, we are not very effective. But then again my opinion is that evangelism is not the main point of Southern GospelÂ Music. Never has beenÂ and I don’t think it ever will be. Our purposeÂ has been to encourage the saint and I thinkÂ we do a good job at that goal. Please donâ€™t get me wrong; we always present the gospel. But that isnâ€™t our main goal and shouldnâ€™tÂ be in the radio business.â€
â€œI think we need to become professionals in what we do,â€ states Edwards. â€œSouthern Gospel has a bad reputation because of poor production,Â poorÂ radio and poor talent. We need to be asÂ good as the secular world. I try to be as good as my country counterpart when I am on the air.â€
â€œGroups should be as picky about their sound as the secular world and fans should support our music as well as the secular fans support their artist.â€ Edwards continues, â€œI think we need to start living what we are singing and what we represent. How do we expect a Holy God to bless us when we are not even living and practicing what we are singing, playing or writing about?â€
â€œI love Southern Gospel,â€ says Edwards. â€œI grew up on it and I think we have the best message. I love the interaction with the people, fans, groups and promoters. I love radio but I donâ€™t think I would enjoy it half as much if I wasn’t playing my favorite music.â€
Although Edwardsâ€™ opinion is that presenting the gospel isnâ€™t the main goal of Southern Gospel media, not all share that view. Many media personnel believe that evangelism is the main goal, in concert with the encouragement of the saints. The Gospel Station Network is dedicated to sharing the good news of Jesus. President Randall Christy loves this music and would like to see its message carried to new listeners.
Christy says that a broader audience can be achieved through continuously utilizing the newest media and methods for promotion. â€œMedia and cutting edge technology is the key to push Southern Gospel into the mainstream of our society,â€ states Christy.Â â€œToday, when you mention top names to the average person on the street, most of them do not know who the performers are.Â Only devout followers recognize the names of our most popular artists.Â I think there is a great opportunity to make Southern Gospel artists more recognizable through social media, satellite TV and radio.â€
â€œRadio stations are for sale at their lowest level in decades, partly because owners do not consider Southern Gospel as viable,â€ Christy comments. â€œBut it is viable if it is done correctly. Â Our network may not be the most profitable radio network, but it is growing and financially stable, due to several keys to success, including:Â Commitment to the true Gospel Message of Jesus Christ; Commitment to the greatest quality programming and music that puts our best foot forward, by which we never will be embarrassed; Commitment to ministry using southern gospel radio to draw together like-minded people who want to make a difference in the world.â€
â€œBecause of these commitments we have demonstrated that people will support and advertise with Southern Gospel radio if we consistently provide results in measurable terms, such as:Â number of souls saved through our global missions, numbers of new stations put on the air for gospel radio, numbers of orphans and widows provided for through our feeding and housing programs, and lives touched and changed through our kids camps, crusades, concerts, and efforts to cloth the homeless.â€
Christy continues, â€œI believe that there is room for thousands more southern gospel radio stations in our country, and around the world, where people are hungry for something they can feel, something they can be a part of thatâ€™s making a difference.â€ He also presents a suggestion to media regarding their source of income.
â€œRecord companies and media outlets need to put more of an effort into promoting our artists without depending on so much income from the artists,â€ states Christy.Â â€œI see the current southern gospel industry as the only genre which is largely cannibalistic, feeding off sales of advertising marketed to the artists.Â We do not see this in any other genre.Â This trend causes the income stream of southern gospel media to shrink over time.Â We in the Southern Gospel media need to work harder to promote the artists and obtain our income from advertising and support from business and fans rather than depending so much on income from artists promoting their latest project, website, etc.â€
â€œThe advertising dollars are out there, but it takes a lot of work to generate it.Â We should be looking for ways to partner with other media and promotions outlets to put our artists in front of people.Â I believe that media outlets should see themselves as agents of the artists.Â As they become more popular and recognized by the average person on the street, they will sell more CDâ€™s and downloads, and will drive more people to their websites and facebook pages, etc. I really believe that media outlets need to own more responsibility of promoting the artists in our genre. It is a difficult task, but other genreâ€™s do it, so why canâ€™t we!?â€
As well as artist promotion, Christy feels that the media has a role to play in the Great Commission of Christ. â€œEvery song we play should focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ,â€ says Christy. â€œEvery artist we play should be a good witness for Christ, Patriotism, and Family Values, with positive charisma.Â We should seek younger artists and put them in the limelight to generate a future listening audience and to lead young people to Christ.â€
â€œGospel is the greatest musical source of salt and light in that this music focuses on the grace, peace, hope, and love that people need today more than ever,â€ Christy states.Â â€œWe have found for years that new listeners get hooked on Gospel because of the message and the uplifting effect it has on people who are searching, hurting and hungry for the goodness of the Lord.Â Time after time we have received testimonials, which say something like, â€˜I just started listening to this station.Â Iâ€™ve never really listened to gospel before, but Iâ€™m hooked.Â This is exactly what I need to get my day going and to lift me up when Iâ€™m down.â€™â€
Christyâ€™s organization is dedictated to seeing the Gospel taken into all the world. â€œWe at The Gospel Station Network realize we are not able to put southern gospel stations in every town in the world,â€ says Christy. â€œBut we want to reach as many people in as many places as the Lord provides the means.Â We want to see one million souls saved through our World Mission Team global crusade organization over the next few years.Â To date, we have seen over 220,000 accept Christ in 9 different countries.Â We want to build more homes for widows and orphans. So far, our listeners have provided 15 of them.Â We want to raise enough funds to feed thousands more orphans, which we do every day in several orphanages and feeding centers.â€
Christy echoes the hearts of the majority of Christian music media in his concluding words: â€œBut most of all, when Jesus returns, we want to be found doing what we have been called to do: spreading the Gospel, one song at a time.â€
Regardless of the type of Christian art form or media outlet, Christians with the call on their heart to â€˜go and tellâ€™ desire to reach their world with the love of Jesus and to be found faithful in His service. That is the driving force behind those following the call of Christ and those willing to assist those who are fulfilling their call. Whether on stage or off, both media and artists have their roles and are working together now more than ever, toward the same goal. We look forward to greater relationship and community as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission.
For more information on the media guests above:
Mike Jones, Radio CIA: http://radiocia.us/
Stephen Gannon, Consultant: http://stevegannon.com/
Evie Hawkins, EHA Nashville: http://eviehawkinsagency.net/
Rhonda Mitchell Frye, SGN Scoops. Ministry webpage: http://rhondafrye.com/
Stephanie Kelley, SGN Scoops. Graphics Facebook site: http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.girgraphics.com%2F&h=mAQGHS7jU
Melissa Flores, Heâ€™s Alive Radio: http://www.hesalive.net/
Jonathan Edwards, KWFC Radio: http://www.kwfc.org/
Randall Christy, The Gospel Station Network: http://www.thegospelstation.com/dyn/index.php