Who’s watching all that Christian media? Christians, but not many others 

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Joel Osteen

One of many popular preachers on TV, Joel Osteen is senior pastor at the nation's largest megachurch, Lakewood Church. photo courtesy of Lakewood Church.

"How often do you consume Christian-based media in the following formats?" graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research

“How often do you consume Christian-based media in the following formats?” graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research

(RNS) All the preaching, teaching, music and entertainment beamed by Christian TV and radio is primarily consumed by evangelicals and weekly churchgoers — the folks most often found in the pews. Meanwhile, 2 in 3 Americans are tuned out, a new survey finds.

But Ed Stetzer, executive director of Nashville-based LifeWay Research, which released the data Wednesday (Feb. 25), sees good news in the numbers

Joel Osteen

One of many popular preachers on TV, Joel Osteen is senior pastor at the nation’s largest megachurch, Lakewood Church. Photo courtesy of Lakewood Church

“Most people would be surprised that 1 in 3 of their neighbors is watching Christian TV. Do 1 in 3 watch the nightly news? I don’t think so. It’s an overlooked segment of society that is larger than most people think,” he said.

A look at online use found that 1 in 4 Americans say they watch or listen to Christian programming every week on their computer, phone or tablet.

Fewer than 3 in 10 unchurched people — people who don’t attend worship services — are in the Christian media audience, yet Stetzer still strikes a positive note.

“Even if they rarely or never attend a worship service, they may still be people of faith. For some people, Christian media is their church,” he said.

Among those few who said they turn to Christian media sometimes, many said they only tuned in on religious holidays. That may be good news for NBC, which has timed the release of its “A.D.” miniseries — sequel to Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s series “The Bible” — for Easter.

Stetzer is scheduled to present the findings Wednesday to the National Religious Broadcasters, which sponsored the research. It is based on an online survey of 2,252 U.S. adults and a phone survey of 1,009. The margin of error on the  Internet portion of the results is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points; on the phone portion, plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Among the phone survey highlights:

  • 67 percent of Americans never or rarely watch Christian-based programming on television. Those who do watch at least sometimes are overwhelmingly self-identified evangelicals (69 percent) and weekly churchgoers (62 percent).
  • 71 percent never or rarely listen to Christian radio. Those who do are similar to the Christian TV crowd — 67 percent are evangelicals and 57 percent are weekly churchgoers.
  • 84 percent of Americans never or rarely listen to Christian-themed podcasts. Books and movies fared slightly better: 33 percent said they at least sometimes read Christian-based books. And 40 percent report seeing a Christian movie in the last year.

    "Have you watched a Christian movie in the last year?" graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research

    “Have you watched a Christian movie in the last year?” graphic courtesy of LifeWay Research

Stetzer found it “fascinating” that 14 percent of people are using podcasts, “a medium that didn’t exist 10 years ago.”


  • mike

    Really? Life Way talked to a mere 3,301 people and this data is supposed to be trusted?

  • Other than to fulfill some words-quota Eckstrom assigned you, just what is the point of this squib?

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  • Andrew

    according to their confidence interval, and assuming they were following the social science standard of a power level of .05, they needed a minimum of 1141 people for the internet portion of the survey, and 999 for the phone portion in order to achieve statistical significance by which they could infer to a population. But that is also assuming their sampling was random, which we don’t know based on the article (and form experience, in a survey like this, it is very difficult to get random sampling)

  • Andrew

    This kind of information is really useful. By itself it doens’t tell you a lot, but you can use it to inform theory and pursue further research. Got to have baseline data.

  • MarkE

    What constitutes “Christian television” or “Christian movies”? If I surf through the channel that Joel Osteen is on for a minute to remember why I think some people are empty-headed sheep, does that count as “sometimes”? People too narrowly define “Christian” as fundamentalist or evangelical (in the modern meaning of the term, rather than the classical), which is terribly limiting and one-sided.

  • jh

    Correctly done, 3300 people is more than enough of a sample size.

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  • Fran

    Unfortunately, “Christian” media is not focusing on the importance of trusting in God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44; Matthew 6:10) as the “only” hope for mankind on earth.

    They continue to put their trust and faith in man’s governments instead, which Jesus did not proclaim or teach about (Matthew 4:17).

  • cken

    It’s nice to know books trump TV and everything but movies. It shows there is a large segment of the population seeking rather than accepting being spoon fed.

  • Ed E

    3 things.
    It goes to show that Christians abandoned the arts a long time ago.
    If you want a job as an artist (any kind of art) stay away from the “Christian” ghetto. There are a few exceptions but they’re mostly outliers.
    And lastly
    In reference to what is the old classic meaning of evangelical … It always seemed odd that a Christian, who worked in a Christain organization i.e…. Place where there are only Christians, main purpose was to go out and minister to others in churches, where again are mainly Christians…. And then call ourselves evangelicals. Who are we evangelizing? And thus the “Christian” ghetto feeds on itself, trying to please itself, for its own existence.

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