Research results being released for the first time in the July/August edition of Facts & Trends magazine show most people who attend a Protestant church are using Christian media–magazines, websites, television, radio, movies, and music–but Christian media is only a fraction of the media churchgoers use. Protestant clergy, on the other hand, are much heavier users of Christian media than are the people in their churches.
Facts & Trends is published bimonthly by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Two studies were conducted by Ellison Research, Phoenix, Ariz. One is a representative sample of 806 Protestant church ministers nationwide, and the other is a companion survey of 1,184 adults who attend Protestant churches at least once a month. The studies asked each group about their use of various media, including what proportion of each type is general interest or secular, and what proportion is “specifically Christian” (not just that which is inspirational or has a good message).
Of the eight types of media covered in this study, the type with the largest proportion of churchgoers using a Christian version of the media is music. Seventy-eight percent of Protestant churchgoers listen to music that is specifically Christian, and among those who listen to music, Christian music makes up an average of 42 percent of what they listen to.
Not far behind is radio. Sixty-four percent of churchgoers listen to Christian radio (music or talk formats), and among those who listen to radio, Christian radio represents 37 percent of what they listen to, on average.
Sixty-four percent of all adults who attend a Protestant church visit Christian websites, but Christian websites make up only 20 percent of what the typical Protestant uses online. The numbers for television are identical–64 percent of all laity watch Christian television, but it accounts for only 20 percent of all programming they watch, on average.
Sixty percent of all laity read Christian non-fiction books (excluding the Bible), and Christian books make up four out of every ten non-fiction books they read, on average. There is much more usage of Christian non-fiction books than fiction books. Only 47 percent read any Christian fiction, and Christian books account for an average of 28 percent of all fiction books read.
Fifty-five percent of all laity report watching Christian movies, and Christian films make up an average of 17 percent of all movies Protestants watch.
The type of media with the lowest use of Christian options is magazines. Only 44 percent of all churchgoers read any Christian magazines, and Christian magazines make up just 21 percent of the magazine reading done by the average Protestant.
Rarely do people rely exclusively on Christian media. Just 5 percent of all Protestants only listen to Christian radio, 7 percent only listen to Christian music, and 1 percent watch only Christian television, for instance.
There are numerous differences by denominational groupings. While Southern Baptists are fairly average in their media use, people who attend other types of Baptist churches (e.g. independent Baptist, General Baptist, Regular Baptist) are particularly heavy consumers of Christian fiction and Christian radio. People from Pentecostal or charismatic denominations are more likely than average to use Christian fiction, magazines, Web sites, and particularly radio and music.
Protestants from mostly mainline denominational groups are, on average, lighter consumers of Christian media. Methodists are relatively light users of Christian books, radio, music, and Web sites. Lutherans are comparatively infrequent consumers of Christian films, fiction, music, and radio. Presbyterians are the denominational group least likely to listen to Christian radio.
Some of the greatest differences are when lay leaders (volunteer leaders in church, such as Sunday school teachers, drama directors, or Bible study leaders) are separated from the crowd. For most types of media, lay leaders are more likely than non-leaders to use a Christian version of the media, and Christian media makes up a higher proportion of what they use.
An example is Christian radio. Seventy-two percent of all lay leaders listen to Christian radio, compared to 61 percent of non-leaders. The average lay leader spends 49 percent of his/her radio time tuned to Christian radio, compared to 31 percent among non-leaders.
Clergy have heavier usage of all eight types of Christian media than do the people in their churches. Among clergy, the most nearly ubiquitous form of Christian media is non-fiction books. Ninety-two percent read Christian non-fiction, and Christian works make up an average of 76 percent of all non-fiction they read.
Christian music is also commonly used by ministers – 94 percent listen to Christian music, and it comprises an average of 66 percent of all music they listen to. Eighty-seven percent of clergy read Christian magazines, and Christian versions comprise an average of 61 percent of pastors’ magazine reading.
Eighty-four percent listen to Christian radio, but the average pastor splits time between Christian and secular radio almost equally (48 percent Christian, on average). The numbers are very similar for Christian Web sites – 83 percent of all pastors visit Christian Web sites, and Christian sites account for an average of 51 percent of the sites they visit.
Among clergy, the lowest levels of Christian media use are for movies, television, and fiction books. Seventy-six percent report watching Christian movies, but Christian movies account for only 26 percent of all movie viewing. Seventy-seven percent watch Christian television, but Christian programming accounts for only 23 percent of all TV they watch, on average. And just 53 percent read any Christian fiction, with Christian books comprising an average of 45 percent of the fiction ministers read.
Like churchgoers, ministers rarely rely solely on Christian media. Fourteen percent listen exclusively to Christian music and 15 percent read only Christian non-fiction books, but just 8 percent only listen to Christian radio, 7 percent read only Christian magazines, and 1 percent visit only Christian Web sites.
Also like churchgoers, for clergy there are significant differences in media use according to denominational groupings. Southern Baptist ministers are particularly heavy users of Christian radio and movies. Clergy from other Baptist denominations are also more likely than average to listen to Christian radio. Pentecostal and charismatic pastors rely more than average on Christian music.
Lutherans read less Christian fiction, listen to less Christian music and radio, and watch less Christian TV than average. Presbyterians consume less Christian television and radio. Methodists are fairly average in their media use. Overall, evangelical pastors tend to be heavier consumers of Christian media than are mainline Protestant ministers – evangelicals are heavier users of Christian fiction, music, magazines, and radio than are mainline pastors.
Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, noted that these figures show what the business community has known for some time – Christian media is big business with a wide reach. “Secular corporations have been backing movies with strong religious themes, buying Christian publishing companies, and releasing albums from Christian artists,” Sellers noted, “and these figures really show why. Christian media, although often still lacking the financial resources of the secular media, is reaching tens of millions of Protestant churchgoers and clergy on a regular basis – to say nothing of its reach among people who don’t attend Protestant churches.”
Sellers noted that there is still tremendous room for growth. “Although Christian media of some type reaches the vast majority of Protestants, for the average person it still represents a fraction of the media they consume. From a pure business standpoint, in most categories there is probably greater growth potential in getting current Christian media consumers to consume more of it than to try to convert non-users to users.”