Religious broadcasters, please throw us a bone

Liberty Channel graphic

Liberty, one channel that mixes in secular programming

Religious broadcasters, of which there is no shortage on FTA, could grow their flocks while making the world a better place if they’d only make one small change: Add a bit of secular programming.

This is not a new idea. Pat Robertson’s original CBN Satellite Service slowly evolved into The Family Channel, then Fox Family, and now ABC Family. Along the way, CBN grew a hugely profitable network and eventually retained a prime slot for its 700 Club program. A big part of the success story was the mixture of carefully selected secular programming with religious shows.

Have other religious channels taken note of this successful formula? Not so much. Most religious channels carry nothing but religious programming. For those who believe in that particular flavor of religion, that might be very comforting, but for everyone else, it’s like a continuous infomercial.

I often hear that a primary mission for these channels is evangelism, carrying their message to those who don’t already believe it. Well, the first step of evangelism is to lure these non-believers into your tent, and the way to do that is to offer something that they want to watch. Once a secular viewer has tuned in, a channel can use commercial breaks to talk about other shows that could help fill a need in the viewer’s life. Or the commercials could be for the attractive elements of some religious show. Or the channel could just take advantage of the secular lead-in to whatever religious show follows. In any event, a channel with occasional secular programming will not be a channel that non-believers automatically skip.

There are a few channels with the right idea. Start with the Liberty Channel, which I have to admit isn’t on FTA these days. Check Liberty’s program guide. There are game shows, cooking shows, college sports, classic TV, secular movies, and a generous serving of religion. Then look at BYU’s schedule. They’ve got college sports, musical performances, and Discussions on the Book of Mormon. These are both university stations, but there’s no reason why Daystar or 3ABN couldn’t run an afternoon movie or episodes of Bonanza.

Everybody wins when religious broadcasters add secular programming. Broadcasters get the opportunity to present their message to a new audience. Viewers can discover a new way to improve their well-being. Even hard-core non-believers will enjoy being able to watch shows that they like. In all, it would fulfill another primary goal of most religions: It would make the world a better place.