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Christian mass media reaches adults in surprising numbers

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–More adults experience the Christian faith through Christian media, such as radio, television or books, than attend Christian churches, according to a new study by the Barna Research Group.

The survey found that 63 percent of American adults attended a church service during the previous month while 67 percent of Americans tuned in to Christian radio or television or read a Christian book other than the Bible.

Christian radio is the fastest-growing medium for spreading the faith, with slightly more than half the nation’s adults saying they had tuned in to a Christian radio program of some type during the previous month. Also, the number of radio stations utilizing a Christian music format has made the Christian music genre one of the fastest-growing categories in the music industry during the past two years, according to researchers.

Christian television draws a significant number of American adults as well, with 43 percent claiming to have watched some Christian programming on TV during the previous month.

Thirty-three percent of adults said they read a Christian book other than the Bible during the previous month. Several Christian titles, such as the “Left Behind” series by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, the Jabez series by Bruce Wilkerson, and business books by John Maxwell, are among the country’s top-selling books.

Researchers were surprised to learn that 44 percent of Americans who are associated with a non-Christian faith were reached by Christian media in the prior month. One-third of those who described themselves as either “atheist” or “agnostic” admitted to listening, watching or reading something related to the Christian faith. Researcher George Barna observed that large numbers of the atheists, agnostics and adults aligned with non-Christian faiths intentionally absorb information from the Christian media in an effort to learn more about the faith.

Figures indicate that among the 65 million unchurched adults in the United States — those who have not attended a church service in the past six months other than for a holiday service or special event such as a funeral or wedding — 42 percent had been exposed to Christianity through the media in the previous month. Most of those individuals were exposed to Christianity through radio.

“Increasing numbers of people are involved in informal discussion groups regarding faith matters, participate in faith forums and in-home worship activities, or use the Internet for faith exploration and communications,” Barna said.

“As our culture continues to embrace new forms of education, interaction and relationships, while maintaining a felt need for connection to God, it is important to recognize that traditional Christian activities such as evangelism, worship and discipleship may happen outside of a church building for many people — including millions of individuals who have no interest or intention of visiting a church.”

Barna went on to indicate that the appeal of the Christian media is based on the degree of quality, variety and convenience offered through such means of communications.

“Adults have standard qualifications for any media they will accept, whether it has a Christian orientation or not,” Barna said. “The content must meet their personal needs, the quality must be up to the standards of the day, and the medium must fit into hectic, fast-paced, unpredictable schedules.”

The Barna Research Group conducted the study in April 2002 through telephone interviews with a nationwide random sample of about 1,000 adults. The margin of error associated with the sample is 3 percentage points, which indicates a 95 percent confidence level. More information may be obtained at www.barna.org.

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  • Erin Curry