The 7 Wrong Ways to Appeal to the Next Generation

I posted this blog a couple of years ago as an excerpt from my book: The Last TV Evangelist: Why the Next Generation Could Care Less About Religious Media, and Why it Matters. If you’re involved in religious media, you need to read this — and pass it on to your pastor or leadership team. Here are some of the biggest reasons TV evangelists and pastors on TV are not reaching this generation:  

OFFENDER #1: If you talk in a different voice when the camera is turned on. Everywhere else on television we see reality. Love it or hate it, reality programming has left an indelible mark on the industry. So when you appear on your program with your “classic TV voice” it sticks out like a sore thumb. You know who I’m talking about. Numerous ministry leaders who are gracious, authentic and engaging when talking with friends over lunch. But turn on the camera, and they become someone else. The television commercial business is a great example of the change. National spots used to be narrated by men with powerful voices. Deep voices that resonated with power and authority. But listen to a commercial today. More often than not, it sounds like a regular guy — or woman. The advertiser knows the connection doesn’t come from a perfect voice, but from the sound of someone like you and me. Watch regular television and listen to the difference. Stop trying to be bigger than life. Be real. Speak normally. It doesn’t make you more anointed or powerful when you try to sound like God. Talk like everyone else, and you’ll be amazed at the connection.

The “over the top” era is done.

OFFENDER #2: If on TV you wear different clothes or hairstyles than everyone else. Back in the glory days of “variety” programming, stars wore some pretty weird outfits, and the audience loved it. When I took the tour through Graceland — the estate of the late Elvis Presley — I marveled at the collection of his outrageous concert outfits. Unbelievable stuff. A walk through the historical section of a prop and costume department in Hollywood is a similar experience. But that was a different time. While I’m always open to change, as of this writing:

Nehru jackets are done.

Big gold chains are for hip-hop artists and gangsters.

Trust me. Everyone knows that’s a toupee on your head.

T.D. Jakes is cool. White preachers that try to dress like T.D. are not.

T-shirts under sport coats went out with Miami Vice.

Spandex is not for TV — ever.

And when it comes to TV evangelists, what’s the thing about hair? Do I really have to elaborate? Years ago, I filmed one offender deep in the desert of the Middle East for a TV segment. The wind was raging, and his comb-over was so huge, he went through nearly a case of hairspray to keep it under control. When he was finished, his hair looked more like a NASCAR helmet. The desert sands were blowing all around him, and my crew was fighting to hold down the equipment, but that comb-over stayed firm without a hair out of place. If a nuclear attack had happened at that moment, I wanted under that helmet of hair. Study the wardrobe and hairstyles of secular TV hosts today. It’s remarkably normal stuff. Tasteful and subtle. Now — quick — switch back to a Christian TV program.


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Phil Cooke
Phil Cooke is the founder and CEO of Cooke Pictures in Burbank, California ( he helps church, ministry, and nonprofit organizations engage the culture more effectively. He's a filmmaker, media consultant, and author of "Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media."

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