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Researcher Rates Televangelists’ Use of Airtime

A communication researcher has found that most religious broadcasters devote almost no time to politics and little to fundraising and promotion.

Stephen Winzenburg, communication professor at Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa, analyzed 22 television ministries from September to November of 2000. Winzenburg reported his results in Christianity Today.
Winzenburg timed show segments and placed them in one of four categories:
–fundraising (“which involves requests for money”)
–promotion (“the marketing of free ministry-related items such as gospel tracts or telephone help lines”)
–politics (“commentary specifically on the two hot topics of the month, the presidential election, and the peace process in the Middle East”)
–ministry (“including music, prayer, preaching, and testimonies”)
The ministries, on average, devoted 11 percent of their airtime to fundraising; 8 percent to promotion; 4 percent to politics; and 77 percent to ministry.
Oral and Richard Roberts devoted the most airtime to fundraising: 27 percent. Jerry Falwell devoted the most to promotion: 27 percent. The 700 Club devoted the most to politics: 34 percent. And Charles Stanley devoted the most to ministry: 97 percent.
Winzenburg also wrote that “most ministries claim to be financially accountable, offering viewers audited financial statements to prove it, but few actually provided the printed material.”
However, Radio Bible Class and Mother Angelica’s Eternal Word Television Network “mailed detailed and audited financial statements within a week of my request,” Winzenburg wrote.
Televangelists talked politics in a variety of ways. Some, like Pat Robertson, spoke openly and at length about the presidential election. Others “implied that there was a correct or godly way to cast a ballot.”
Winzenburg quoted James Robison as saying, “If you’re just going to vote for big government, don’t vote, because big government is not God.”
Nevertheless, Winzenburg found that “most religious broadcasters devoted almost no airtime to politics and continued to use only a small amount for fundraising and promotion.”
Television ministries studied included Kenneth Copeland, Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham, D. James Kennedy, Joyce Meyer, Fred Price, Robert Schuller, The 700 Club and Charles Stanley.
Roughly 90 percent of the show hosts were white, and about 80 percent were male.
Winzenburg has studied religious broadcasting for 20 years and produced seven studies.
“I remain fascinated by the virtues and perils of merging ministry and television,” he wrote.
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.