Switch off the tellyFeb 21st, 2008 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Ministry
Church makes bad television.
As a visual medium it is dull, as a spectator activity, it is boring.
Even the big evangelical or Pentecostal places make bad television. Scroll through the list of satellite channels and you will find plenty of them: men (or occasionally women) standing on some sort of platform and talking, usually at length. sometimes they will walk up and down, sometimes they will wave a Bible around, sometimes they may even attempt a little amateur dramatics. Occasionally the cameras will switch from their focus on the preacher and pan across the audience, a sea of earnest faces; in what other broadcast would a producer think a sea of anonymous faces all looking in one direction would be interesting? Watch sporting events and you will only see the crowd when there is something of interest or they are ecstatic. Only universities attempt long monologues as a means of communication, their purpose is altogether different and their audience much more select.
The mainstream churches are every bit as dull. The announcer says we will now join the congregation of Saint Amaryllis in the Wardrobe for morning worship and there will be a parish choir singing slightly off key and a liturgy that is incomprehensible to all but the initiated.
Church as a spectator activity does not work. The BBC realised this long ago, its broadcast worship is concentrated on the radio and on the best of music. No songs where the same chords are repeated twenty-three times get by the people at Radio 3 or Radio 4.
Of course, listening to choral evensong makes no demands and presents no challenges to the listener. A confirmed atheist might listen to evensong in the same mood as the preceding programme, enjoying it as a musical experience and feeling no need to listen to the prayers that punctuate the music. Having attended evensong in various places, it appears even some choir members may approach the service with a similar view, spending the times when they are not singing sorting their music or reading.
Broadcast worship doesn’t work because worship is at heart a community activity, in most cases watching it from the outside is likely to be as compelling as watching the video of a friend’s wedding. If it was to be judged on its ‘entertainment’ value, churches would have disappeared centuries ago, but Sunday by Sunday congregations gather, particularly in rural areas, to together affirm their faith. It is about community and about a sense of participation in that community, neither of which translate into a televisual experience.
All of which prefaces the fact that, this evening, I have to rehearse a television broadcast being recorded for Easter morning.