Impact of Decisions about Media Ministries Begins to Surface
by AT News Team
Adventist Today has previously reported that the board of the Adventist Media Center (AMC) voted on April 3 to allow Faith for Today, It is Written, Voice of Prophecy, Breath of Life and La Voz de Esperanza to relocate from the Simi Valley facility to less costly areas. The board asked each media ministry to submit a business plan to the North American Division (NAD) administration by June 3. The AMC board will then consider the viability of each proposal.
NAD president Dan Jackson, who serves as the AMC board chair, stated that as of the middle of April, none of the ministries had decided whether they will remain at the present location or move to another area. The action and the comments and rumors that resulted from it raise questions about the cost and effectiveness of these media ministries as well as those operated as independent, parachurch organizations aligned with the Adventist movement.
Adventist Today has continued to follow this story, talking to a number of individuals who have knowledge of the Media Center and related ministries. Adventist Today has been told that preliminary studies by It Is Written suggest this ministry alone could save $1 million a year if it relocated to Tennessee. If La Voz moved to property it now owns in central Florida, the savings could be in the neighborhood of $600,000 a year. At this point, the Voice of Prophecy (VOP) has decided to remain in California, although this decision may change when a new director is selected.
Sources have told Adventist Today that the AMC board was not satisfied with the direction former VOP director Fred Kinsey was taking the ministry. His decision to live in the Washington DC area rather than relocate to Simi Valley may not have helped him, either. He was not on site to counter those who said he was too out of touch with what was taking place at the VOP offices and did not understand the details of operating a media production, despite the fact that he has a PhD in media.
Future plans for Faith for Today are still up in the air. The director lives in Texas. Will his location have some effect on where this ministry may locate? That remains to be seen. If one or more ministries do relocate, it will have a significant impact on the 125 employees of the Media Center.
In talking with media sources, Adventist Today has learned that under the present structure, the NAD contributes some $6 million a year to the operations of the Media Center. These monies pay for media overhead and its production and support staff. These funds are not distributed to the ministries themselves. In fact, each ministry is charged rent and production fees. Each ministry is responsible for raising these production costs as well as the salaries of its own staff and the cost of purchasing time on broadcasting stations and cable channels.
These developments come nearly a year after church officials in North America participated in a “media summit” with producers, interested local church leaders and consultants to review the effectiveness of the denomination’s outreach on radio, television and the Internet. At that meeting Pastor Jackson said public awareness of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America did not match the money that has been spent on media ministries and this requires re-evaluation.
Pastor Jackson’s statement has far-reaching implications. Sources close to the Media Center report that staff members wonder if denominational administrators have concluded that the support staff is no longer needed and that the ministries themselves no longer effectively fulfill their intended purpose. “What that purpose is may be the conundrum,” one veteran pastor points out. “Is the purpose, as Jackson seems to imply, to acquaint the public at large with the Adventist church? If so, Jackson’s statement that after millions of dollars spent on media outreach the Adventist faith is still not widely known points out an obvious concern.” On the other hand, those who produce the programs question whether the purpose is to inform people about the church and its beliefs. They focus on “soul winning,” bringing individuals to accept Christ and join the Adventist Church.
Is each ministry to serve as an evangelistic outreach? Many local church pastors say that they are hard pressed to support claims that significant numbers of people join the Adventist Church because of media productions. Although media ministries are promoted with stories that leave the impression that there is a flood of converts, research conducted for the NAD shows that only nine percent of the active members in the pews have observed new members join their local church because of a media ministry. “Ask your pastor about the reality in your local church,” one pastor urged.
Sources have told Adventist Today that the Adventist media productions, both those sponsored by the denomination and the so-called “supporting ministries,” are largely viewed, listened to and supported by Adventists, not the public at large. “What is the point for the Adventist Church to spend the millions needed to keep the productions on the air?” Others say, “One cannot put a value on a human soul. If one soul is in the kingdom as a result of hearing the gospel via television or radio, this is money well spent.”
Another approach to measure effectiveness would be to define specific objectives for each ministry, establish verifiable benchmarks and evaluate how the program or process achieves those marks. “If a ministry is shown to fall short, pull the plug,” says one source. “If it succeeds, provide more resources. This process may not generate the heart-warming stories we hear when the media promoters speak to Adventist audiences, encouraging people to donate money. It is more effective to make decisions on pragmatic data than emotional response.” This may be the change that the NAD administration is seeking to generate in the denomination’s media ministries.