Christian media in Russia is presently in the midst of a complex crisis. Among its several dilemmas the most serious is a crisis of identity. As with another media, Christian media is in constant search of ways to reach a larger audience. But in an attempt to appeal to everyone, it is in serious danger of losing its Christian character. On the other hand, if it focuses on programming for Christians, it no longer serves as an evangelistic outreach. Struggling for popularity in secular world, Christian media is trying to answer the question: How should it promote Christian values inlay terms?
Today, in order to meet its financial requirements and to become profitable, much of Christian media tends to hide its religious character. Attempting to reach new listeners and larger audiences, Christian media wants to speak the language its audience understands, but it does not always know how to do this. Being religious in its essence, Christian media cannot, with integrity, be anything else. Nevertheless, it struggles to reach a secular as well as religious audience. Thus, at present, Christian media in Russia struggles to define its true identity.
Most of Christian media still depends upon donations from abroad, but this financial support continues to shrink. Funding should have become domestic as far back as the mid-1990s when local churches should have started supporting Christian media on a regular basis. However, in their everyday struggle for survival Russian churches did not—and do not—have such a priority. Russian churches do not see the importance of Christian media and therefore are consigning it to a gradual death which is happening before our eyes.
A Content Crisis
Another serious crisis now facing Christian media is a crisis of content. The typical attitude among longstanding and well-known Western ministries that still support Russian Christian media is that the sermons the best evangelistic instrument for proclaiming Christ. These ministries are ready to pay for airtime to have their programs on TV and radio, but they insist upon written listeners’ responses from Russian broadcasters. Russian audiences, however, react very poorly to translated sermons because they consider them boring and unappealing. Western ministries don’t understand the problem and tend to blame Russian broadcasters for the lack of popularity. The process of finding the proper format and content for Christian programming is still in progress.
Live talk shows have proven to be the most effective, appealing, and entertaining format, but securing funding for such programming is very difficult. It is true that the contemporary audience wants entertainment, not lectures. Nevertheless, funding sources dictate the use of sermons in primetime. Content providers too often provide “leftover goods,” material that was created and recorded a long time ago, for which audiences have little interest. Thus, Russian Christian media is not able to be the media that average listeners (both believers and unbelievers) demand. The only possible way out of this situation is to make Christian media independent so that it can pursue its own vision and understanding of what will be effective in its evangelistic mandate. Independence, though, would mean being financially self-supporting and commercially profitable, and that is difficult. To this end, local church support is critical. Unfortunately, Russian churches, which are not always able to meet their own daily needs, are not able even to think of the possibility of increasing their support for Christian mass media.
Hope for the Future
Christian media in Russia, both in print (magazines and newspapers) and electronic (radio and television) formats is gradually shifting to the Internet. This medium allows expenses to be lowered. In addition, Internet-based social networks open great opportunities for advertising and the development of real time, live relationships with listeners and readers. The Internet also offers prospects for new authors and content providers.
Despite the obstructionism and dogmatism of many churches, the content of Russian Christian media is gradually improving. Media enthusiasts are still holding fast and have not given up hope for the future. It must be admitted and accepted that some Christian media, unable or unwilling to adapt to the times, will not survive. But Christian media that will survive and prosper will develop close and meaningful ties to local churches. Christian media should exist for its audience, and if it does, its audience eventually will support it. Christian media can survive only if it expands its reach beyond the church. This is especially true since most denominations have lacked the vision to see the potential and importance of Christian media and have not helped it in any way.
Those who work in Christian media have a vision that is bolder and more imaginative than that of the average church leader. The Russian church would be well-advised to take advantage of the expertise, experience, and inquisitive spirit of Christian mediator find new ways to communicate the gospel to the contemporary world. Through unique and vivid audience responses Christian media has the pulse of the times, knowledge that could provide the church with invaluable insights into the current state of mind of the Russian population that it seeks to reach for Christ. Unfortunately, most churches persistently overlook or refuse to admit the importance of popular perspectives to be gleaned from Christian media in touch with its audience. Nevertheless, if the church will take heed of Christian media and make the effort to support it, the effect will be amazing in terms of long-lasting cooperation in realizing the common goal of communicating Christian truth to the Russian masses.
Dmitry Vatulya earned an M.Th. degree from Moscow Baptist Theological Seminary in 1999. That same year he began working for New Life Radio(www.nlradio.net) as a disc jockey and writer. He