Yesterday Newsweek published an article looking at the decline of Christian media (print in particular). Several newspapers and magazines across the country have been forced to solely digitize their publication or shut down the operation altogether. Christian media has not been exempt from the trend. However, Newsweek points to something even more significant than the decline of Christian publication. Media of a Christian sort is no longer separated from mainstream media. With inspirational media showing up in stores like Wal-Mart and Borders, websites like oprah.com, and even secular magazines, the niche that Christian media once held (such as Today’s Christian Woman) is rapidly disappearing. “Even the most committed Christians no longer have to shop only at Christian stores or buy only Christian media.” This trend has had an obvious effect on Christian bookstores as well. Christian bookstores are a dying breed. The inclusion of Christian media in mainstream stores along with the rise of internet purchasing has nearly rendered Christian bookstores useless.
What does all of this mean? Like most things, I believe there is a good and bad aspect to this trend. The death of some Christian media, stores, and companies could have a positive purging effect. There are a lot of things to loathe about some forms of Christian media. How many goofy Christian products have we seen on the shelves of our local Christian bookstore? These stores seem to specialize in the Christian version of everything. You can buy a Christian hammer or a Christian candle that smells like the Jordan. Does your back itch? Try a Christian backscratcher for your Christian back. A lot of these products are just down right silly. Christians can even buy T-shirts with familiar secular logos that have been transformed into a Christian message (Abreadcrumb & Fish, Jesus Christ with a Tommy Hilfiger logo, God’s Gym instead of Gold’s Gym, etc.). I have no problem seeing these types of media disappearing.
However, the death of Christian media that is set apart and its integration into mainstream commerce can have its drawbacks. Yes, it does mean that more Christian media has the potential to get into the hands of non-Christians since more non-believers go to Borders than LifeWay Christian Bookstore. I support such a possibility. Yet is it also possible that Christian media could become less Christian the more exposure it receives in the mainstream? I am always hesitant to embrace anything Christian that becomes a commercial success and pop culture phenomenon. It may be a character flaw for me. It may also be a result of books and multimedia that pass for Christian but hardly resemble the Christian message. Like many TV evangelists, they move you emotionally but do not bring you closer to the Savior. So while the doors may be opening in the wider culture, the question will be at what cost.
Will Christian media die? It depends on what you mean by Christian media. There will always be a need to articulate the gospel in books, magazines, art, and music. The question and concern should not be if we should express our faith through such mediums but how we should go about doing it.