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The "electronic church," which is more accurately called the "electronic pulpit," since it gathers a clientele, not a church, has become a major parachurch phenomenon in North American Christianity. The clientele is composed of listeners-viewers-contributors on the receiving end of religious radio and television empires who belong to "an invisible religion" which can be consumed privately without participation in a congregation.

The utilization of the electronic media by Mennonite agencies has varied from broadcasts which replicated the worship traditions of the church on the public media (The Mennonite Hour, The Calvary Hour, Abundant Life, Words of the Gospel etc.) to non-worship-service broadcasts targeted at a broad audience as a witness of Christian faith. Choice, Minute Spots, Your Time, Heart to Heart, were radio productions with specific audiences and communication objectives, namely to serve as an educational ministry rather than an alternative to church.

The consumption of religious broadcasts by Mennonites has been high. Studies of listening and viewing habits indicate a strong following of radio and television evangelists. The amount of financial support given to the "electronic church" by Mennonite contributors is not known, but there is evidence in the reports of pastors that (1) the members of congregations often reflect the theology of Fundamentalist or Evangelical electronic church preachers more than the teaching and beliefs of their congregation; (2) the loyalty of listeners to their electronic heroes is evident in listeners' vocal defense against any criticism of these preachers; (3) the parachurch organizations do receive strong financial contributions from Mennonite church members; (4) the electronic church has become a significant rival to the doctrine, budgets, ministries and regular participation in the life of the local church; (5) the common refusal to give candid accounting of financial resources by electronic church organizations has led to widespread abuses of the public trust and tragic failures in the lives of popular media preachers.

The popular image of radio and television programs as effective means of evangelism has not been supported by research. Studies show that more than 80 percent of people who have joined the church recently were influenced by a friend or relative. Fewer than one percent came as a result of electronic evangelism.

The electronic media confer a false status on people; frequently communicate only opinion already "proper" to the listener; tend toward sensationalism, not authenticity of faith; value what is profit-producing, not what is prophetic and unpopular. It is in the local, gathered church that faithfulness, discipleship and development of spirituality in responsible community occurs. The electronic media are not an alternative church, but a competitive and seductive substitute for faithful Christian worship and practice.

See also Mass Media


Author(s) David W Augsburger
Date Published 1990


[edit] Cite This Article

MLA style

Augsburger, David W. "Electronic Church." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 2 Sep 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Electronic_Church&oldid=87325.

APA style

Augsburger, David W. (1990). Electronic Church. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2 September 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Electronic_Church&oldid=87325.




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Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 268. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.


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