Last week the board of the Adventist Media Center in Simi Valley, California, voted to take steps with potential for much greater change than is apparent in the language released by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America. "To giver permission to each media ministry to present a business and transition plan to the NAD administration" and "allowing the proposed plans to include the option to relocate from the [center] in Simi Valley" means that the door is open for each of the five radio and television organizations to go their own way.
In fact, Breath of Life has already relocated to the campus of Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, and Adventist Today was told that Faith for Today had relocated to Dallas. Mike Tucker contacted Adventist Today after the first version of this story was published and asked AT to correct the report. "Faith for Today has not moved to Texas," he stated. "Our offices are at the Media Center in Simi Valley. ... We used to tape [one program] in Texas, but have not moved there. We tape Lifestyle Magazine, The Evidence and Mad About Marriage at the media center."
The earliest of these ministries dates back to the 1920s and there has been discussion of the wisdom of bringing them together in one institution since the media center was set up in 1972. At the time H. M. S. Richards, the founder of the Voice of Prophecy radio program, protested privately when his organization was forced to sell its facilities in Glendale, California, and move onto a campus with the others. At the time, Faith for Today needed to move from New York City because of the increasing cost of doing business there and It Is Written was housed at the General Conference offices in Maryland, but lacked any production facilities.
When the GC leadership pushed the media ministries into the new center, there were high hopes for the fruits of collaboration and experiments with new approaches. In fact, little of that potential has been realized over the last 30 years in the view of current and former staff who shared their opinions with Adventist Today. As early as 1987 media consultant Frank N. Magid conducted an assessment of these ministries and pointed out that as the founding figures left the scene, it would be difficult to continue to build audiences or raise sufficient funds.
In May last year the NAD convened a "media summit" in Ontario, California, and more than 100 communication professionals and staff from the media ministries listed to high-profile experts and discussed the implications of the fast-changing media context in America for Adventist media outreach. Pastor Dan Jackson, president of the NAD, "shared some sobering facts of how unknown the church is" among the general public and "how much money has been spent on media ministries," stated a release from NAD communication director George Johnson at the time.
"We need to be honest enough with ourselves to find out how we react to an every-changing world," Jackson said in his keynote address to the group. He urged the assembled media workers to "move into bold new horizons for God."
Since that time several study committees have been crafting a new media strategy for the Adventist Church in North America. This new framework was approved by the NAD officers and conference administrators last fall. It appears that the vote last week sets the threshold for stepping into the new regime. A new business plan is to be completed by each of the ministries by June 3.
The Voice of Prophecy was founded as a radio program on a Los Angeles station in 1929. Richards was an evangelist in southern California and the GC committee had voted not to get involved with radio because some stations advertized alcoholic beverages and cigarettes. He told California congregations that he was not authorized to raise funds for a radio program, but that he had a "radio pocket" in his coat. Money was donated and the radio program began. At its height, it was heard on hundreds of stations across the U.S. and Canada. Richards retired in the late 1960s and his son, H.M.S. Richards, Jr., took over leadership of the program for three decades.
La Voz de la Ezperanza (The Voice of Hope) began during the 1940s with a parallel program in the Spanish language. It is released on radio stations around the world and the organization also produces television and Internet materials.
Faith for Today began in 1950 when television caught the attention of American families and was originally a drama program. It is the oldest religious broadcast on television today, and produces Lifestyle Magazine, McDougal MD and The Evidence, as well as an Internet ministry, seminars around the country, a mobile device channel and community concerts.
It Is Written was founded in 1956 by George Vandeman who was at the time an evangelist based in the GC ministerial department. Breath of Life began more recently and long featured African American evangelist Charles Brooks. Both of these television programs use a more traditional approach that focuses on preaching.
A major function of all these media organizations has become the provision of programing for the several satellite channels that exclusively or largely carry Adventist content. They compete for donors and air-time with a number of other radio and television programs produced by Adventists in North America, some sponsored by local or union conferences in the denomination and some that are free-standing, private organizations.
The average member often thinks of these ministries as a single category and does not understand the organizational differences. This is especially true because all the media ministries, those sponsored by the denomination and those privately or locally organized, get the largest portion of their budgets from individual donors.
"The issue here is how to keep up with the rapid change in the media," a former NAD officer told Adventist Today. "Our media ministries have lost ground over the years because they usually focus on giving the donors what they want instead of finding fresh ways to impact the general public. Now we have the Internet and the explosion of social media, and we are not prepared for these developments. In today’s world any media ministry is always a half generation away from oblivion."
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