Preaching Beyond the Choir

About a year ago, John Konrad, the station manager at WGTS 91.9, a “family-friendly” Christian radio station in Takoma Park, Maryland, received a letter from a Jewish listener who said he’d heard a song that particularly resonated with him. “I listened to your station, and I cried,” he wrote. “The idealism and sheer feeling and love in these songs … is heartbreaking.”

Last spring, Asra Nomani, a Muslim writer living in the Washington, D.C. area, programmed “number three” on her car radio to 91.9, her spirits as a stressed single mother lifted by the lyrics she heard. “No matter how daunting your problems seem, this music gives you hope,” she said.

Christian radio stations have increasingly started promoting “family-friendly,” “positive” hits, avoiding more biblical, message-driven programming, and they’ve seen some unexpected consequences: a big gain in non-Christian listeners. The format change has caused increasing frustration among some Christian listeners.

Chad Hall, a former pastor in Cary, North Carolina, turned to his wife last summer and told her she could reprogram the car radio to nix the Christian stations. On Christianity Today’s Web site, he fired off a blog entry: “It’s official: I’m tuning out of Christian radio.” The music had become too sappy, he said, too upbeat. “I live in a real world that’s not always positive and encouraging, so Christian radio’s steady diet of sugary spirituality doesn’t promote sustaining faith.”

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Sojourners Magazine July 2009
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