07 November 2005


One of the most interesting Christian ministries in Denver is Groundwire (a project of "Champion Ministries"), most notably visible in its 60 second mini-sermons on alternative rock station 93.3 FM in Denver (the target demographic according to its mission statement is 12-24). The young earnest man who presents them (Sean Dunn of Castle Rock), who tries to be relevant in the little homilies (preceded by a "this does not reflect the opinion of the station disclaimer") isn't offensive, unlike so many other kinds of evangelism. This is a free country, and if some guy wants to pitch his religion the way the Shayne Company pitches engagement rings and Red Robin pitches its burgers, more power to them.

He is non-denominational (although clearly protestant and evangelical in orientation), with a flashy, but shallow, cult of personality, numbers oriented, independent megachurch sensibility, which is always on its narrow message. He doesn't have his own church for his ten year old ministry, but instead supplements other churches youth ministries with more flash than local congregations can provide.

The lead in stories or scenarios in his short radio homilies are usually current and relevant. "Are you overwhelming with your life so that you feel like drowning?", "Have you ever felt . . . ", etc. The closing line is invariably comprised of doctrinaire, somewhat stilted, non-denominational Christian answers to life's problems, which usually boil down to "a personal relationship to Jesus Christ is the solution to all your problems." Out in alternative rock land, they make you want to snort your Mountain Dew through your nose.

It isn't that the advice is objectionable. I don't know what the earnest young preacher really thinks deep down. But, he studiously avoids the message of hate so familiar from evangelicals these days in favor of a more benign and abstract message, which is presented in simple declarative sentences in the active voice using plain words that would make Strunk and White proud and is at about a 5th grade reading level.

It is just that the messages are absurd. Your girlfriend dumps you, therefore . . . and any normal person would give you perfectly normal answer that flows logically from the premise . . . you should get drunk, you should call her up, you should find another girlfriend, you should wait until you're not on the rebound anymore. But, according to Dunn, the forecefully clear answer is that you need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. What that has to do with anything, or how he gets from point A to point B, is always baffling. He could just as well have ended his message with, "so, you need to develop your skills at playing the videogame 'Doom'," or "so, you should paint your face blue and walk like a chicken." But, I guess, if you come from a different place where the first place you look for an answer to any question is biblical authority, it must make sense somehow.

It certainly isn't persausive to anyone with a basically secular mindset, but I suppose that I'm not really in the target audience. In addition to not being in the target age demographic (we won't engage in the frightening exercise of considering just how far out of that demographic I am right now), I don't think I'm in the target religious demographic either. Like the "Alpha Program" invented by the Anglican Church and favored by a great many liturgical churches for bringing newlyweds, often as they have young children, back into the fold (the local Missouri Synod Church makes attendance a requirement for all adults sending children to the private school they sponsor), the goal is not so much to convert people, as to activate people who are pre-programed to respond to his message from their own days as children in protestant, evangelical leaning churches. A lot of kids in the Denver metro area fit this profile. He's trying to breathe life and relevance into a belief system that is already there at a moment when the decidely out of touch church leaders they grew up with can no longer relate to them, and visa versa.

Since I'm not a target (growing up as a liturgical Christian, the programming I received was very different and is triggered by far more subtle cues), I'm neither affected, nor threatened, by the ministry, so I just find it amusing. But, I do wonder how many people really and truly find it meaningful. Are there really teens and near teens for whom the leap from daily life to the Bible that Dunn makes seems relevant? Apparently someone thinks so, because the ads keep running every week, and I doubt that they are free (although I wouldn't be surprised if the radio conglomerate owns the station gives them a discount).

I do wonder, however, if this isn't an effort which should be flattered by imitation. Maybe a few sixty-second homilies offering secular solutions to life's emotional roller coaster, solutions that actually make sense to normal people, wouldn't be such a bad idea. Station 104.1, which is a "smooth jazz" (i.e. elevator music) station, has a show on the weekend, at least, which appears to do just that.

Of course, as the experience of the United Church of Christ shows, getting networks to put ads like that on the air, even if you are willing to pay for them, isn't always easy. Their experience is perhaps the most telling example of the conservative biases of the mainstream media. I can see many advertising departments simply refusing to pitch overtly secular humanist messages at any price, even with disclaimers like those the accompany Groundwire.

1 comment:

Kyle said...

" He could just as well have ended his message with, "so, you need to develop your skills at playing the videogame 'Doom'"

That cracked me up. I propose that my work at playing Doom3 has improved my marital relationship considerably. Unfortunately I'm not convinced my wife would back me up on that statement.

Interestingly our "pop" radio here doesn't have messages similar to yours. This could be because in AL the 12-24 crowd is still predominantly religious.

On the other hand, we have some pretty wacky signs placed near the road, in front of churches, that I drive by every morning. The one that's up now has a big tiger and says "FEEL THE POWER." I think I won't. In the past the same church has had some advertising to the hispanic community that have ended up pretty hillarious.

It was interesting reading your post and hearing about how the religious community comes across in different areas.