By Francis A “Frank” Gray
In every era of human history, God has provided his Church with the tools need to reach that generation. In this age of technology, once again God has provided tools appropriate for the context in which we live. The Internet, satellite and radio are just some of the many tools now being used to share the Gospel. For the purposes of this paper, we’ll focus our attention on radio which is especially useful for taking the Gospel into the homes, workplaces and lives of not only hard-to-reach people, but also “regular” people the world over.
This was especially so in the second half of the 20th century as a spreading totalitarianism “swallowed up” millions of people, rendering them hard to access. Believers in these countries were also isolated. Christian radio broadcasters helped share the gospel with those in hard to reach places and also provided teaching, helps and encouragement for isolated believers, bridging the divide through contextually appropriate radio broadcasts beamed internationally from various strategic locations.
A lot of this ministry went unnoticed until the upsurge of interest in radio that emerged around 1980. This interest came on the heels of two significant events:
Mounting evidence of the extent of the impact that Christian radio broadcasts had been having on the growth of the church in China.
Publication of the World Christian Encyclopedia which provided statistical support for the numbers of “radio churches” that existed behind the Iron Curtain – notably in the USSR.
Buoyed by this surge of interest in the impact of radio a small group of broadcasters and missiologists met February 1985 in Manila, Philippines to explore starting a formal discussion on integrating radio more completely into mission strategies in concert with other arms of the church. There was a growing feeling that while the worldwide missionary movement was launching new initiatives to move closer toward the “completion” of the Great Commission by the end of the millennium, the fact that media was playing an increasing role in global communications and access was being largely overlooked.
At the invitation of Ed Dayton, chairman of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization’s Strategy Working Group, I was asked to present a paper to the Wheaton ’83 consultation, “I Will Build my Church.” The paper, entitled Radio in Church-planting Evangelism (RICE): A Tool for Today’s Mission, sought to demonstrate how that, if purposefully and sensitively applied, radio programming could very effectively enable the planting of churches among people inaccessible to traditional church and mission activity. It sought to bring a fusion between the twin disciplines of church growth and communication theory . Most significantly, the paper also introduced what became known as The Gray Matrix that showed that communication of the Gospel is as much about establishing relationships as it is about imparting knowledge.
Discussion around the paper focused on the concern that while radio can generate large audiences the challenge is turning listeners into believers. However, participants also acknowledged that God is at work among our audiences already through the Holy Spirit – even in “closed” countries. Another concern was the need for a greater emphasis on a holistic approach to evangelism, recognising that many among our potential audiences face considerable hardship and have extensive physical and material needs. Lastly, the desire was to do a better job of convincing leaders among the church and mission community of radio’s effectiveness, RICE would be designed to focus not only on adequate broadcast hours for each language service and the form and content of the broadcasts but also on encouraging integration of radio with other forms of ministry.
This idea was affirmed as a sound principle for evangelism and church-planting especially for unreached people groups who are generally isolated from conventional outreach for reasons of religion, politics and culture. A Steering Group was appointed , and I was asked to serve as chairman. It also recommended that a new paper be written to explain in greater detail the case for strategic radio in mission applications and a wider consultation later in 1985 was planned to take the process forward.
RICE, in the meantime, had begun to focus on two principle areas:
- the potential for planting and sustaining/nurturing churches by radio, as evidenced by the stories emerging from China and Russia
- the statistical analysis of the hours of Christian radio broadcasting worldwide by language, which showed that large numbers of language groups were being completely overlooked, while others were getting disproportionately large amounts of programming.
Lausanne committed to providing funding for the ongoing process. I prepared a working document Radio In Mission which was then circulated to some thirty potential invitees in May 1985 for their feedback and further input.
In December 1985 a group of radio practitioners and academics met in Cambridge, UK, for the first RICE consultation. These were: Dave Adams (Trans World Radio), Stan Bruning (ELWA) Phill Butler (Interdev), Tony Ford (Feba Radio), Knud Jørgensen (IMMI), Charles Kraft (Fuller SWM), Phillip Sandahl (HCJB World Radio), Brad Smith (World Vision observer), Viggo Søgaard (ACCF), Heather Wraight (RW) and Frank Gray (Far East Broadcasting Company)
Other papers were also presented. Among them was Knud Jorgensen’s The Role of Radio in the Mission of the Church – A Missiological Perspective. Knud’s PhD dissertation had played a significant role in the early days of RICE. Dr Jørgensen explored the RICE concept from a missiological perspective, placing heavy emphasis on the need for the Church to express itself in the context of community. Radio’s role in this should be seen as an integral part of that expression and as such it should reflect an incarnational approach to the Gospel. In areas inaccessible to conventional missions Christian radio must take the responsibility of encouraging the formation of Christian groups as communities of disciples, exhibiting Kingdom-style living through their individual lives and lifestyles.
Phill Butler’s paper reflected on radio’s role in the development of the Church. He identified some of the key factors which need to be addressed if we are to come closer to the ideal.
The three days of discussion brought attention to a number of key issues:
- the need to document radio’s effectiveness in mission;
- the need for radio to be used first and foremost in the context of integrated strategy;
- the need for radio people to adequately present the concept of the involvement of radio in the development of the church to their own organisation – and the convincing of their leadership;
- the need to tie the concept in with practice at the program production level;
- the great need for quality broadcast training among Christian broadcasters.
Feedback from the discussions was fed into the revision of the Radio in Mission paper which in turn became the basis for the Lausanne Occasional Paper #26 the release of which was designed to coincide with the 1989 Lausanne II Congress in Manila.
In the meantime the magazine RICEFields Journal was launched with Lausanne funding. I served as editor for the publication, which had a circulation of around 1000. Two issues were produced per year focusing on various aspects of radio in the context of missions.
At Lausanne II workshops were held on radio-related topics:
- One presented a model for the use of radio in training, focusing on Village Bible School, a theological training broadcast for China
- Another addressed practical ways of how radio was effective in crossing barriers to contribute to church-planting
- A third looked at how radio might be incorporated into an “Unreached Cities” initiative, with Rangoon (Yangon) being used as the example
RICE ultimately devolved into two main streams. The World by 2000 initiative announced in September 1985 picked up on the need to initiate radio broadcasts in all the world’s major languages. This has proved to be a huge success as 162 new language services have been started since that time. In 2000 the effort changed its name to World by Radio.
The other mainstream has focused on research. At the second RICE consultation in 1990 the research arm of RICE became the International Communications Research for Evangelism (ICRE) group (now known as Intersearch) which sought accountability and effectiveness by focusing on listener research . By forming a consortium it has been able to tap into major survey research studies conducted on behalf of major broadcasters such as VoA (Voice of America) and the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation).
RICE was adopted by two major Christian broadcasting agencies. Church-planting by radio became a major emphasis for FEBC – particularly in China and USSR – where whole blocks of programming were devoted to this strategy. DAWN China sought to encourage churches to engage in evangelism and church-planting with the aim of each existing church planting two more churches by the year 2000. In the USSR FEBC’s ministry became known as Radio Tserkov (Radio Church) and that is how they are registered in Russia today.
HCJB World Radio (now HCJB Global) took a different approach and initiated “radio-planting” – helping enable Christian groups around the world to establish their own radio stations where deregulation allowed.
In their Gujarati broadcasts to India, TWR reported the strategic planting of cell-groups (“worshipping Christ groups” as Dr. Donald McGavran referred to them) among caste Hindus as a direct result of their broadcasts in that language.
Meanwhile IBRA Radio has been successful in developing the on-going “Church in My Home” series of broadcasts in recognition of the needs of many isolated believers from Muslim backgrounds who do not have a local church fellowship to attend.
Over the past 25 years, we’ve seen that it was possible to stimulate the establishment of Christian fellowship groups by either direct or indirect contextually appropriate radio programming. However, we recognise now that the world has moved on in many respects. Many of the restricted areas of the world have opened up and now enjoy de-regulated media access. Broadcasts that at one time depended on shortwave propagation have in many instances been replaced or augmented by local broadcasts. These often have a strong community flavour and reflect Kingdom values.
The emphasis now is turning more toward engaging the community through Christian discipleship practice and teaching. These efforts need to be seen both as an extension and a fulfilment of the church-planting emphasis of RICE.
Read the final version of Lausanne Occasional Paper #26: Radio in Mission
The World by Radio web-site: http://wbradio.net
The Gray Matrix site: http://thegraymatrix.info
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