Last December, the online video streaming network Netflix started offering Christian televangelist shows to its subscribers. The four new programs include Pastor Ed Young’s Fifty Shades of THEY, #DeathToSelfie by Pastor Steven Furtick, Starting Over by Pastor Andy Stanley and Winning Life’s Battles by Joyce Meyer.
The initiative came from Pastor Ed Young of the Second Baptist Church in Texas. Young described his desire to penetrate his audience across several platforms as similar to the ways of Jesus Christ “I believe if Jesus were on planet Earth today in the flesh he’d be on Netflix… Jesus said that we should become fishers of men. If I’m going to catch the most fish, I’ve got to put a lot of hooks in the water.”
Going with the trend is nothing new for churches, preachers and pastors. When mass media became prominent in people’s lives, evangelicals followed suit by producing shows on TV and radio networks. Some even established their own channels. The advent of internet and social media has also triggered the preachers to interact with the public online. In particular, Young has existing programs in various cable channels, in YouTube, including iTunes podcast. Pastors Furtick, Stanley and Meyer also have their own media teams managing their websites, YouTube channels and social media accounts.
“I believe if Jesus were on planet Earth today in the flesh he’d be on Netflix” -Pastor Ed Young
Paul Huse of the Joyce Meyer Ministries said that taking part in Netflix and Young’s initiative is an opportunity to be present for their followers who choose to jump from traditional cable TV to the internet. According to Huse “More and more people are cutting the cord. Even though we’re on six or seven cable networks, more people are moving away from that and we want to be where they can still access us.”
But the benefit of streaming religious shows online does not only accrue to the churches or preachers. Netflix obviously considered the move as an additional market share and of course, added revenues. Film and TV professor and Hollywood producer Tom Nunan explained that ever since the film The Ten Commandments was released, religious content and media programs have become a profitable segment in the entertainment industry. For Nunan “Spirituality, generally speaking, is very good business.”
— Jessilyn Justice (@jessilynjustice) February 9, 2016
Representatives of Pastor Ed Young confirmed the added income opportunity in their partnership with Netflix but declined to disclose details. For them, Netflix is better compared to contracts with cable channels because expenses are relatively smaller. Netflix didn’t set any rigid requirement for the programs to be included aside from eliminating in-program promotions and donation appeals.
If other evangelicals think that adapting to online media streaming will result to more converts or followers, Professor Stewart M. Hoover of the Center for Media, Religion and Culture at the University of Colorado, Boulder thinks otherwise. Hoover explains that “Evangelicals tend to think that because they are in the public media they’re going to cross over to more mainstream audiences, but evidence shows that they’re mostly just preaching to the choir, and I think that will be the case here.” In other words, preachers can only expect to have the very same audience but only in a different platform.
Nonetheless, Pastor Ed Young cited that the new service would accommodate people who can’t or those who choose not to go to church.