Religious distance education: a survey of the Amazing Grace Bible Class, a television ministry of the Madison Church of Christ, Madison, Tennessee
The purpose of this study was to look at the medium of simplex television, i.e., one-way or non-interactive television, as an effective delivery system for religious distance education. Since one of the most apparent uses of simplex television today is in the area of televangelism, the Amazing Grace Bible Class, a television ministry of the Madison church of Christ, Madison, Tennessee, was chosen as a case study. An additional purpose of the study, was to provide a historical background of televangelism as a longitudinal example of one-way television.
Three survey instruments, using five-point Likert scales, were prepared to study three different audience segments. The main survey was mailed randomly to 500 people who had written in to the Amazing Grace Bible Class between October 1, 1988, and March 31, 1989. A 50 percent return gave an insightful look at the demographics and attitudes of those who actually watch the program. The second survey was mailed to sponsoring congregations, i.e., those who pay the cost of local air time to broadcast the program in their own communities. Over an 80 percent response from these congregations gave an excellent insight into what the expectations of the program were compared to actual results obtained from the program. The third survey was given as an in-house survey to the members of the Madison church of Christ, but because of the lack of response, no statistically significant findings were possible. Comparisons were made using the t-test between respondents of surveys one and two, but no comparisons were made using survey three.
In regard to using simplex television as an effective medium for religious distance education, the following points are suggested from this study: (1) On the basis of the response to this data, simplex television, as a tool to encourage and build up those who are already believers, seems to be effective. (2) Since 90 percent of the respondents in group one attend all, or almost all, of the worship services of their particular congregations, admonishing them would seem to be more effectively accomplished at that time without the massive costs associated with broadcast television. v3) Evangelism, i.e., conversion, if a primary goal of simplex religious television, is a dismal failure, both for the Amazing Grace Bible Class, and for other religious programs. (4) If simplex television is being used as a "door opener," or as a "public relations device," it also seems to be a failure, at least as far as the audience of this study is concerned. (5) The intended audience of religious simplex television should not be the "everyone audience," i.e., trying to reach everyone in all age groups who will listen. Demographic data should be analyzed, the actual viewing audience should be determined, amd programming should be targeted to that specific group of viewers. (6) Based on the response from this study, a program design change could be made to see if another audience could be attracted to the program.
Demographic data collected in this study provides the following information concerning the typical viewer of the Amazing Grace Bible Class; a (1) white, (2) married, (3) female, (4) over 61 years old, (5) either retired or a housewife, (6) a member of the church of Christ, who (7) attends all, or nearly all, worship services of their congregation, for which (8) religion is very important, who (9) has no more than an high school education, and (10) earns less than $15,000 annually.
Analysis of data would seem to indicate that the Amazing Grace Bible Class is a ministry of, to, and for members of the churches of Christ. It is almost cyclical in nature, providing a lot of activity for many well intentioned people who are already members. Therefore, in reality, the groups which were compared in this study were very identical, which could account for the few differences in attitude which were revealed by the comparison of surveys.