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Podcasts, NPR, and the Local Church

In this article from Wired News, it is apparent that the local public radio station is in danger. People can download the best of NPR shows as podcasts now without the pleading for support from the local radio station. I mean, let's be honest, if you can get something for free and you don't have to wade through programs that you don't like to get it, then certainly you're going to forego the guilt that is heaped upon you to donate. Case in point, the local public radio station is being trumped by public radio programming that is offered over the Internet. It's very real, as per this quote from the article:

"Indeed, KNPR program director Flo Rogers says the impact of podcasting was a major topic at a January retreat for local NPR station executives.

"'There is a sense that this is a fabulous opportunity but that the threat of bypass is real," says Rogers, who is on the board of the Public Radio Program Directors Association. "How do we gain ownership of this? If the affiliates start to fade, then the network itself starts to fade.'"

What does this have to do with the local church? Well, as with many of my pop culture allusions, it's a stretch, but stick with me on this one, I believe it has some merit – maybe not at your church, but certainly at some.

The danger is that highly prolific ethnic churches, which tend to be short-staffed, short-changed, low-budget congregations, are at the mercy of God and unfortunately, economics. These churches have a very similar model to local public radio stations, they are big on fundraising, community, and interacting with local news, events, etc. Now obviously, these aren't bad things in and of themselves, but the problem is that the local church is now vulnerable to the same pressures created by the Internet, or in the case of the local church, the nearby megachurch. This means that while the local church may be effective at bringing people through their small networks to the knowledge of the message of Jesus and the notion that the church is a wonderful place to serve and commit. The problems of being low on resources begins to bring show cracks at the collective level.

Just like any small storefront business, the small local church faces critical issues of planning and staffing and other such resources. People are asked to serve beyond healthy boundaries and disappointment at some point, ensues with the staff or the programs that the church is consistently reacting to, as opposed to executing with vision.

"It is the local affiliates who popularize these programs at their expense, and then the producers are going to reap the benefit on podcasts," he says. "All of the new delivery systems are great for the stations that produce the content. It's not good for the local affiliate in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. They're really, really reliant on programs from elsewhere to draw listeners and members."

If the local church does instill a sincere love for who Jesus is and what has done and continues to do in the life of believers, there is a dilemma that forms — much like the dilemma of a listener of the local public radio station. Do they seek out how they can continue to grow in their faith by going to a larger church? Where everything isn't a strain? Where people aren't always grasping at my time and my money? Is this really what the local church is here to do? Or is it possible that there is more than what I see?

"'This could be the start of a trend in which "the rich stations get richer and the poor stations get poorer. That gap is going to widen.'"

The power and the influence of megachurches and their commitment to technology is not to be ignored. You may decry the use of technology but you cannot dismiss the fact that the average congregation member now has access to outstanding sermons and worship from around the world via podcasts (Godcasts), CD subscription, or streaming audio. This is dangerous to the local church in the sense that we point to a God who is global, who engages our gifts and talents, and is better able to equip than ever. The local church needs to repent of territorialism and of chewing congregation members up and spitting them out, because at some point, much like the local public radio station, our sense of community will not be geographically limited. The local church must do a better of job of supporting one another and promoting the strengths of other churches while being honest about our shortcomings. As for megachurches, much like NPR is doing, we need to make a greater effort to support smaller local churches financially and resource-wise. If we are truly to be the bride of Christ, and not a harem, there must be a smooth confluence between the local and mega and virtual churches. If there is such a movement to save the local public radio station, then there should be at least such a strategy to save the local church.


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

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