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Televangelism is the use of television to communicate Christianity. The word is a portmanteau of television and evangelism and was coined by Time magazine.[1] "Televangelists" are Christian ministers, whether official or self-proclaimed, who devote a large portion of their ministry to television broadcasting. The term is also used derisively by critics as an insinuation of aggrandizement by such ministers.

Televangelism began as a uniquely American phenomenon, resulting from a largely deregulated media where access to television networks and cable TV is open to virtually anyone who can afford it, combined with a large Christian population that is able to provide the necessary funding. However, the increasing globalisation of broadcasting has enabled some American televangelists to reach a wider audience through international broadcast networks, including some that are specifically Christian in nature, such as Trinity Broadcasting Network and The God Channel. Domestically produced televangelism is increasingly present in some other nations such as Brazil. Some countries have a more regulated media with either general restrictions on access or specific rules regarding religious broadcasting. In such countries, religious programming is typically produced by TV companies (sometimes as a regulatory or public service requirement) rather than private interest groups. Some televangelists are also regular pastors or ministers in their own places of worship (often a megachurch), but the majority of their followers come from their TV and radio audiences. Others do not have a conventional congregation as such and solely work through television.


S. Parkes Cadman, one of the first ministers to use radio, beginning in 1923

Christianity has always emphasised preaching the gospel to the whole world, taking as inspiration the Great Commission. Historically, this was achieved by sending missionaries, beginning with the Dispersion of the Apostles, and later, after the invention of the printing press, included the distribution of Bibles and religious tracts. Some Christians realised that the rapid uptake of radio beginning in the 1920s provided a powerful new tool for this task, and they were amongst the first producers of radio programming. Radio broadcasts were seen as a complementary activity to traditional missionaries, enabling vast numbers to be reached at relatively low cost, but also enabling Christianity to be preached in countries where this was illegal and missionaries were banned. The aim of Christian radio was to both convert people to Christianity and to provide teaching and support to believers. These activities continue today, particularly in the developing world. Shortwave radio stations with a Christian format broadcast worldwide, such as HCJB in Quito, Ecuador, Family Radio's WYFR, and the Bible Broadcasting Network (BBN), among others.

In the U.S., the Great Depression of the 1930s saw a resurgence of revival-tent preaching in the Midwest and South, as itinerant traveling preachers drove from town to town, living off donations. Several preachers began radio shows as a result of their popularity. One of the first ministers to use radio extensively was S. Parkes Cadman, beginning in 1923.[2][3] By 1928, Cadman had a weekly Sunday afternoon radio broadcast on the NBC radio network, his powerful oratory reaching a nationwide audience of five million persons.[4]

Aimee Semple McPherson was another pioneering tent-revivalist who soon turned to radio to reach a larger audience. Radio eventually gave her nationwide notoriety in the 1920s and 1930s and she even built one of the earliest megachurches.

In the 1930s, a famous radio evangelist of the period was Roman Catholic priest Father Charles Coughlin, whose strongly anti-Communist and anti-Semitic radio programs reached millions of listeners. Other early Christian radio programs broadcast nationwide in the U.S. beginning in the 1920s–1930s include (years of radio broadcast shown): Bob Jones, Sr. (1927–1962), Ralph W. Sockman (1928–1962), G. E. Lowman (1930–1965), The Lutheran Hour (1930–present), and Charles E. Fuller (1937–1968).[5][6] Time magazine reported in 1946 that Rev. Ralph Sockman's National Radio Pulpit on NBC received 4,000 letters weekly and Roman Catholic archbishop Fulton J. Sheen received between 3,000–6,000 letters weekly. The total radio audience for radio ministers in the U.S. that year was estimated to be 10 million listeners.[7]

Although television also began in the 1930s, it did not become widespread until after World War II. Jack Wyrtzen and Percy Crawford switched to TV broadcasting in the Spring of 1949. Another television preacher of note was Fulton J. Sheen, who successfully switched to television in 1951 after two decades of popular radio broadcasts and whom Time called "the first 'televangelist'".[8] Sheen would win numerous Emmy Awards for his program that ran from the early 1950s, until the late 1960s.

After years of radio broadcasting in 1952 Rex Humbard became the first to have a weekly church service broadcast on television. By 1980 the Rex Humbard programs spanned the globe across 695 stations in 91 languages and to date the largest coverage of any evangelistic program. Oral Roberts's broadcast by 1957 reached 80% of the possible television audience through 135 of the possible 500 stations.[9] The 1960s and early 1970s saw television replace radio as the primary home entertainment medium, but also corresponded with a further rise in evangelical Protestant Christianity, particularly through the international television and radio ministry of Billy Graham. Many well-known televangelists began during this period, most notably Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson. Most developed their own media networks, news exposure, and political influence. In the 21st century, the televised church services of Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, and Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, continue to attract large audiences.

Controversies and criticism

Televangelists frequently draw criticism from other Christian ministers. For example, preacher John MacArthur published a number of articles in December 2009 that were highly critical of televangelists.

Someone needs to say this plainly: The faith healers and health-and-wealth preachers who dominate religious television are shameless frauds. Their message is not the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is nothing spiritual or miraculous about their on-stage chicanery. It is all a devious ruse designed to take advantage of desperate people. They are not Godly ministers but greedy impostors who corrupt the Word of God for money's sake. They are not real pastors who shepherd the flock of God but hirelings whose only design is to fleece the sheep. Their love of money is glaringly obvious in what they say as well as how they live. They claim to possess great spiritual power, but in reality they are rank materialists and enemies of everything holy.
— John MacArthur, online article at

Similarly, Ole Anthony wrote very critically of televangelists in 1994.[10]

A proportion of their methods and theology are held by some to be conflicting with Christian doctrine taught in long existing traditionalist congregations. Many televangelists are featured by "discernment ministries" run by other Christians that are concerned about what they perceive as departures from sound Christian doctrine.

  • Many televangelists exist outside the structures of Christian denominations, meaning that they are not accountable to anyone.
  • The prosperity gospel taught by many televangelists promises material, financial, physical, and spiritual success to believers.
  • Some televangelists have significant personal wealth and own large properties, luxury cars, and various transportation vehicles such as private aircraft or ministry aircraft. This is seen by critics to be contradictory to traditional Christian thinking.[12]
  • Televangelism requires substantial amounts of money to produce programs and purchase airtime on cable and satellite networks. Televangelists devote time to fundraising activities. Products such as books, CDs, DVDs, and trinkets are promoted to viewers.
  • Televangelists claim to be reaching millions of people worldwide with the gospel and producing numerous converts to Christianity. However, such claims are difficult to verify independently and are often disputed.[13]
  • Several televangelists are very active in the national or international political arena (e.g., Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, John Hagee), and often espouse conservative politics on their programs. Such televangelists may occasionally arouse controversy by making remarks deemed offensive on their programs or elsewhere, or by endorsing partisan political candidates on donor-paid airtime, at which point some have been threatened that they may have their tax-exempt status taken away if they reside in the United States.

Televangelists often strongly dispute these criticisms and say they are doing God's work. They cite declining attendance at traditional church services and the growth of global mass media as factors necessitating the use of television to 'fulfill the "Great Commission" of the Gospel of Jesus to the generation of the 21st Century.'

Senate probe

In 2007, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) opened a probe into the finances of six televangelists who preach a "prosperity gospel".[14] The probe investigated reports of lavish lifestyles by televangelists including: fleets of Rolls Royces, palatial mansions, private jets, and other expensive items purportedly paid for by television viewers who donate due to the ministries' encouragement of offerings. The six that were investigated are:

  • Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas;
  • Creflo Dollar and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International and Creflo Dollar Ministries of College Park, Ga;
  • Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church Inc. and Benny Hinn Ministries of Grapevine, Texas;
  • Eddie L. Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Bishop Eddie Long Ministries of Lithonia, Ga; DocuSeries – SEX SCANDALS and RELIGION did a 2011 investigative episode on his alleged sexual misconduct[15]
  • Joyce Meyer and David Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo (exonerated); and
  • Randy White and ex-wife Paula White of the Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries of Tampa.[16]

On 6 January 2011 Senator Grassley released his review of the six ministries response to his inquiry. He called for a further congressional review of tax-exemption laws for religious groups.[17]

See also


  1. ^ Time: 75th Anniversary issue, March 9, 1998
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ David E. Harrell Jr. "Healers and Televengelists After World War II in Vinson Synan," The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal (Nashville: Nelson, 2001) 331
  10. ^ Corruption in Televangelism and Paganism in the American Church. September 23, 1994.
  11. ^
  12. ^ See, for example,
  13. ^ Calvin L Smith wrote at "Thus, despite a clear market demand for religious broadcasting... the evidence is that, ironically, the medium actually wins very few converts and is completely ineffective as an evangelistic tool. Instead religious broadcasting is primarily aimed at and viewed by Christians..."
  14. ^ (Archived by WebCite at
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
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