ORU President Focuses on the Most Influential Religious Force in the West

From left to right: Clay Jacobsen, Sony Studios, director of "Jeopardy!" game show; Graeme Spencer, chief operating officer, GodTV; Brett Langefels, sports creative lead, Turner Studios and multi-Emmy winner; Dr. Katherine Kelly, ORU Communication and Media Department chair and associate professor of communication
From left to right: Clay Jacobsen, Sony Studios, director of "Jeopardy!" game show; Graeme Spencer, chief operating officer, GodTV; Brett Langefels, sports creative lead, Turner Studios and multi-Emmy winner; Dr. Katherine Kelly, ORU Communication and Media Department chair and associate professor of communication (Leilani Haywood/Courtesy)

Reaching Generation Z and what makes a culturally relevant church were some of the highlights of Oral Roberts University's first media summit in May. Most churches have built their media model to reach Millennials and needs to reframe to reach Gen Z, the generation born after 1995, says ORU President Billy Wilson.

"Gen Z is very different from Millennials," said Dr. Wilson.

What we learned from Gen Z is they are the most influential religious force in the West," he said during his keynote address, quoting from the book "Meet Generation Z" by James Emery White. "They have a global focus, and they are digital natives. There are over two billion, and 60% of Gen Z want to change the world. They are the largest group of Americans."

Dr. Wilson said Gen Z craves mentorship, wants authenticity, is searching for identity, and they hunger for real substance. The inaugural two-day "2019 Media Summit: From Streaming to Broadcast" was held in the former studios for the Oral Roberts TV show which is now the Global Learning Center.

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How Christian Media Is Changing

ORU communications and marketing professors facilitated the sessions that attracted some of the best minds in Christian media. "Churches are coming together for the greater good," Graeme Spencer, chief operating officer of GodTV said during the "Church Communication and Connecting Our World" panel.

"Great big churches are laying down their own visions for the greater vision. The United States is catching up with this [trend of churches working together]."

GodTV is known for televising live events. Spencer said churches are working together in Europe by "laying down their logos and egos and working with each other. The church needs to grasp that this is not about growing local churches but the body."

He added that he is seeing a shift from people wanting to get behind a personality to a cause.

The original founders of GodTV wanted personality-driven shows. "People relate to people," Spencer said. "But we need to find a way to embrace the humanity of the personality. We put people on a pedestal, they fall and we wonder why they fall off. We need to allow people to not be perfect because you can't avoid personality-driven TV."

Clay Jacobsen of Sony Studios and director of the Jeopardy! game show said the perception of Christian entertainment and TV is changing for the better.

"(The movie) Breakthrough had an evangelical feel as to what an American church is not what you think. Christian TV has been predominantly sermons. But now the local church can be more creative. You can create content for Facebook and YouTube."

Portraying Christians as everyday people engages parishioners. Brett Langefels, sports creative lead at Turner Studios and multi-Emmy winner, worked with Tyler Perry for a few years editing his off-Broadway promo shows. "They were awful but funny and impactful," Langefels said. "He (Perry) partnered with the church and packed out The Tabernacle in Atlanta. He expanded writing and programming into something more real that portrays Christians as everyday people."

Every Christian Is an Evangelist

Church media staffers are in a unique position to facilitate creativity and encourage originality in storytelling and content for members to share their testimony on social media.

Langefels, who produces sports videos, said, "If it's not original, then we don't do it. Respect your audience with a timeless message. A lot of athletes who are Christians want to reach out more. Integrate them into the media."

Spencer said the media culture is shifting from a broadcaster to a producer. "There is greater content and storytelling. There is no barrier to getting your message out. The great marketers and great storytellers are maximizing exposure with short-form video." Jacobsen advised encouraging the congregation to boldly share their story on social media.

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