Local TV Production Works!

This report was not written specifically for Servantsí News, but we feel it is of benefit to believers everywhere. This group of Sabbath-keepers has had success with locally originated TV through two different organizations, the WCG and now the UCG-IA. Their emphasis is on using the spiritual gifts of all involved, not on making a name for a very few individuals.

America Tomorrow Community Television Continues Success

by Howard Davis

Originating in Portland, Oregon, America Tomorrow television achieves remarkable results while airing on only a few of the 1,000 cable television access stations using free or low-cost air times in U.S. communities. With exposure in about one percent of cable-connected households in the United States, America Tomorrow has been blessed with 2,400 calls requesting Good News subscriptions, plus approximately 4,500 pieces of literature since the first Good News was published in November 1995. Thirty-five people have attended services in Olympia and Spokane, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and Idaho Falls, Idaho. There have been two baptisms.

The quality of response is very good, because when people call for advertised literature within the program they have watched a program with already heavy biblical content. They already know what sort of publication or booklet they will receive. Some say they have watched several hours of programming by their first call to our toll-free line. Remarkably, many more scores of people have asked for specific information about how to attend church services, although only a small proportion of these have actually attended.

Providential Circumstances

Portland has more advanced facilities for creation and airing of free community television than any other city in the United States. Multnomah Commun ity Television (MCTV), where members of the United Church of God produce America Tomorrow, has had annual budgets of $1,000,000 for many years and offers elaborate studio and technical facilities for producing outstanding television. Since only God can provide the truly "open doors" like He promised the church in Philadelphia (Revelation 3:10), we have had one significant criteria, beside the abundant talent of Church members and ministry: God would have to provide, at minimal cost, airtime, as well the technical facilities with free training and support.

Behold, use of these facilities are free! The three-camera studio and control room have been recently converted to digital format. And to our astonishment, MCTV has just purchased three of the most advanced digital non-linear post production editing systems appropriate for our kind of programming in the world, worth $250,000. These brand new Sony ES-7 systems are being installed this month and our brethren are now being trained. No other free facilities currently exist in the United States, or the world, with these capabilities. We will be able to continuously produce the most advanced graphics like PBS, CNN, and the major American networks do, which would cost hundreds of dollars per hour if purchased commercially.

But it is apparent that America Tomorrow has developed with providential guidance from the beginning. In my first experience with producing television I filmed and wrote a documentary in 1993, And Still Climbing, about autism, to help parents and professionals with lessons we had learned with our son Benjamin. After being aired many times in Portland, it was awarded first place in the American Film Instituteís national award for locally-originated documentary television. After I attended the award ceremony with Benjamin in Hollywood, California, in February 1994, I suggested to Victor Kubik, then assistant director of Church Admini stration, that community television could offer Christís ministry an opportunity to preach the gospel. It would be a way for God to reach more people as the cost of commercial television skyrocketed in the early 1990s. Victor Kubik, now chairman of the Communications Committee of the Council of Elders, obtained permission for us to use cable access in Portland, Oregon one year before Unitedís founding.

Our experience under Worldwide Church of God was a preparation to Godís work with America Tomorrow now. Although no doctrinal heresy was allowed, as I functioned as executive producer, we then had a vast array of literature to offer and our responses on free cable access channels outperformed the CBS network affiliate airing The World Tomorrow in itís last year. Under United we are only now developing a significant literature base which generates greater responses as our internal television ads develop within America Tomorrow programming.

Contemporary Style Presenting New Testament Approach

With a backdrop of the history of The World Tomorrow program for 50 years, America Tomorrow is a weekly one-hour PBS/CNN Charlie Rose and Crossfire interview-format television program used to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God in a 1990s style. Each hour has six segments of seven minutes each, with advertising of The Good News and booklets between segments. We also have 30-minute programs produced from the one hour content and format. Typically, programs will have a topical opening and segment montages to heighten and maintain interest.

The outstanding volunteer production staff of 25 church members from the Portland and Olympia congregations work together with the pastoral ministry from various church areas in an approach to challenge the public with Christís original New Testament gospel. We intentionally use the same current events, biblical doctrine, prophecy, and Christian living approach toward content that Jesus Christ and the apostles used in their ministry.

Taking our cues from Christís example in using a variety of Christ-trained individuals with the calling and gifts to preach the gospel in the New Testament, I and several ministers, including fellow UCGIA pastors Randy Stiver and Noel Hornor, met to develop program content and approach along with brethren in Portland. Since the programís beginning, many pastors in United have appeared as guests of America Tomorrow including Bill Bradford, Bill Jacobs, Glen White, Melvin Rhodes, Matthew Fenchel, David Treybig, Dr. Donald Ward, Robert Dick, Larry Walker and John Cafourek. John Cafourek and Randy Stiver often serve as hosts as well as guests of the program.

Program content is developed, delivered and evaluated by a team of ministers, with an annual plan for programming. We use seasonal emphasis and quick response to major news stories which dominate public awareness to keep the topics regarding the kingdom of God relevant in a way similar to The Good News magazine editorial approach. Pastors develop working discussion outlines by e-mail before the programs and deliver them in a spontaneous, but highly planned, discussion delivery formula. Content is now periodically reviewed by the Media Committee of the Council of Elders.

Internet Broadcasting

Recently, computer professional and Portland deacon, Chip Chuprinko, implemented America Tomorrow to be seen on the Worldwide Web via the Internet. Our full programming can be viewed anywhere in the world on the Web, in video and audio, at this site:


Media Committee Oversight

America Tomorrow has never been asked by the United Church of God home office and the Council of Elders to disband, as has been rumored. It has encouraged the Council to develop collaborative oversight and this has now been achieved through the Media Committee under Dr. Donald Wardís chairmanship and Victor Kubikís co-chairmanship. Program input from the United Council of Elders is facilitated through this means.

The design of the program is based on an "open architecture" format, allowing Christís ministry with the talents to preach to the public, and ministers from throughout the United States, to participate. The quality standards have always been high within the context of older equipment and newly trained volunteers. Standards are now going to get much higher as the facilities and experience now allow.

As part of Godís work, the program has aired in a few cities in the Northwest, Michigan and the South west. For a short time it aired in the San Francisco area with good results. The Media Committee of the Council of Elders has asked America Tomorrow and a group of midwest ministers to develop a common "wrap-around" identity for United, which will introduce locally produced programming. This programming can then be disseminated throughout the United States under Media Committee oversight. The "wrap-around" will be presented in the November Council of Elders meeting.

Local Distribution

Local distribution and airing of America Tomorrow, like other locally originated programming anywhere in the United States, is possible through the modest local sponsorship by individuals and congregations within communities with free community television airtime.

Beloit, Wisconsin, is now developing locally originated programming. Although some other areas could begin locally originated programming, it takes a certain level of production talent and ministerial coordination to use television effectively. Many areas do not have facilities or large enough congregations to support production. We ask the brethren to pray that we will be effective in using these open doors Christ has given.

Comments by Norman Edwards:

I was very happy to see the history and production approach of these TV programs. They certainly seem to be centered around the direction of Christ, individual gifts and service to people. This is so much different than organizations that are continually telling their members what a great work could be done if they only had more money.

Several times, I have heard church leaders say that community access television could never amount to anything because the studios have inferior equipment. I am a father with three sons who play a drum set. I started them with the least expensive, but real set that I could find. When they showed a good attitude and worked hard, I improved the set. When finances allow, I hope to get a much better set for them. Might our Father be most interested in what kind of attitude His children have when producing a TV program? Would He let them start on cheaper equipment and then provide better if He liked their attitude? What would He think of someone who insisted on having the best equipment before even beginning to do any work? As is evident from Howard Davisí report, the Eternal has provided them with the best equipment, without cost. He can do it!

I was happy to see that the dedicated brethren in Oregon have continued producing their program even though they had to change organizations (WCG to UCG-IA). Some Servantsí News readers might question the wisdom of exclusively associating the current program with the UCG-IA, itís congregations and its literature. If more organizational changes rock the UCG-IA, might they find themselves unable to use their own programs? (This just happened to Rod Meredith, see article on page 13). This is not too much of a danger as America Tomorrow is primarily a news program and reruns are of less value. The main value built up is in the experience of the team producing the programs. I spoke with Howard Davis for over an hour by phone and he assured me that he and the Oregon team are committed to following where Christ leads in spite of what happens to organizations. Mr. Davis said:

"God will use any truly called minister and member of the spiritual Church of God as long as they remember and honor His preeminence in all things as the Head of the Church. At this time, Godís converted ministry and membership are scattered in various settings. It is our challenge of the future to retain Christís lordship and also work towards spiritual unity. The apostle Paul is very clear in his teaching that Ďthere is one body and one Spirit,... one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you allí (Eph 4:4-6)."

"Non-UCG groups may sponsor the 58-minute program by sending $500 per year to the Portland church to pay for 52 SVHS video masters to be sent each week of the year. At his time, there is no provision for any alterationóthe UCG literature and 800-number promotion must be aired as is. For more information call 800-466-7556 or access: www.tomorrow-ucg.org." &