Podcasting Enjoys Explosive Growth
A podcast is an on-demand Internet radio-style program.
The digital age allowed people to publish books without dealing with the mainline publishing gatekeepers. Now, the same is true for those who want to broadcast without the approval of a radio station or network.
Listeners can either stream the program over the Internet like a movie or they can download it free and listen later.
Big podcasters like National Public Radio (NPR) have 35 different shows with a monthly audience of 8.8 million and 66.2 million streams or downloads.
Smaller podcasters may have only a few hundred or a few thousand downloads, but growth potential can be high for any podcast that captures public interest.
Upward Podcasting Trends
According to Edison Research, “Podcasting continues to be a growth medium.”
They say 60 percent of the population knows what a podcast is, and that’s up 22 percent in the last two years.
They report that 40 percent of Americans say they have listened to as podcast, 24 percent have listened in the last month.
Podcasts are recorded and delivered in the popular mp3 audio format. They are inexpensive to produce and distribute.
People can listen to podcasts whenever it’s convenient for them on a variety of devices including computers, tablets and smartphones.
Opportunity for Christian Writers
Podcasts offer an opportunity for Christian writers. You can write scripted programs for others or use a podcast to promote your blog or books.
The key to offering something helpful is to avoid Bible preaching, Bible study and devotional podcasts.
Update: Due to wide reader interest I have added a Learning Series video here. It is a basic introduction to podcasting.
As good as these are, there is already a proliferation of them by gifted teachers. Nationally, everyone from Joel Osteen to John MacArthur has a podcast. Podcasts are syndicated by all the mega-church pastors and thousands of other pastors post their sermon audio on their own church websites.
Most of the sermonic content shows almost no imagination in the Christian community. We continue to talk to ourselves using this literary form. However, in our era, theology lectures attract little interest from those outside the household of faith.
There is opportunity to share the Gospel in effective ways besides preaching, teaching and sharing devotional thoughts. These opportunities are going unnoticed for the most part.
Breaking the Pattern
What podcast types have almost no Christian presence but could reach non-Christians? Here are just a few topics of wide interest that could benefit from a Christian perspective.
- “Explainers” (The inside story on almost any topic)
- Film Reviews
- Music Reviews
- Popular culture
- Television Reviews
- True Crime
These are all popular podcasting categories. Each of them could easily integrate Christian values and worldview in a non-preachy way and would likely garner large audiences.
Notable Christian Podcasts
There are some Christian podcasters offering more than recycled sermons and devotional thoughts. They are notable partially because they are so rare. Here are four podcasts that demonstrate the variety that’s possible.
Reach Beyond might be considered a traditional missionary organization, but they approach their work in non-traditional ways. Their podcast reports on their team of over 200 missionaries and 500 employees who work as radio program producers, IT workers, radio trainers, engineers, technicians, doctors, nurses, therapists, community development workers, journalists, pastors, schoolteachers and administrators. The podcast will encourage you as a Christian.
Host Amy Bennett interviews women about real-life issues, including recent podcasts on Down Syndrome, the terror of a woman in a polygamy cult, food fixations, human trafficking and cancer. No topic seems out-of-bounds.
Bennett plugs her ministry heavily at the beginning and production values are on the lower end of the scale, but the content appeals to both Christian and non-Christian women. There are authentic expressions of Christian faith in this podcast without preaching.
This is the old, established radio broadcast in new form from Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. These people are sensitive to what people want to hear. They tell the story of how one person came to Christ in an entertaining way in each podcast. Their production values should inspire all podcasters.
The element that makes this podcast so appealing is that the story is told in dramatic form with voice actors. They plug the Pacific Garden Mission too early in the program and too strongly for today’s audiences, but the announcer does it in a kindly voice. Many people may find the dramatic organ music a little old-fashioned, but it detracts little from the powerful story of redemption in each installment.
Three guys, Matt, Toby and Joey discuss music, parenthood, death and endless other topics is a lively and entertaining way. This appears to be the most-listened to non-sermon Christian podcast.
In one recent podcast, they were discussing “compassion fatigue.” Some Christians might think this podcast is a too edgy, especially when the language gets spicy, but it attracts a wide range of people, both Christians and non-Christians.
The trio talks about serious topics in an engaging way. They often interview guests from the business and entertainment worlds. This podcast reminds me of a Christian version of one of the top-rated general podcasts, “The Nerdist.” The Bad Christian Podcast is one of several off-beat programs from BadChristianMedia.com.
These four podcasts define the Christian podcast perimeter, but there are others that rate notice. One is Cameron Strang’s Relevant Magazine Podcast. Relevant is about making a connection between Christ and culture and they offer interviews and with pop culture figures, both in the Christian world and sometimes beyond. Stu and Lisa Gray offer a credible Christian marriage podcast, The Stupedous Marriage, where they answer listener relationship questions. If you know of a great Christian podcast, that’s not just a pastor delivering a sermon, please add it in the comments below.
Podcasting is trending upward now. Will it last? There is every reason to believe that podcasting will become a permanent form of education, information and inspiration, like TV, radio and the Internet.
Completion for listener ears may increase, but an interesting podcast has the potential to find a potentially huge audience.
Christian podcasters must fight the temptation to just preach at people. Podcasting is an exciting way to share the Gospel, but to be effective it must be repackaged into formats that excite listener attention.