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Ever wonder where the term “televangelism” actually originated? Wonder no longer! It was coined in the fall of 1958 by the Southern Baptist Convention as the name of a TV show.

In addition to the word televangelism, there are about 900 different evangelism terms that encompass all the different kinds of Christian evangelisms, and each term refers to a specific evangelistic technique, strategy, or objective.

I know this because I’ve been counting them all.

During 2014 I shifted into high gear to track down all the different words for evangelism that Christians have used in the English language. I posted just a handful of those terms here and there on the Dictionary of Christianese website. If you’ve seen last year’s posts for servant evangelism (and service evangelism), hit-and-run evangelism (and drive-by evangelism), and beach evangelism, gastro-evangelism, and power evangelism, then you know what I’m talking about.

You may also be familiar with some other popular evangelisms like friendship evangelism, relational evangelism, lifestyle evangelism, oikos evangelism, missional evangelism, and even pre-evangelism. Are you overloaded with evangelisms yet? That’s just 14 evangelisms so far! What will happen when you read about all 900?!

If you want to read about all 900 evangelisms, then keep your eyes peeled for volume 1 of the paper edition of the Dictionary of Christianese to be published later this year. It’ll contain over 300 pages and will contain definitions, word histories, and historical quotations for all 900 of these evangelism terms, plus some additional fascinating material about other Christianese definitions that have never been posted to the Dictionary of Christianese website.

But for today’s blog post let’s put the spotlight back squarely on televangelism.

Televangelism, as a word, is among the most important evangelism words televangelism - Dictionary of Christianesebecause it’s the most well-known evangelism technique in the world. Like it or hate it, televised evangelism reaches all corners of the earth and touches more people per week than any other method of evangelism.

Sadly, due to the televangelism scandals of the 1980s, the term televangelism is probably forever tarnished both in the eyes of the church and the public. It’s a shame, really, because while the more personal forms of evangelism such as friendship evangelism and lifestyle evangelism are essential, we still do need to make sure there’s a Christian presence on the airwaves. If we truly are commanded by Jesus to go wherever the people are, then let’s face the facts—a lot of unsaved people are parked on sofas in front of the televisions of the world. Let’s get Jesus on at least a few of those channels for the sake of the folks clutching the clickers.

But wait, let me get off my soapbox and continue telling you about the history of the word televangelism.

The word televangelism was coined in 1958 as the title of a TV miniseries produced by the Southern Baptist Convention to be aired in January 1959. The term televangelism turned out to be so catchy, though, that it very quickly became a generic term for any televised evangelism of any kind produced by anybody. For more details about the term’s origin, see the definition below.

Interestingly, regarding the coining of televangelism, a number of books and websites have not gotten the story straight about who coined it. You’ll occasionally read that the term televangelism was coined by authors Jeffrey K. Hadden and Charles E. Swann for their 1981 survey of the televangelistic landscape entitled Prime Time Preachers: The Rising Power of Televangelism. But by the time Hadden and Swann published Prime Time Preachers in 1981, the term televangelism had already been appearing regularly in books, magazines, and newspapers for more than 20 years.

Another tale about the coining of the term televangelism is that the term was coined by Time magazine. But this isn’t the case either. The first appearance of the word televangelism in Time magazine is in their issue for June 8, 1987. But that’s almost 30 years after the term first appeared in print in the L.A. Times (see the historical quotations in the definition below to read more early usages of the term televangelism in the 1950s and 1960s).

Now, a term that Time magazine did coin was the term televangelist. The term televangelist (which means “a person who does televangelism”) appeared in print for the first time ever in human history in the issue of Time magazine for March 5, 1973, on page 66. Way to go, Time!


televangelism n. [television + evangelism] Rarely tele-evangelism. Evangelism done through the medium of television programming; evangelism done through the use of television shows that feature evangelistic content.
The word televangelism was coined in the latter part of 1958 by the Southern Baptist Convention as the name of a television miniseries it produced named “Televangelism, 1959.” The miniseries was broadcast on 13 consecutive Sunday afternoons beginning on January 4, 1959.
The SBC produced similar miniseries using the “Televangelism” name for several years, but by the end of the 1960s, the word televangelism had become a generic name for any kind of evangelistic television programming.
See also: *Christian ghetto; *electric church; *electronic church; *God slot; *pray per view; *pray TV.
1958 L.A. Times (CA) (27 Sep.) 12 : Ahead is a big project, “Televangelism 1959.” … Scheduled to start in Jan. 1959, it will be supported by all major Baptist bodies and will emphasize personal evangelism. 1958 Tri-City Herald (Pasco, WA) (5 Dec.) 6 : A premier showing of “Pay the Piper,” an episode in the “This Is the Answer” television series called “Televangelism” is being made in four Baptist churches in the area…. The Radio and Television Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention is producing 13 special films in the “This Is the Answer” series called “Televangelism.” The series is in preparation for the Baptist Simultaneous revival crusade to be conducted in the United States and Canada in the spring of 1959. 1958 Broadcasting 55/23 (8 Dec.) 103 : Southern Baptist Convention, in promotion of its weekly “Televangelism 1959” series to be programmed on 13 consecutive Sundays beginning Jan. 4, is promoting Sunday afternoon “TV viewing parties.” Some 700 local chairmen, both pastors and laymen, are preparing news materials, “viewing party” arrangements, and supplies of spiritual guidance booklets for viewers, according to the Convention. The half-hour dramas are part of This Is the Answer series produced by the Southern Baptists. 1959 Town and Country Church no. 139 (Jan.) 12 : “Televangelism 1959.” This unusual project presents thirteen half-hour dramas in the series, “This is the Answer,” produced by the Southern Baptists. Beginning on Sunday, January 4 and extending for thirteen weeks, the project is basically a non-denominational effort. 1959 Gastonia Gazette (NC) (3 Jan.) 2 : “Televangelism Series Beginning on Sunday” … Each of the 13 new dramatic films will be seen on the same Sunday afternoon on 100 key stations throughout the nation. This is believed to be the first time that this type of filmed series has offered network-type programming. A vast visitation program by members of local churches in the TV viewing area is to be coupled with the TV series and the entire project called “Televangelism 1959.” It will also mark the first time television has been used as a basis for national cooperation between several church groups. Televangelism launches a five-year evangelistic effort in which all six major Baptist bodies in North America are cooperating…. Although the series is a Baptist-sponsored effort, any denomination or religious group is invited to make a similar use of the TV dramas. “We hope that television, combined with personal evangelism, will prove an instrument for a great, national spiritual revival,” said Dr. Paul Stevens. 1959 Beckley Post-Herald–Raleigh Herald (4 Jan.) 11 : By showing fast-paced dramatic stories about true-to-life situations the avoiding “preachiness,” this “Televangelism” series is planned to attract viewers who would ordinarily reject a straight religious program. 1959 Christian Herald 81/2 (Feb.) 16 : Electronic Evangelism. In January, six major Baptist groups launched their 13-week “Televangelism 1959” series. It’s a half-hour television drama on important modern-day problems, produced by the Southern Baptists. But it’s more than simply another half-hour of T.V. Baptists (and others, too) will be sending out notes to their friends to “come to our house Sunday afternoon for a TV viewing party.” The host or hostess can make it even more inviting with cookies and tea. After invited and cookied watchers see the program, the set is presumably turned off and a discussion takes over. 1959 SBC Annual 412 : In 1958 and early 1959, a project called “Televangelism” took shape and gave new impetus to the television series “This Is the Answer.” It was a new slant on visitation coupled with television which captured the imagination of individuals and churches all over the nation. Because of the success of “Televangelism, 1959,” and the aid it gave the Simultaneous Evangelistic Crusades, it has been proposed as one facet of the entire Baptist Jubilee Advance for the next five years. Extra financing has been involved, but the added effectiveness of the television ministry has made it worth all the money. 1959 Autrey Basic Evangelism 171,173 : Millions of the good, ordinary American citizenry already referred to may best be reached by radio and televangelism. Many never attend church. Some of them have no idea what a church looks like on the inside. They do not feel the need of the church. Many did not come out of religious backgrounds. Some are prejudiced and diluted. The best way to contact the majority of them is by radio and television…. Televangelism is an effort to use the mass communication medium of television to reach thousands of the unchurched. The purpose of televangelism is to use the medium of television together with the personal witness to win the lost to Christ…. Televangelism is the newest technique in evangelism and is possibly the most far-reaching one which we have fallen upon in recent years. 1959 Broadcasting 57/14 (5 Oct.) 102 : A 13-week “Televangelism” project inaugurated last year and to be repeated the first quarter of 1960, is directed this time specifically to teenagers. To implement the Televangelism promotion, viewers of some 200 stations are being asked by the church to hold viewing parties for youngsters in their homes, holding informal discussions of the programs at conclusion. 1959 New York Times (22 Sep.) : Called “televangelism,” the project will employ a new technique to attract teen-agers not affiliated with any religious group. In essence, the campaign calls on churchgoers, or young members of their families, to home viewing parties every Sunday. 1962 Lancaster Eagle-Gazette (OH) (9 Mar.) 9 : Sunday March 11 will initiate the Televangelism program at the Hubert Avenue Baptist Church…. Each Sunday morning for five weeks special films in the “This Is the Answer” series will be televised at the church…. Purpose of televangelism is to combine a personal touch from the church with the forceful presentation of an everyday problem on the TV screen—to impress upon the lost and unchurched that their problems can be solved in Christ and the Scriptures. Televangelism is the combination of two words: television and evangelism. 1962 Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec Year Book 129 : The Owen Sound Association sponsored, prepared and executed a weekly series of Tel-evangelism programmes over station CKNX with outstanding success. Many of our Ministers have shared in the radio and television ministry through local stations. 1966 Scharpff History of Evangelism: Three Hundred Years of Evangelism in Germany, Great Britain, and the United States of America (tr. Henry) 314 : One of the denominations with an expanding and creative ministry is the Southern Baptist Convention, which has a Radio and Television Commission…. “Tel-evangelism” was an effort to combine television programming with local church evangelism. A series of thirty-minute dramatic television programs was designed around an up-dating of the parables of Jesus. The basic teaching was taught in the context of everyday life. Churches urged prospects to watch the show and then the idea of the presentation was used as a springboard for discussion. 1967 Amarillo Globe-Times (TX) (21 Jul.) 15 : The week of Aug. 14 will feature a series of television programs on three Amarillo stations. The series, called “Televangelism,” will present selected messages by Dr. Criswell, who is pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas. 1967 Amarillo Globe-Times (TX) (4 Aug.) 19 : “Televangelism Will Precede Opening of ‘Encounter’ Crusade” The oldest system of mass communication has been brought into play with the newest medium to add a new word to the English lexicon—“televangelism.” The word itself tells its meaning. The week preceding the opening of the Amarillo Area Baptist Crusade, to be held Aug. 20–25 in Dick Bivins Stadium, will see televangelism used extensively in Amarillo. The three Amarillo television stations will carry programs at designated periods. 1971 Newsweek 78/1 (5 Jul.) 51 : Tucked away in various corners of the complex are day-care centers, counseling services, social groups, the offices of the Robert Schuller Televangelism Association (producer of Schuller’s weekly TV “Hour of Power”), the Robert H. Schuller Institute for Successful Church Leadership and a huge communications program that produces a never-ending flow of taped sermons (\$3.50 per cassette), books and inspirational pamphlets. 1977 Fireman TV Book: The Ultimate Television Book 145 : Billy Graham pioneered “televangelism” in the early 1950’s with the Hour of Decision and Oral Roberts followed with Contact! Today, the super-ministers of Sunday morning TV spend up to \$150,000 each week to carry a renovated version of the old American revival meeting throughout the United States and to many other countries. 1980 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL) (4 Oct.) 13 : Televangelism has been around for years, but just now it’s making more of an impact than it ever has. 1981 Christian Science Monitor (24 Sep.) B6 : The televangelists are also preparing a host of slick new programs for syndication to be sent by satellite to cable TV systems. The CBN, for instance, has gone to a splashy magazine format and developed “Christian soap operas” and news programs with coverage that is heavily weighted toward the conservative perspective, according to a recent Cable News Network report on televangelism by Jim Clancy. 1985 Indiana Gazette (Indiana, PA) (20 Aug.) 13 : Much like televangelism revolutionized how religion reached people in earlier decades, the Internet is expected to play a role in shaping worship in the 21st century. 1986 New Scientist 111/1519 (31 Jul.) 55 : [photo caption:] The big business of tele-evangelism: small-screen preacher Oral Roberts, and the Jumbotron TV screeen, bought by Robert Schuller for electronic prayer meetings in Los Angeles. 1987 San Diego Union (26 Mar.) B9 : There is a great deal of unsettling news emerging these days from the underside of a phenomenon known as “televangelism.” 1987 Time 129/23 (8 Jun.) 74 : It is not difficult to discern why many contributors are becoming edgy about secretive and sensationalistic televangelism empires. 1996 Time 148/27 (16 Dec.) 67 : In the 1950s a new generation of media-savvy ministers—Bishop Fulton Sheen, Billy Graham, Oral Roberts—started directing their crusades at the TV audience…. In broadcasts from million-dollar sets-cum-cathedrals, TV evangelicals preached not just about the miracle of Jesus but also about the blessing of communications technology. Religion and TV became so indistinguishable that it took a neologism, televangelism, to fully capture what was going on. 2000 Ackerman Deep Play 197 : When television swept America in the 1950s, it didn’t take long for Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, and others to broadcast their faith. So many preachers now have taken to the airways that we’ve had to coin the word televangelism for the phenomenon. What’s next? God on the Internet? 2004 Twitchell Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College Inc., and Museumworld 82 : Although the megachurches have borrowed heavily from the electronic media, they have little in common with the Elmer Gantrys of 1970s and ’80s televangelism. There are no sweating, heavy breathing, and threatening damnation unless the phones ring. 2005 Hill, Lippy, Wilson, eds. Encyc. of Religion in the South 2/e 349 : By far, the greatest boost to glossolalists has come from organizations of lay Christians such as the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International, the “PTL” club, the Catholic Charismatic Movement, and various examples in the world of tele-evangelism. 2005 Claydon, ed. A New Vision, a New Heart, a Renewed Call II. 446 : Schultze has been a keen eye on tele-evangelism, youth media culture and now worship technology. 2008 Clark Teachings for the Heart: A Primer 131 : We have a new religious medium peculiar to this age called “televangelism” and, in close association, the “megachurch.” The leaders of these large groups claim that to be like them, to have all your needs met and to be debt free, you must “give.” They preach, teach, and pray (out loud and in public) about tithes and offerings. 2010 Goff, ed. The Blackwell Companion to Religion in America 306 : Revivals are many-sided phenomena. A free association test with the word “revival” evokes varied images—gospel music, exuberant worship, altar calls, inner-city rescue missions, televangelism, Pentecostal healing and tongues-speaking, Billy Graham, the religious right, and biblical apocalypticism. 2011 Rayside, Wilcox, eds. Faith, Politics, and Sexual Diversity in Canada and the United States 97 : As for television, evangelical Christians have been wildly successful in creating popular shows and independent broadcasting networks. “Televangelism” was very popular by the 1970s, Billy Graham having set a precedent with his long-running The Hour of Decision, beginning in the early 1950s.
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