Many say Christian entertainment is a good couple of years behind mainstream entertainment, with some placing Christian radio behind by about five years and others even claiming that Christian media in general is more than a decade behind.
“I've always been frustrated by Christian media, which at best has lagged 10 years behind the mainstream and is often 30-40 years behind,” says Christian author and musician Jay L. Young of San Antonio, Texas. “Even the good media tends to be just ‘on par’ with mainstream media and true trailblazing is either excessively rare or (more likely) never gets a fair shake in the Christian marketing establishment.”
The latest example of this is the emergence of several Christian reality TV programs that have hit the Web and the airwaves in recent weeks.
Though reality television has been around as early as the 1940s and exploded in popularity globally starting in the early 2000s, a wellspring of Christian reality programs including “THEDRIVEtv,” “The Uprising,” and “Revolve: Rockin’ The Road” is just now entering the picture.
Debuts for the above-mentioned programs were in July, last Thursday, and last Friday, respectively.
All three programs target Christian youth and look to impact them with a positive message through exciting adventures and live, unrehearsed ministry.
"With the success of unscripted drama reality shows like The Hills and Keeping Up with the Kardashians, it's clear that television viewers connect with real life dramatic-in-nature programming,” commented Brad Siegel, vice chairman of Gospel Music Channel, which created “Revolve.”
“We wanted to create a show that was unique and aligned with our network's vision of inspiring, uplifting and entertaining through music,” he added in a public announcement.
Meanwhile, pro-skateboarder Jay Haizlip said it’s clear that there is a desperate need for a series like “The Uprising,” which follows him and two other pro-skaters as they spread the Gospel.
“People are struggling with real issues like alcohol and drug addiction, stints in jail, abuse, and problems with parents,” he said after ministering to people across the world. “We’re going to offer them hope through this show and let them know that God is on their side.”
In “The Uprising,” Haizlip and fellow skateboarders Christian Hosoi and Brian Sumner comb skate parks, backyard pools, and other hangouts in an effort to spread the Gospel. The series was birthed out of Haizlip’s The Sanctuary Church in Huntington Beach, Calif., where he serves as senior pastor, and his “The Uprising is Here” events, which bring pro skateboarders, live music, and the faith message to young people across the country. The events feature Hosoi and Sumner, as well as other pro-skateboarders.
According to Haizlip, every episode of “The Uprising” will be filled with light, energy, excitement, and most of all, purpose.
“This isn’t your grandmother’s Christian TV,” said Hosoi. “This is in-your-face modern day evangelism that gets down in the dirt with people to help them wrestle through their issues.”
In addition to a faith message, “The Uprising” also will showcase skate tricks and events and feature appearances by other pro-skaters like Paul Rodriguez, Chad Tim Tim, Ray Barbee, Jereme Rogers, Josh Harmony, and more.
“Revolve,” meanwhile, also has its share of Christian professionals – but mostly from the Christian music industry.
The series, which premiered Friday, follows the cast and crew of The Revolve Tour as they travel the country, hitting cities with weekend events geared toward teen girls and talking to teens along the way about tough topics like dating, tattoos and everyday challenges.
As four friends – two guys and two gals – trek across America, hitting nine different Christian music festivals, “Revolve” captures their collective quest to maintain spiritual peace and discipline amid logistical challenges, self goals, and inevitable relationship struggles.
In the first episode of the five-episode series, the two male members engaged in a conversation about tattoos and piercings with Christian rocker Krystal Meyers, who joined the group for the series premiere.
Also hopping on the foursome’s tour bus for the first episode were Hawk Nelson, Group 1 Crew and Ayiesha Woods. The group also met up with Natalie Grant at a Revolve “All Access” event.
“Revolve … gives our young viewers a cast they can relate to and music they love,” said Gospel Music Channel’s Siegel.
Then, there is THEDRIVEtv, which is presenting “fundamental issues” in a motivational and easy to understand manner both on screen and off.
The new reality show, which is airing in over 170 countries, captures the adventures of four young men – Chris, Kyle, Steve, and Aaron – as they take a “reality” road trip across the United States.
During each episode, the hosts meet unique people and discover the local “flavor” of the location, focusing on relevant issues for today’s generation, including love, self esteem, community, and social justice.
“It’s what ‘reality TV’ should be – relevant, reflective, real,” said Troy Miller, COO of the NRB Network, in an endorsement.
Miller described the four hosts as “media missionaries who bring the message of Christ to young viewers in a language they understand.”
“In a time when immorality and irreverence dominate the airwaves, The Drive TV takes a higher road,” he added.
What’s unique about the show is that the hosts have made themselves available to speak at churches and special events.
“Even though THEDRIVEtv is a reality tv show, the heart of it does not begin and end on a TV screen,” say the producers of the show. “The guys from THEDRIVEtv are available for speaking engagements. They love to share the message of THEDRIVEtv and the powerful experiences they had on the road."
“Young people are impacted by their message delivered through stories of their exciting adventure, original music, and personal ministry,” they add.
Only time will tell whether Christian reality shows will draw large followings as have their mainstream counterparts, such as “Survivor,” “American Idol,” “Dancing With The Stars,” and "Fear Factor."
But with Christian music closing the gap on mainstream music and Christian movies such as “Fireproof” ranking among the weekend box office’s top ten for three consecutive weeks, producers of the latest series are optimistic about the potential of Christian reality TV.
"Unlike the majority of reality television, 'The Uprising' isn’t based on a contest or produced in any kind of artificial environment," says producer Nathaniel Calnin of Steelroots, which partnered with Haizlip and his team to launch "The Uprising."
"It’s truly reality in the sense that we’re capturing scenarios that would happen regardless of a camera being there to tape it," he told The Christian Post. "These guys are out there praying for people and talking about Jesus in places that would make most of us feel uncomfortable. Whether Christian or not, I think viewers will find that compelling."
Christian author Young, meanwhile, is hoping for Christian media not only to mimic the success of their mainstream counterparts and close in the years-long gap, but to make radical changes.
"So yeah, nothing would make me happier than to see a full revolution in Christian media in my lifetime," he says. "Lord knows it's not that there's a lack of talent."