National Religious Broadcasters
National Religious Broadcasters logo
|Headquarters||Manassas, Virginia, United States|
|Dr. Jerry A. Johnson|
National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) is a non-partisan, international association of Christian communicators. While theologically diverse within the evangelical community, NRB members are linked through a Declaration of Unity that proclaims their joint commitment and devotion to Christianity.
NRB promotes standards of excellence, integrity, and financial accountability among its members, but membership in the association is not automatic. Every member of the association must ascribe to the NRB Statement of Faith and adhere to the rigorous NRB Code of Ethics. NRB members must also meet the Standards of Financial Accountability set forth by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).
In the early 1940s in America, the emerging culture of hostility between so-called mainline Protestant denominations and the rapidly growing Evangelical Christian movement reached a crisis phase in the world of radio broadcasting. Protestant denominational leaders argued for regulations that would restrict access to the radio broadcast spectrum. They claimed independent Evangelical preachers who were unaccountable to any denominational entity could not be trusted with the public airwaves.
In those early years of radio broadcasting, pioneer Evangelical broadcasters like William Ward Ayer, Paul Rader, Donald Grey Barnhouse, Walter Maier, and Charles Fuller had built radio audiences in the millions and were faithfully proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. By 1942 The Lutheran Hour was receiving more mail than the well-known Amos ‘n Andy radio program, and The Old Fashioned Revival Hour was the largest program on the Mutual Broadcasting System, purchasing 50% more airtime than the next largest secular broadcaster. In that same year, the Mutual Broadcasting System received more than 25% of its total revenue from religious broadcasters.
Yet in 1943, the Federal Council of Churches (later renamed the National Council of Churches) supported proposed regulations that would result in every Evangelical broadcaster being taken off the national radio networks. They demanded that religious broadcasting should only be aired as a public service during free or “sustaining” time donated by the radio networks. They further argued that these public service slots should only be allocated to “responsible” religious broadcasters that had been approved by local and national denominational councils – like themselves.
The Federal Council of Churches was eventually able to persuade all three national radio networks – NBC, CBS, and the Mutual Broadcasting System – to adopt the proposed regulations. Subsequently every Evangelical Christian broadcaster was taken off the national radio networks, with their only access being small independent stations with a very limited audience.
In response to this challenge, 150 Evangelical Christian broadcasters and church leaders held a series of meetings which led to the formation of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB). In the fall of 1944, members of the NRB adopted their Constitution, Bylaws, Statement of Faith, and Code of Ethics. And thus began a multi-year effort by NRB to build credibility for Evangelical broadcasters, to secure their fair share of the available public interest slots, and to overturn the ban on the purchase of radio airtime for religious broadcasting.
In 1949 that effort bore fruit as the newly formed ABC radio network reversed the ban on paid religious broadcasting, with the other networks following their lead. In a few years, Evangelical radio broadcasters were again a dynamic and growing presence on major radio networks, with scores of new programs serving a vast national audience.
Seven decades later, the Christian multi-media association birthed by these visionary radio broadcasters operates in a far more complex electronic media environment, while retaining its original focus of defending and expanding access to electronic media platforms for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the audience for religious broadcasters has expanded dramatically, with 141 million Americans using Christian media at least once per month.
NRB provides networking, educational, ministry, and advocacy opportunities for its members. The association also provides industry-specific information to its members, and recognizes excellence in Christian broadcasting. These services are accomplished in a variety of ways:
Education & Networking
One of the principal benefits of NRB membership is access to high-value education, training, and research. All NRB members are encouraged to attend the annual NRB Convention & Exposition, a four-day event that brings together thousands of individuals from across the United States and around the world. The NRB Convention exists to be a resource for peer-to-peer industry networking, along with continuing education through seminars and workshops. The Exposition Floor is a large marketplace dedicated to Christian media professionals, where more than 200 vendors and ministries showcase their products and services on 130,000 square feet of exhibit space. Attendees typically include Christian radio and television broadcasters, Internet web developers, church media ministries, public relations firms, publishers, broadcast and communications students, and media/broadcast equipment producers and vendors. Non-members may attend the NRB Convention & Exposition, but discounts are provided to association members. The annual NRB Convention & Exposition is held typically at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, TN.
NRB encourages its members to assist Christian broadcasters in other parts of the world. The association’s Strategic Partnerships division provides training, mentoring, facilities assistance and programming aid in order to meet the needs of Christian broadcasters around the globe.
The NRB Government Relations office on Capitol Hill and NRB’s Office of the General Counsel pay particular attention to protecting and promoting the needs of religious broadcasters and their First Amendment rights – both freedom of speech and free religious expression. As such, NRB advocates on behalf of its members in Washington, DC, representing Christian broadcasting before the White House and other Executive agencies (including the Federal Communications Commission), both chambers of the United States Congress, and the Judicial Branch. NRB has presented testimony on religious liberty issues before committees of both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and the Federal Communications Commission, and has contributed to the drafting of federal legislation protecting religious freedom. NRB also participates as Amicus Curiae (“friend of the court”) in proceedings before the United States Supreme Court on First Amendment and communications-related subjects.
The Communications Department of NRB produces e-publications. NRB Today highlights industry trends, important federal broadcast policies, and member news items. In tandem with NRB’s Office of the President and Government Relations office, Washington Next Week provides “insider information” regarding the inner workings of Congress, the FCC, and other federal agencies as they relate to the mission of the association. Current issues of NRB’s publications may be viewed on the association’s homepage, and back issues are available to NRB website registrants. Both publications are available free of charge to NRB Members and on-request to the general public; membership in the association is not required for website registration.
Recognition of Excellence
In addition to the many functions performed by its Membership Division, NRB presents a number of annual awards to its members during the Convention & Exposition. For example, the association’s most prestigious honor, the Hall of Fame Award, is presented to an individual NRB member who has exemplified the highest standards and evidence of faithfulness to Christ along with an invaluable contribution to the field of Christian communications.
NRB members elect a Board of Directors and five Officers for the association. The five Officers, along with five Members-At-Large elected from the Board of Directors, form an Executive Committee that governs the association.
The day-to-day activities of NRB are guided by Jerry A. Johnson, Ph.D., the association’s President & CEO. Dr. Johnson previously served as President of Criswell College in Dallas, TX. He is a graduate of Criswell College, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies. He received a Master of Arts in Historical and Theological Studies from Denver Seminary in Denver, CO, and a Ph.D. in Christian Ethics from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Johnson also studied at Oxford University in England and served as Director of the Oxford Distinguished Scholar’s Program. Previously, Dr. Johnson served in the senior administration and faculty at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
NRB has a number of standing committees, run by seasoned media professionals with related expertise. These committees include: Church Media, Film, Intercollegiate (iNRB), International, Internet, Music License, Radio, and Television. NRB’s standing committees apprise the association of trends and news in their respective fields, and new committees form as emerging technologies and outreach opportunities develop.
Convention & Exposition
The annual NRB International Christian Media Convention is a four-day event held annually at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, TN. The Convention provides continuing education through seminars and workshops, along with being a resource for peer-to-peer industry networking. The Exposition Floor is a large marketplace dedicated to Christian media professionals, where more than 200 vendors and ministries showcase their products and services on 130,000 square feet of exhibit space.
Thousands of individuals from across the United States and around the world attend the NRB International Christian Media Convention each year. Attendees typically include Christian radio and television broadcasters, Internet web developers, church media ministries, new media professionals, public relations firms, publishers, broadcast and communications students, and media/broadcast equipment producers and vendors. Non-members may attend the NRB Convention & Exposition, but discounts are provided to association members.
ACB Southern Africa
Christian Media Australia
Fellowship of European Broadcasters
NRB Television Network
Members of the National Religious Broadcasters association founded the NRB Network on December 21, 2005. NRB Network programming is available as part of DIRECTV’s base package and Sky Angel’s faith package. The NRB Network’s mission is to significantly impact the culture with programming that advances biblical truth. It airs independently produced content in various formats, including talk shows, dramas, reality shows, and documentaries, to name a few. Topics are equally diverse with shows about cooking, financial education, fitness, public policy, music, sports, travel, science, and history – all embracing Christian values. The programming of the NRB Network reaches 19 million U.S. households, and the NRB Network is headquartered in Nashville, TN.
Institutional Response to Criticism
NRB receives occasional criticism for allowing only Evangelical Christian media organizations into its membership. However, the distinctly Evangelical character of NRB flows not from any desire for exclusion, but from its deeply rooted commitment to a distinctly Evangelical statement of faith. Since an unreserved subscription to the NRB Statement of Faith is a membership requirement, the composition of the NRB necessarily reflects this commitment.
Scandals in Christian Broadcasting
Public moral failures are not unknown in the community of Christian broadcasters, with some occurrences receiving national attention, such as the highly publicized scandals of Jim Bakker and others in the late 1980s. Recognizing that such moral failures, particularly among ministry leaders, bring dishonor to the name of Christ, NRB maintains a strict code of ethics to which all members must subscribe. The NRB Code of Ethics governs the conduct of its members by promulgating standards of ethical practice and by holding members accountable to those standards. Reported violations of this Code are investigated by the Ethics Committee of the NRB Board of Directors.
Question of Financial Misconduct
While questions of financial misconduct in Christian ministries have occasionally arisen, NRB requires its members to demonstrate adherence to standards of responsible financial stewardship. Larger NRB members are required to join the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), which establishes best practices and measures compliance to standards of financial governance and accountability. In 2007, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) initiated an investigation into six Christian broadcast ministries, which the news media labeled the “Grassley Six.” While none of these media organizations were NRB members, and while NRB had serious reservations about the scope of Sen. Grassley’s investigation, the NRB did express the commitment of its members to sound financial stewardship and agreed with Sen. Grassley’s recommendation that the “Grassley Six” should join the ECFA.
- Hangen, Tona J. Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion and Popular Culture in America (Raleigh, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2002)
- Armstrong, Ben. the Electric Church (New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979), p.38.
- Finke, Roger, and Rodney Stark. The Churching of America, 1776–1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (Rutgers University Press, 1992), p. 219.
- Davidson, James D., and Ralph E. Pyle. Ranking Faiths: Religious Stratification in America (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2011), p. 107.
- Mark Ward, Sr., Air of Salvation: The Story of Christian Broadcasting, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994.
- Jerry Johnson biography from NRB.