But for many, prime-time television supplants religion.

Pastors should be less concerned about competition from religious television and more worried about the effects of general television viewing, according to a major new study. “Religion and Television,” a joint project of the Gallup organization and the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications, found no evidence that the electronic church siphons members away from local congregations.

However, heavy prime-time viewing tends to become a religion unto itself, says George Gerbner, dean of the Annenberg School and research adviser for the project. “It’s as if TV viewing supplanted the needs religion fulfilled before.”

The survey shows that the more time people spend watching network television, the less likely they are to read the Bible, to attend religious services, or to identify themselves as evangelicals. Viewers of religious broadcasts, on the other hand, tend to be active churchgoers and generous contributors to their congregations. Religious television appears to activate behavior ranging from church attendance to voting, the study says. “The coherent mobilizing power of religious television, rather than its reach or scope, represents its political clout.”

Among viewers surveyed for the report, only 3 percent said watching religious television caused them to decrease their church involvement. Nearly 17 percent said religious television contributes more than the church to their spiritual life. One-third have made financial contributions to the programs they watch. The median amount given was $30.

Religious programming did not provide the sense of worship and community most people desire. “The message for the churches may be that their strength—the ...

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