It was supposed to be a Christian comedy show about Jesus, but a lot of Christians weren't laughing.

A Dutch evangelical television station recently canceled a proposed program about a comedian having fun with the Gospel of Mark, after many station supporters canceled or threatened to cancel their membership.

The decision by Evangelische Omroep (EO, "Evangelical Broadcast") highlighted the challenges Christian media in the Netherlands face as they try to reach secular audiences with edgy programs while depending on membership for funding.

"That's always the tension we feel," said Jan-Willem Bosman, business director for EO. "We are funded by members who are Christians, but we do not make programs for them. We want to use media for people who do not know Christ."

Mission-minded public broadcasters such as EO must also compete harder for audience share—and with more government oversight—against commercial media in a highly secular country.

Still, Dutch Christian media are surprisingly robust, offering more innovative programs than the preaching-based, 800-number approach of much U.S. religious programming.

That's largely due to the uniquely Dutch tradition known as pillarization, in which religious, political, and other interest groups formed their own media, schools, and other institutions around a common ideology. Those in the Protestant and Catholic "pillars" mostly read their own newspapers and watched their own TV shows. The government funded these groups' media based on how many members each had.

EO is one the remnant religious pillars, but its 450,000 members compose a minority of its TV viewers. Programs range from talk and game shows to documentaries and children's fare. It also produces radio programs and three ...

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