Reaching the masses: finding faith connection points through the media

16 June 2023  |  Insights
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Stormzy spoke powerfully about his Christian faith during his high profile interview with Louis Theroux

Connection, celebrity and innovation are offering “exciting” opportunities for religious programming that’s appealing to people of all faiths and none, according to the BBC’s Head of Religion and Ethics TV.

Speaking at the recent Religion Media Festival, Daisy Scalchi said she approaches faith as something that can be part of any form or content rather than keeping it in a silo - with compelling programmes such as Two Daughters with Stacey Dooley and Humza: Forgiving the Unforgivable powerfully exploring issues of faith outside of the traditional religious programming format.

And it’s working. Although more people in the UK now identify as having no religion, “the appetite from audiences for programming in this area is as strong as ever,” she said.

So, how can Christian organisations capitalise on this appetite and pitch stories to the media that will appeal to mass audiences?

Know your audience

It’s a tried and tested communications adage: if you want people to consume your content, get to know them first.

Ms Scalchi said she studies the latest research into faith in the UK to understand what programming will engage current audiences, alongside regularly meeting with religious groups to ensure they’re being represented accurately.

“The UK’s religious landscape is changing significantly,” she said, quoting the 2021 census which showed a growing number of people identify as having “no religion”, with more detailed research revealing that this group of “nones” is very nuanced and complex.

“They don’t necessarily see themselves as belonging to any one particular belief system, but they will nevertheless be warm towards, or interested in, the conversations that a religious framework might bring.”

Find universal themes

So, while religion mightn’t appeal to everyone, many of the issues and themes it explores connect with the human condition – and that’s what people want to watch.

“When you get behind the word religion, and some of its inevitable associations, it can take you into exploring life’s biggest questions and understanding the human experience,” Ms Scalchi said.

“Religion is an extraordinary resource and connecting us through universal themes that resonate widely like love or death or purpose, meaning, grief, can help engage viewers — both secular and religious — with the content and bringing a greater understanding of faith and belief to as wide an audience as possible.”

Speaking at the same event, The Times’ Science Reporter and Religious Affairs Correspondent, Kaya Burgess, said that looking at religion through the lens of social affairs helps give it a broader appeal.

He explained that the line between religious and social affairs topics and correspondents is becoming increasingly blurred, with types of stories that appeal including how charities or religious communities are responding to social issues or events – like watching the World Cup or using AI in churches.

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Daisy Scalchi, speaking at the Religion Media Festival 2023

Offer something exceptional

It’s no surprise that Ms Scalchi said big-name talent is key to making religious programming with popular appeal – just look at Louis Theroux’s recent interviews with Stormzy and Bear Grylls, both of whom spoke passionately about their Christian faith.

She also recommended giving extraordinary access to people or situations, and using cutting-edge technology as other ways of reaching big audiences, citing BBC Two’s I’m an Alcoholic: Inside Recovery, which gave TV crew extraordinary access to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, using deepfake technology to ensure contributors could not be identified.

And there's plenty more and varied religious programming to come. Productions in the BBC's pipeline include Ben Fogle’s Scotland’s Sacred Islands and two yet unannounced films, one featuring a Muslim comedian discussing his faith, while the other will explore the most universal issue of them all: death.

By Charis Gibson, Director of Communications, Jersey Road PR

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