We arrived home last night after a three-day whirlwind trip to Lincoln, Nebraska, home of one of the most famous Christian radio ministries, Back to the Bible. Since its inception in 1939, Back to the Bible has had only three Bible teachers--Theodore Epp, Warren Wiersbe, and since 1990, Woodrow Kroll. For 67 years this ministry has provided Bible teaching for millions of people all over the world. Although a great deal about the ministry has changed over the years, the heart of Back to the Bible remains the teaching of the Word of God over the radio. The broadcast reaches over one million people in America every day. Millions more listen to the English broadcast in other countries. Wood Kroll told me that the audience in India is actually larger than the audience in America. They also have offices in thirteen other countries, with Bible teachers who broadcast their own messages in various languages, reaching millions more listeners.
Marlene and I met Wood Kroll last year when he and I spoke together at Word of Life Florida. A few months ago he invited me to come to Lincoln to tape five messages for the program. Upon arriving, we discovered that Back to the Bible occupies a huge, airy, brightly-lit office complex that once housed the Nebraska school book depository. I recorded the five messages in an area the size of a typical living room. About fifteen people (mostly staff members) sat in two rows of chairs. The idea is that you teach for about fifteen minutes and then at a natural break, you say, "I'll be right back." Wood and the production team viewed the program through a glass in an adjoining room. Then Tami Weissert, the co-host, either asks a question or moderates questions from the audience. This is a new format that gives you the feel of an informal Bible class where there can be laughter, feedback, comments and questions. Each program allots 25 minutes for the two Bible teaching segments. Wood told me that they try to encourage questions, and sometimes they get a lot, sometimes a few, sometimes none at all. Because I was speaking about forgiveness (based on my book The Healing Power of Forgiveness), we had plenty of questions.
It's a bit exhausting to tape five programs in one morning. Everyone was "up" for the first couple of sessions, then we took a break and did the third session. By the time we got to the fourth one, you could tell that we were getting near lunchtime. We took another break and I chatted with the folks and told several of them to ask me questions. So the final session turned out to be very lively. We ended up taping 27-28 minutes for each session, questions included, which the production team will pare down to 25 minutes. I was definitely ready for lunch when we were done. Meanwhile Wood was in and out during the morning. He told me later that he stepped out to tape some promos for upcoming programs. Later he left to sign donor letters. After lunch he and I went back to the studio and taped the intros to the five programs.
I am glad to report that Back to the Bible is doing very well indeed. Like many other old-line ministries that started during the World War II--era, it went through a period of retooling and refocusing. For one thing, technology (particularly the Internet) has revolutionized every part of the broadcast industry. There are tools available to reach the world that Theodore Epp never dreamed of.
We were met at the Omaha airport by Arnie Cole, the Executive Vice-President of Back to the Bible. He told us about Edge 64 and a brand-new skate park that just opened on the property in early March. It's all part of a huge effort to reach out to the under-20 generation. The Back to the Bible staff is largely young, most of them under 30, bringing energy, vision and creativity that is reshaping the ministry for the 21st century. They have a growing Internet presence, which they hope to expand in the next few years. Part of that effort includes a website called Not Religion.com that reaches secular audiences that never listen to Christian radio. A big part of Wood's vision relates to the Bible Literacy Center, a major initiative to discover why people own the Bible but never read it, and to develop ways to increase Bible reading.
We had a wonderful time and felt right at home. It is exciting to see a ministry that's been around a long time reinvent itself for the 21st century without losing its essential focus. Back to the Bible is still firmly committed to teaching the Word via radio to as many people as possible. While the methods have changed, the message remains the same.
The five messages I taped will be broadcast sometime in 2007. I'll let you know the dates as soon as I know myself.