“We feel like we’re God’s family for all Christians, mainly to try to get the message out to non-Christians,” Alan Robertson said. Hundreds of people have shown up at the family’s church, said senior pastor Mike Kellett.

“I tell people, ‘If you want to put your eyes on them, come to church!’” he said. Alan Robertson co-ministered with Kellett for seven years before deciding to join the show for its fourth season. He and his father, Phil, still serve as elders. Friends and relatives estimate that Phil Robertson, who had a following for his revivalist-style gospel preaching, has baptized more than 300 people.

“We’re kind of the John the Baptists of the 21st century,” Alan Robertson said. “It’s how you imagine, with the wild hair and the locusts.”

At the end of each show, the Robertsons join in prayer together, something visitors note as they come through the church.

“I think there are a lot of families that wish they would gather around the table and pray like that,” Kellett said. “I think it hits a nerve.”

While Breaking Bad has gotten most of the press attention, Duck Dynasty has won the ratings race, said Craig Detweiler, a communications professor at Pepperdine University, a school associated with Churches of Christ.

“There hasn’t been such a beloved depicting of Southern charm since ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’” said Detweiler, who grew up in Charlotte, N.C. The show finds a smart way to combine family, food, faith and really long beards, he said. “There are a lot of complaints about the reality TV genre, but there are far more Christians portrayed on America as a result,” Detweiler said. “The beard gets longer and the ratings keep going up. They’re laughing all the way to the bank.”

The Robertsons can also be found on an array of merchandise, including bobbleheads, T-shirts, and Uncle Si’s plastic tea cup. Forthcoming books include a cookbook from Phil’s wife, Kay, “Si-cology 1″ from Uncle Si and “The Duck Commander Devotional” from Alan Robertson, available in regular or pink camo colors.

“For years, Hollywood missed a lot,” Alan Robertson said. ”It looks like they’re taking advantage of us, but we’re taking advantage of them to get the gospel preached.”

The show doesn’t appeal to everyone, though. Nancy French, an evangelical who blogs often on reality television for Patheos, said she and her husband have kept the show at arm’s length. Having grown up in rural Tennessee in the Churches of Christ, she is pretty familiar with the Duck Dynasty-type.

“It just didn’t satisfy whatever ‘escapist’ itch we need scratched in reality TV watching perhaps,” French said. “But I have always liked the idea of people with my values being represented in pop culture.” The show likely strikes a chord because the Robertsons can control their image within the reality TV genre, said Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals.

“The Duck Dynasty fan is laughing and praying with the Robertsons instead of laughing at and gawking at them,” Eskridge said. “I think that scores nicely with the audience to see folks from that subculture poking fun at themselves as opposed to outsiders doing it.”

Publication date: August 22, 2013