Bene's sidekick Rick Hiebert noted yesterday's 33rd birthday of the Moral Majority, linking through to a Jonathan Merritt Atlantic essay blaming a lot of the modern church's woes on its ideological descendants. I seem to remember it going further back than '79, but that is about the time I recall seeing Falwell on the Sunday talk shows and being both impressed and a bit scared of him at the time as a young neoliberal Democrat.
You didn't see evangelicals talked about much in my childhood; Jimmy Carter was an odd Southern Baptist that made it to the White House and you occasionally might have seen the odd preacher on Sunday morning before either going to my folks Methodist church or watching Meet The Press or CBS' Sunday Morning. I had a vague concept that the Baptist dunked adults rather than sprinkling babies, but that was about the extent of my knowledge of the breed; I couldn't tell you what a Church of God differed from an Assembly of God (or even that you had a Cleveland flavor of CoG that would be like an AoG and a Anderson flavor that was more like the Nazarenes) or why we had United Methodists, Free Methodists and Wesleyans all in town.
[Update 8AM 6/10- Billy Graham skipped my mind last night. He'd be on with his crusade specials, but that was about it from a positive vantage point]
Short of wading into the religion section of the library or daringly walking into a strange church, a pre-Moral Majority seeker wouldn't get much of a view of an evangelical take on the Gospel in the media.
That's still true. You might get an evangelical take on same-sex marriage or abortion or school vouchers or sex education, but the core idea that God's perfect, we aren't and Jesus died to bridge that gap is a no-show on the nightly news, or CNN or even Fox News.
The more conservative/traditional side of Christianity may get more press than it did in the 60s or early 70s, but it is mostly political. Is the contentious culture warrior that the modern outsiders sees more detrimental to the gospel than not seeing them at all was a third-of-a-century ago was?
Most of the loss in church-going came from the more liberal mainline denominations, as the kids of liberal churches either stopped going as adults or shifted over to more conservative churches.
Would Jerry Falwell or James Dobson or Richard Land drive a Methodist kid away from a liberal-leaning church? I think not; he likely only knows Dobson by reputation and might have seen Land's name in a piece on the Religious Right, not enough to have him sour on his own church. What would drive him away is the lack of difference between what is preached in the pulpit and what is seen in secular TV. Dr Phil's more interesting that some rote readings and sermons on being a good citizen and tells you roughly the same thing.
If we had no Religious Right giving the Gospel slanted press, would we draw more people to Christ? Not that much. Religious fuddy-duddies would still get made fun of on sitcoms, creationist fundies would still get ragged on by pop scientists. Also, people would tend to forget that there is something wrong with the habits-formally-called-vices that pop culture promotes on the sexual front. The bad press would continue, but it would merely be off the news programs and just in pop culture without much of a counter-argument.
Would a more winsome Religious Right be am improvement? Yes. Many folks are too in-your-face, too wedded to the GOP on economics and foreign policy and place too much emphasis on politics to the detriment of more fruitful ministry. However, even if the jerkier members of the tribe were sent to charm school with a minor in the shortcomings of modern political conservatism, we'd still have a lot of bad press and the rep wouldn't change much.
Finding ways to break through the clutter with the Gospel in more appealing ways is more of the answer than just taking our political ball and going home.