You’re enjoying a cup of coffee with a friend who is struggling in a relationship with a spouse, co-worker or family member. “Tell me more about this relationship,” you ask. They reply, “It’s complicated.”
In other words, there are multiple layers to the relationship in question that your friend cannot compress into a few short sentences. Like peeling the proverbial onion, it will take some time to look at all of the relational layers in order to understand the situation. So, pour another cup of coffee and listen with both ears for the next few minutes. It’s complicated.
The same could be said about communication in the Baptist world. It’s complicated. But, if we don’t get a handle on it, we stand to lose many of the resources that have bolstered the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) effectiveness for 174 years.
A little more than a year ago, I began an editorial with this statement, “Communication is the life blood of relationships.” In case you missed it, the paragraph continued, “Families function well and enjoy healthy, happy relationships to the extent that communication remains strong. This is also true in the worlds of business, government and the local church.”
The purpose of that editorial was to give our readers a better perspective of the Biblical Recorder’s (BR) role in telling the stories of SBC missions, ministries, personalities and organizations. As we inform the present generation, we record history for the next generation.
Southern Baptists need to have some serious conversations about the way we communicate at all levels – including the Executive Committee, all of our entities and affiliated organizations.
I am calling attention to this subject with the motive to improve our communication, not to attack any organization or individual in our Baptist family. It’s complicated, but let’s talk about it.
Reaching our audience
For almost two centuries we told our message to the average Baptist primarily through newspapers like the Biblical Recorder.
The advent of digital technology broadened media platforms significantly. Baptists’ communication strategies now include many forms of digital tools.
Therefore, some conclude the print medium is dead and believe all Cooperative Program (CP) support should be withdrawn from printed forms of communication. I believe that is a mistake that will ultimately damage CP giving.
Effective communication to a broad audience will not work with an “either-or” mentality. We need to understand the value of “both-and” if we want to reach all Baptists. Many will not get the message if it is “digital only” and many will not get the message if it is “print only.” The intended audience determines the communication strategy.
There is a second layer of “complicated” Baptist communications we need to understand.
The SBC and its entities have communication departments. Baptist state conventions and related state entities have communication departments. Their primary assignment is to tell their organization’s story, and they do it well. All of them write stories about their work, operate a website (in some cases multiple sites), send emails and produce volumes of printed material.
One might think all Baptists will get their news and information from this sea of Baptist websites, making state news outlets like the Biblical Recorder unnecessary. Not exactly.
First, most Baptists do not know that these abundant sites exist. The absence of links to entity websites on our own churches’ websites is enough evidence to prove my point.
Second, most Baptists will not visit multiple websites to hunt for news and information.
The Biblical Recorder’s multi-tiered and multi-generational communication streams, along with those of other state newspapers, serve as supermarkets of news and information. We gather news highlights from our CP partners, publish it, post it and point our readers to the source.
Part of our assignment is to boost traffic for Baptist entity websites.
Just as your local supermarket carries a variety of products that meet your needs, the BR staff writes and assembles a wide variety of Baptist news and information that our readers need to know. It’s a convenience consumers expect and need. For Baptists, it’s a convenience the CP needs. State newspapers are an essential distribution point for our partners’ message.
We are not in competition with the communication departments of the International Mission Board (IMB), the North American Mission Board, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina or any other CP partner.
Your BR staff is pleased not only to cooperate with the skilled professionals who serve Baptists through these organizations, but also to provide greater visibility to the ways their organization is investing CP resources for the glory of God.
We are not in competition with Baptist Press (BP). As fully supportive partners of their mission, we believe in BP’s assignment as stated on their website, “Baptist Press is the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention and is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Baptist Press is responsible for providing regular news releases about Southern Baptists, serving as the Convention’s press representative, and coordinating news operations for annual meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention. Baptist Press provides news service to the 42 state Baptist papers.” We could not do what we do without BP.
Baptist state newspapers/websites also want our Baptist partners to maintain strong communications teams. We feed on one another’s skills. CP is the ultimate beneficiary of healthy communication.
While some SBC leaders have reduced the communication flowing from our entities, IMB’s newly elected President Paul Chitwood has taken steps to strengthen the organization’s communication team. We commend him for this wise move. It has the potential to increase giving to IMB’s international assignment through CP and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
We hope all SBC executive leaders will build and maintain a strong, multi-tiered communications strategy – and the staff to make it work effectively.
On the other hand, it is also to the advantage of the SBC, state conventions, CP entities and the churches of our conventions that the Biblical Recorder and other state papers remain viable. A strong voice for the CP is necessary. A strong, broad, local voice for our Great Commission mandate is essential.
There is another important aspect of communication Baptists need to weigh.
Telling the story of our achievements is a good thing, but we also need a healthy stream of journalism that is free to raise honest questions, provide accurate reporting and hold each other accountable.
In a recent meeting of SBC editors, the question was asked, “Should our Baptist news agencies have written the Houston Chronicle’s report on sex abuse in the SBC?” In other words, do we have the responsibility to “police” ourselves? Should we depend on the secular world to do our job? That is a penetrating question.
The trend toward weakening and even dissolving Baptist news agencies is not healthy. Healthy journalism has been an historical strength in the growth of Southern Baptists. We need to examine our willingness to maintain Baptist journalism with integrity.
That’s a broader subject for another editorial, but we cannot ignore the need for that conversation.
It’s complicated, but let’s talk about it.