Louisiana Baptist Message trustees have been asked to consider moving the newspaper back under state Executive Board structure and authority.
Louisiana Baptist Message trustees have been asked
to consider moving the newspaper back under state Executive Board
structure and authority.
Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Director
David Hankins presented the proposal to newspaper trustees during a
called meeting last week in Alexandria.
Baptist Message trustees had called the meeting
primarily to hear recommendations from Hankins concerning “possible
methods and structures for better cooperation and stewardship” between
the convention and the newspaper.
During the two-hour session, Hankins presented an
idea that would eliminate the Baptist Message board and place the
newspaper back within the Executive Board fold. The Baptist Message
originally operated within the Executive Board structure until it was
authorized as a separate denominational agency in 1963.
Hankins proposed returning to those days by designing a new communications division for the state convention.
The division would provide “a uniform,
conprehensive, coordinated, intentional, efficient and effective
communication plan for the Louisiana Baptist Convention that will
employ an array of specialists from various disciplines, utilizing all
The division would be supervised by an
editor-in-chief answerable to the executive director. The
editor-in-chief would employ communication specialists in a range of
areas – print media, Internet, public relations, marketing, multimedia
and missions promotion.
The editor would be a writer-in-residence charged
with articulating a Christian worldview and developing and supervising
communication processes for the convention, Hankins explained.
Hankins told Baptist Message trustees the new
approach is needed in order to recover the efficiency of communications
for the state.
“We’re at a time of transition, …” he said, noting
that Baptist Message subscriptions have dropped and that the
publication now is facing a change in leadership as Editor Lynn P.
Clayton retires at the end of 2005.
“When we think about the future, we don’t want to
ignore the past, …” Hankins said in presenting his idea. “But we also
don’t want to be bound by it.”
Hankins outlined some of his overall vision for the
state convention, acknowledging that work is continuing on it.
A key goal is to have congregations representing at
least 90 percent of Louisiana Baptists “thoroughly integrated and
enthusiastically supportive” of state convention ministries, Hankins
However, that will require clear and targeted communication, he added.
It is clear the state convention has not been able
to tell its story very well, Hankins said. “And that’s what we’re
talking about here – telling the story.”
Communication is the most logical tool for igniting
a passion for Christ, is the most important strategic need facing the
Louisiana Baptist Convention and well may determine future success or
failure, Hankins maintained.
Unfortunately, as it stands, most people are
uninformed or underinformed, Hankins said. “They really are
disconnected, distracted, …” he said. “And we’re seeing the results
of that. We’re in a decline (as a state convention).”
Hankins noted that the communications paradigm is
changing with the growth of the Internet and the use of such technology
as DVDs and computerized design.
He also noted that measurable statistics are
declining for the state convention. This applies to the decrease in
Louisiana Baptist Message subscriptions – from the 70,000-plus in the
early 1980s to 30,000-plus now, Hankins pointed out. It also applies to
the minimal growth in Cooperative Program receipts, he added.
The problem is that Louisiana Baptists are
underselling their story, Hankins said. Resources are limited – and too
little is being used too ineffectively on communication, he emphasized.
The key is a system that stays on message, uses resources well and gets results.
Hankins cited three advantages to his proposal,
noting it would create a system that is uniform and comprehensive,
efficient and effective.
The system would involve constant coordination among
state convention staff, would reach the target audience and would not
involve duplication of effort.
During discussion with board members, a variety of
issues were addressed, including the role of the state newspaper and
whether its independent status is a benefit when reporting convention
Hankins noted that three-fourths of state Baptist
newspapers operate without separate boards – indeed, only 10 are set up
as individual agencies.
With the proposed change, Hankins said he envisions
a more targeted effort, ensuring that communication is delivered to
local church leaders.
He said he sees a combination of news, features,
promotions and emphasized that his proposal is not meant to be a
criticism of the Baptist Message.
Print communication is changing everywhere, he said,
noting that fewer and fewer states have a weekly newspaper.
“This is a different world,” Hankins noted, at one
point comparing the changes confronting print media as a “freefall.”
Still, Hankins said he intends for the convention to
have a newspaper – but what it will look like remains to be seen.
A bottom line is that the current system is
inefficient – trying to communicate under two chains of command,
Hankins said. One chain of command would make for a much more effective
approach, he noted.
“I just see this as hitting a homerun for the convention,” Hankins said.
In addition to dialoguing with trustees, Hankins and
Clayton also spent time discussing the role of the newspaper and
whether a separate board increases the confidence others have in its
Hankins suggested true freedom of the press is not
the goal of a Baptist newspaper – promotion of the kingdom of God is.
Thus, news decisions always are made with that in mind – whether the
paper operates with a separate board or not.
That being so, his proposal would not change that
fact at all, Hankins said. “It just comes down to who is making the
decision regarding news reporting.”
In turn, Clayton emphasized the importance of a
newspaper that has proven itself trustworthy and suggested the same
results could be reached with the state convention and the Baptist
Message working in tandem toward common goals.
However, Hankins said he is convinced that keeping
things under two chains of command will result in inefficiency.
Depending only on a newspaper for communication is
not the future but the past, Hankins said. “It’s a changing time, and
the question is – are we going to look at reality, …” he said.
“I think print media is in trouble.”
At one point, Hankins was asked what would happen in
terms of state convention funding for the Baptist Message if trustees
decided against his proposal.
Hankins said he could not guarantee he would support
promotion of the Baptist Message as it is. He said he likely would push
for it to make its own way more.
He explained that he will move ahead with his plans
for a communications division regardless of the decision by the
newspaper trustees. He also reminded trustees that he is charged with
using funds most efficiently at the state level.
He insisted his proposal is not about control but
leadership. He also said there was no big push to bring the issue to
the board for consideration.
However, with Clayton retiring, a window of
opportunity presented itself, Hankins noted. Having made his case, the
matter now rests with Baptist Message trustees, he said, adding that he
has no plans to lead a convention fight on it.
Trustees spent some time discussing the matter before deciding to take it up at the scheduled May meeting.
In the meanwhile, Baptist Message board members will
be gathering information regarding the proposal, said Larry Thompson,
trustee chair and pastor at Westlake First Baptist Church in Westlake.
Input from fellow Louisiana Baptists also is welcomed, he said.