By Margaret Colson
NASHVILLE (BP) — Longtime trusted sources for information and inspiration, Southern Baptist media are now being celebrated and recognized with a day to call their own: Southern Baptist Media Day.
Recently added to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) calendar, Southern Baptist Media Day, on July 28, is set aside to celebrate how God has used and continues to use Southern Baptist media in His mission.
“In the 30 years I have served in Southern Baptist communications, first as a curriculum editor and now as leader of a state Baptist news service, I have witnessed how God uses media — in all its forms — to inform, inspire, and involve Baptists in the mission of Jesus Christ,” said Tim Yarbrough, editor of Arkansas Baptist News, and immediate past president of Association of State Baptist Publications (ASBP).
“The lives impacted by Southern Baptist media are without a doubt immeasurable,” he said.
Southern Baptist media were birthed by missions nearly 200 years ago. Georgia’s The Christian Index was established as the first Baptist state paper in 1822, after the 1814 formation of the Triennial Convention, forerunner of the SBC, which was founded in 1845.
Known from 1822-1829 as The Columbian Star, then from 1829-1831 as The Columbian Star and Christian Index before becoming The Christian Index in 1831, the weekly Baptist newspaper, the outgrowth of the work of legendary missions leader Luther Rice, was a national effort to encourage support for the early missions endeavors of Rice’s friends like Adoniram and Ann Judson (missionaries to Burma, now Myanmar). Ten other Baptist state papers, still being published today, were founded in the 1800s, according to the 2018 SBC Annual.
In the almost two centuries since the launch of The Index, Southern Baptist media have grown exponentially and adapted dramatically to opportunities offered by the ever-expanding world of technology. The 2018 SBC Annual reports a total of 37 state Baptist papers, with a total circulation of 621,521.
Many of those state papers offer a combination of print and digital versions. Some state papers, including The Christian Index, have moved to a digital-only format, tapping the benefits of technology to reach their audiences while at the same time alleviating the escalating costs of printing and mailing. Some state papers offer editions of their publications in languages other than English.
Baptist Press (BP), Southern Baptists’ international daily news service, was birthed in 1946, and its website was launched in 1996. Originally formed at the suggestion of Baptist state paper editors, BP has grown into one of largest religious news service in the United States. BP also provides news and opinion for the Hispanic Baptist community through a weekly webpage in Spanish.
Beyond state papers and BP, today’s Southern Baptist media include many SBC entity publications, websites, curriculum, campaigns for special mission offerings, podcasts, photography and videography, and more.
“Media and communications have continued to change and evolve in the 174 years the Southern Baptist Convention has existed,” Yarbrough said. “Southern Baptists are embracing new and innovative ways of communicating the Gospel through new media.”
Telling the Southern Baptist story
As diverse as Southern Baptist media are, the shared goal is to “keep us informed about what is going on in the denomination, in our country and in the world,” said David Williams, editor of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist, and ASBP president. “The forte of Southern Baptist media is telling the Southern Baptist story. No one does it better.
“What Southern Baptist media do best is telling the stories of what God is doing in our churches and through our people,” he said. “Those are the stories you seldom, if ever, find in the secular media — stories about a dying church being revitalized, an unreached people group being touched by the Gospel, a revival breaking out in a community or on a college campus, a church planter gathering a group of unchurched people into a new congregation, a church setting up a ministry to refugees who have located in their community, a young couple answering God’s call to leave their home and become missionaries in a country where they will likely be persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Stories like these we find nowhere else except in Southern Baptist media.”
Such stories build awareness of God’s work in the world, often inspiring Southern Baptists to action, said Jim Veneman, visiting professor of journalism and new media at California Baptist University and president of Baptist Communicators Association (BCA).
“We take action based on what we know,” he said. God has uniquely gifted Southern Baptist media professionals “to tell a story in a way to help move awareness into action.
“While news provides ever-important awareness, powerful stories of Christianity in action inspire us to action,” he said. That action might include praying, giving, or actively going.
The work of Southern Baptist media professionals, Veneman noted, is similar to the little boy’s lunch that Jesus used to feed the 5,000 in John 6.
“We think it’s just one photograph, one story, one social media post — until God blesses it, and it’s exactly like that lunch. It has an impact way beyond the scope of anything we may ever even know about.”
Impacting God’s mission
The International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board (NAMB) affirm the positive impact Southern Baptist media have made on God’s mission in the world.
Julie McGowan, IMB public relations director, noted the missions entity “values our enduring partnership with Southern Baptist media who, for nearly 175 years, have shared the stories of how God is at work around the world with millions of church members across the convention.”
“Those stories give us all the opportunity to glorify God, to support His mission through our prayers and giving, and to learn where and how we can go on mission with Him,” she said. “The nations are waiting to hear the good news of God’s love for them, and Southern Baptist media play an integral part in getting that message around the globe.”
Mike Ebert, NAMB executive director of public relations, said Southern Baptist media “play a crucial role in telling the story of missions in North America.”
“We are indebted to them,” he said, “for how they communicate the challenge of lostness and for the way they tell the stories about the missionaries and churches that are responding to the call to be on mission for Christ.”
Margaret Colson is executive director of Baptist Communicators Association, executive secretary of Association of State Baptist Publications, and a Southern Baptist writer living in Marietta, Georgia. With reporting by Art Toalston, senior editor, Baptist Press.