Commentary: Serving The Christian Index has been a labor of love


Serving as editor of The Christian Index has been a great privilege and a labor of love. Giving that up isn’t easy.

I took the job three years ago with hopes of pumping new life into the nation’s oldest religious newspaper, now 202 years old. With that mission accomplished, it’s time for a new challenge. So, I’ll be leaving the Index at the end of March.

I will certainly miss the hardworking folks who have labored alongside me to make the Index a stronger, healthier newspaper, including legendary former Index editor Gerald Harris who quickly became a dear friend, trusted adviser, and confidant to me. Gerald is a Christian gentleman, a great encourager, and an incredible journalist. He has played a major role in positioning the Index for the future.

Henry Durand joined us to run the website. Henry, too, is an amazing Christian brother as well as a career journalist who previously worked for the Reuters news service, The Associated Press, and CNN. Henry is a consummate professional and perhaps the hardest working person I’ve ever known.

And Charles Jones, a Southern Baptist historian, retired pastor, and writer, joined in. What an incredible resource he has been, keeping us rooted and grounded in the Index’s original mission and purpose, which were established by founding editor Luther Rice when he started the newspaper in 1822. Charles, like Gerald and Henry, is an amazing Christian brother who takes seriously his role of keeping Southern Baptists aware of their history, even the ugly portions so that they aren't condemned to repeat them.

In everything we have done, we kept the newspaper’s original purpose in mind, beefing up coverage of missions and ministries in Georgia and beyond. We also began providing our readers with the most important news of the day from around the world, just as Luther Rice did in his day and as other editors did in their days, including during the Civil War when the newspaper carried the latest dispatches from the frontlines.

Readers responded well to that, and our little team has rejoiced to see clicks on the website, which used to be measured in thousands, rise into the millions.

Our readership is up dramatically. Advertising revenue now covers the newspaper’s operational expenses.  And, thanks to the many generous Georgia Baptist churches, Cooperative Program gifts cover personnel costs.

Classified and retail advertising are key indicators of the health of a newspaper. Google analytics tell us that our classifieds section has become the most-read section of the Index, getting slightly more traffic than even our homepage. Our readers realize classified advertising in the Index gets results. Most of those ads are from churches seeking pastors. So, we’re helping to match pastors and congregations all over the state. What an incredible privilege it is to be a part of that.

You have likely also noticed the many display ads on the website. So many Christian organizations recognize that, to get their messages to Georgia Baptists, there’s no better vehicle than the Index. In fact, I’d dare say, there’s no other vehicle that can reach the 1.4 million Southern Baptists in Georgia except the Index.

Newspapers across the country have been in decline for decades. Industry executives have been at a loss as to what to do about it. We had a plan to ensure the future of the Index, and that was to drastically increase the number of articles we produce about the Georgia Baptist community. We understand that stories about Georgia Baptists are our bread and butter. Always have been. Always will be. And, honestly, it’s a privilege to get to tell those stories.

We also became members of The Associated Press, which gives us access to all the state, national and international news of the day. That allows us to keep Georgia Baptists up to date on everything going on in the world. The rationale behind that is simple: How can we expect Georgia Baptists to engage the world if they don’t know what’s going on in the world? Who better to tell Georgia Baptists what’s going on the world than their trusted old friend, The Christian Index?

One of the coolest things that happened during my tenure was the creation of the Index News Service, which allows us to provide our content free of charge to community newspapers across the state. We give those newspapers full access to all the religion news and features that appear in The Christian Index. That’s done as a free service, a ministry, if you will, to newspapers that have been so heavily impacted by industry shifts and economic factors far beyond their control. Of course, the arrangement also serves to let more people know about the incredible things Georgia Baptists are doing. That’s a good thing.

What Gerald, Henry, Charles, and I have done is to give our best effort to provide you with a stronger, healthier newspaper that can serve you not only today but well into the future. As technology advances, your Index is flexible enough to adapt to those changes and ensure that you know what’s going on in the world … so that you can engage the world.

I will take great joy in watching the Index continue to thrive in the years to come.