CHARLESTON, S.C. (BP) — Members of the Association of State Baptist Publications learned from university professor and author Penelope Muse Abernathy during their annual meeting in Charleston, S.C.

The ASBP meeting “gives those who lead state Baptist newspapers and other publications the opportunity to discuss opportunities and challenges faced in today’s ever-changing publishing environment,” said Tim Yarbrough, editor/executive director of the Arkansas Baptist News and 2018-19 president of ASBP, an organization founded in 1895.

With the theme, “Press On,” ASBP members also heard a number of reports from denominational leaders during their four-day meeting.

Community journalism

Abernathy, who holds the Knight chair in journalism and digital media economics at the University of North Carolina, led three sessions: “How the World Has Changed/What We Know So Far,” “A New Model for Nurturing Community” and “What I’ve Learned and What I’ll Do Differently.” Abernathy, who has done extensive research on community newspapers, is author of the book “Saving Community Journalism.”

“It is critical that community newspapers survive,” she said, explaining that she uses the term “community newspaper” in a broad sense to include magazines, podcasts and “everything you have to tell your story.”

“It was refreshing to hear from researcher Penelope Abernathy, who states, ‘[W]hat is important is not the size of a paper’s print circulation, but rather the mission of the paper,'” Yarbrough said.

“Abernathy offered leaders of Baptist newspapers and publications strategies for improving their reach as they seek to compete during the digital age and inform, inspire and involve Southern Baptists in our ‘community’ of Kingdom work.”

In recent years, Yarbrough stated, “we have seen the mainstream media cast aside their responsibility of objective journalism, many times opting to bend the news to fit their own secular, humanist worldview. Baptist journalists have the responsibility to inform Southern Baptists about the work of their denomination so they can make informed decisions regarding funding, governance and missionary deployment.”

Denominational leaders

Throughout their Feb. 11-14 sessions, participants heard from Southern Baptist entity leaders, including Paul Chitwood, newly elected president of the International Mission Board (IMB).

Chitwood said he is taking time to “ask, listen and learn” as he settles into his new role. He acknowledged that in recent years the IMB has been challenged, because of downsizing and other factors, in its task of communicating God’s work in the world. He committed to “beef up” communications at the IMB and stated that he has hired Roger Alford from the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) as IMB communications vice president.

In answer to a question, Chitwood said the KBC decision to merge the historic Baptist paper, the Western Recorder, with the state convention’s communications office was largely a cost-saving measure as well as a move intended to expand the KBC’s ability to communicate with a larger audience.

North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell spoke to the group, stating, “Everything we do is about the Gospel.”

Ezell outlined NAMB’S church planter assessment process, saying that the mission board needs 4,000 church planter applications to send 1,200 church planters annually.

He described NAMB’S organizational leadership with four vice presidents, before introducing Johnny Hunt, the new vice president of evangelism and leadership. Hunt introduced the new evangelism initiative, Who’s Your One? Describing how one person who led him to salvation made an enormous impact worldwide.

The Who’s Your One? initiative is customizable by churches, associations and state conventions, Ezell said. As a part of the evangelism focus, leaders from NAMB plan to visit seven or eight states for evangelism rallies. “Evangelism rallies need to be evangelistic,” Hunt said. Ezell noted that NAMB leadership had “underestimated the need to encourage and beg pastors to be evangelistic.”

J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., spent about 40 minutes with the editors.

He recounted the six areas he is championing during his tenure as SBC president and also spoke to the sexual abuse issue in the denomination today, stating, “Now is not the time to defend ourselves,” but rather now is the time to “lament and mourn.” He further noted, “The safety of victims is priority over reputation of churches.” See a report in Baptist Press on Feb. 13.

Participants also heard reports from O.S. Hawkins, president/chief executive officer of GuideStone Financial Resources; Sandy Wisdom-Martin, executive director-treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union, SBC; Carol Pipes, director of corporate communications for LifeWay Christian Resources; Shawn Hendricks, editor of Baptist Press; and Randy Adams, executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention. Devotionals were led by Yarbrough; David Williams, editor of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist; and Kevin Parker, editor of the Baptist New Mexican.

Participants also heard a synopsis report on a recent state Baptist paper survey that revealed great diversity in how the papers accomplish their mission but a common commitment to the mission of communicating with Southern Baptists.

Business session

In the ASBP business session, members honored K. Allan Blume, who is retiring May 31 as editor of North Carolina Baptists’ Biblical Recorder. See a report in Baptist Press on Feb. 19.

The group also remembered Jack Harwell, former editor of The Christian Index of Georgia and former ASBP president, who died in January.

In closing, Yarbrough passed the ASBP gavel to Williams, who will serve as the organization’s 2019-2020 president. Jennifer Rash, editor of The Alabama Baptist, was elected ASBP president-elect, to serve in 2020-2021. ASBP’s next annual meeting will be Feb. 10-13 in Tucson, Ariz.