December 2014

Will the Recorder be here in five years?

December 30 2014 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

I need to say something very important to pastors, staff and church leaders in North Carolina. We have about four years to decide if we want a news and information source with a biblical worldview in our state. For 181 years the Biblical Recorder has been an essential ingredient in Baptist life. The paper has provided news and information on many levels:

  • reporting on the ministries and outreach of N.C. churches and associations,

  • covering mission work in our state and around the world,

  • informing N.C. Baptists about their agencies including the Baptist Children’s Homes, N.C. Baptist Men, Fruitland and campus ministry,

  • publishing the great work of Southern Baptist agencies like our seminaries, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, North American Mission Board, the International Mission Board (IMB) and the Executive Committee,

  • providing weekly Sunday School lesson summaries,

  • reporting on pastoral and staff changes,

  • and telling the stories of Baptists across the state.

We are still doing all of these things and more! We reflect the values of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Yet, for many reasons paid subscriptions continue to decline.

Everywhere I go, people tell me they love the Biblical Recorder. They compliment our positive emphasis and encouraging content. But all of the gracious, supportive words are not translating into subscriptions.

Cultural and technological changes have caused a large reduction in the number of people who read newspapers. We have stayed on top of these changes, posting much of our content online and using social media.

Our website, BRnow.org, is hailed as one of the best Baptist news web sites in the world, and it continues to grow. In 2014 the count of our “unique visitors” increased 480%. That is a phenomenal statistic! But websites do not bring in enough advertising revenue to pay the bills. Those who browse the Internet are reluctant to pay for access to news sites. Therefore, BRnow.org continues to be free to all users.

All Baptist state papers are struggling to survive. We receive a significant portion of our support from the Cooperative Program (CP). So the downward trend in CP giving is hurting everyone. The Recorder has seen a loss of $94,000 in CP revenue in the past three years. That is a huge sum for us!

The mainstay of the subscription base for most state papers is the “group subscription plan.” There was a time when almost every Baptist church had a group plan for members and leaders.

It was considered an essential ingredient for successful mission engagement. The state paper holds all CP-funded ministries accountable to the local church, and regularly informs Baptists on the impact of CP dollars around the world. People who read the Biblical Recorder are better informed.

Our group subscription plans are in decline for several reasons. First, many senior subscribers are in declining health, and many are dying. So churches are dropping subscriptions for these long-time supporters, while adding very few, if any, new readers to their list.

Second, many churches who have faithfully maintained their group plan are struggling to meet their budget. An easy place to cut the church budget is to remove the Biblical Recorder.

We know ministry is tough these days, and we certainly do not want to see churches cut their missions budget or decrease support for their personnel. But we believe it is ultimately harmful to the mission of the church to disconnect Baptists from vital information sources.

When I began serving as your editor, a senior leader at IMB said to me, “We need the state papers to survive. The papers are a major part of promoting the Lottie Moon offering and keeping Baptists informed all year long on the work of our missionaries.” He said it is not possible for IMB to get mission information to people in the pews without the Biblical Recorder and the state newspapers.

I genuinely believe one of the factors in the decline in CP giving and other missions giving is due to the lack of information reaching the people in our pews. The Recorder staff can help you resolve that problem. We exist to give your congregation news and information that will encourage their walk with God, strengthen the church’s missions giving and support the biblical preaching of the pastor.

Third, few pastors are starting a group subscription plan for their congregation. During the conservative resurgence most conservative pastors did not want their congregation to receive a newspaper that was not supportive of the SBC. For several decades many churches cancelled Biblical Recorder subscriptions. Every week pastors are telling me how much they love the tone and content of the Recorder. They often follow their generous comments with a statement like, “So, you must be seeing a great increase in subscriptions.” Wrong.

Baptists listen to their pastors. We need pastors to take the initiative to tell their people about the ministry of the Recorder. Most pastors already have a full plate. It’s hard to squeeze one more announcement in the service. But the people in your church family need to know that the Recorder is here to serve them.
Let me share few practical steps to keep your church members and attenders informed:

  • Talk about the Recorder. Tell your church who we are and what we do. We’ve provided some helpful tools on our website at BRnow.org/PromoteBR.

  • Invite the editor to speak in your association, local pastors’ conference or church. This has been the most effective way to increase awareness and strengthen our work. It personalizes our ministry.

  • An easy way to get your congregation connected is to encourage everyone to subscribe to the BRweekly. It’s FREE. This e-newsletter comes to your email inbox every Wednesday morning. BRweekly is also a great tool for rapid communication of urgent news.

  • Hold a Biblical Recorder Day in the church. Contact our office, and we will be glad to help arrange this special day.

  • Give a special gift to the Biblical Recorder in 2015. We need to raise about $100,000 each year to keep pace with the needs of N.C. Baptists.

  • Support our advertisers. Advertising revenue is about one-third of our annual income. For more information, visit BRnow.org/advertise.

  • Last, but certainly not least, I pray you will give strong support to CP. This tried and proven lifeline of ministry cannot be overestimated!

Do you want the Biblical Recorder to be here in five years? If so, let’s do something together to keep this important news source alive and available.

Please email us at editor@BRnow.org or call (919) 847-2127 if we can answer any questions and help you keep your church informed.

12/30/2014 10:00:26 AM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments



Advent and our mission

December 2 2014 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

I stared in disbelief at the online advertisement for Starbucks products. As part of the famous coffee company’s “holiday” promotion they invited me to purchase an official Starbucks® 2014 Advent calendar that tracks the 25 days leading up to Christmas day.
 
If you’ve paid any attention to the “war on Christmas” in recent years, and if you’ve noticed how quickly most large companies act to distance themselves from any semblance of Christianity, perhaps you understand my amazement. Starbucks is not known for embracing Christian beliefs. Yet, here they are promoting the first coming of Jesus to the world. Kudos to Starbucks!
 
Maybe some people see Advent as a fairly neutral “holiday” celebration. Some celebrate it merely from tradition and are clueless as to its rich meaning. But we know better.
 
The word “advent” means “coming.” The traditional celebration of Advent points to the first coming of Jesus to this world, focusing on the anticipation for Messiah in the heart of every ancient Jewish worshiper and the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promise of a Messiah for His people.
 
For the Christian, this is a time to keep the focus on Jesus daily in the middle of a season that keeps drawing our attention to material items. As we relive the unbridled anticipation of the Jews, the value of the Savior’s birth comes alive. But we know that His first birth is not the end of the story. Advent reminds us that He is coming again!
 
I did not grow up in church that recognized the Advent season. Churches with a more liturgical leaning have typically given attention to this annual celebration.
 
But as a young pastor I received a gift from an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary couple serving in Germany. I was the pastor of their home church at the time. So Warner and Roberta Bumgardner sent a very decorative, German Advent calendar to our family in 1979. I had heard of Advent but always brushed it aside as something only liturgical churches did. I learned it is a very popular tradition in Germany, the homeland of my family name.
 
I began a multi-year investigation into the history of the Advent tradition. The Internet was not available in those days, so basic, old-fashioned footwork was my method of research. The more I studied, the more I wondered why evangelicals were missing out on all of the rich meaning and pure joy of advent celebrations.
 
Pam and I began a tradition of celebrating Advent in our home with our son. For each day of the four-week Advent season, we met every evening for about 15 minutes. Each evening a new candle was lit in the long advent log on the mantle. As we came closer to Christmas day, the light in the room grew brighter.
 
From literature I found in my research, we developed short devotionals that focused on the scriptural prophecies leading to the day Emmanuel, the Light of the world, was born in Bethlehem.
 
This daily family time – at the busiest season of the year – developed into our most treasured aspect of the Christmas season.
 
We read the scriptures, we sang, we prayed, we lit candles and we enjoyed a daily family-building experience. Our hearts shifted from the secular to the spiritual.
 
That shift had an effect on our gifts to international missions. Each day of Advent as we prayed for people in our community, we also prayed for specific IMB missionaries by name. Sometimes we wrote them a note of encouragement.
 
But we also prayed for ourselves. We asked God to allow us to give more generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO). Our resources were small, but we thought “Why not ask God to guide the process of redirecting our priorities?” Why could we not give as much to international missions as we were giving to ourselves?
 
The daily Advent devotion slowly refocused our priorities until we were asking God, “Will you provide for us to give $1,000 to LMCO this year?” That was so far beyond our resources! There was no way that was going to happen on this pastor’s salary!
 
Would it surprise you to learn that God provided the amount we asked? Our young son was able to see God’s provision while the Father was shaping all of our hearts for the unreached of His world. It is impossible to describe how our family Advent celebration shaped every aspect of our lives forever, not the least of which is our giving to LMCO.
 
We shared our practices with others in the church, and many of them implemented it in their Christmas celebrations. The church began weaving the celebration of Advent into worship services. People came to Sunday School classes every week with exciting reports of how their family was blessed through daily Advent celebrations in their homes.
 
Year-by-year, the movement grew. The church’s MOPS (Mothers Of Preschoolers) ministry published a daily Advent family devotional guide. Our Lottie Moon offerings grew. Our attention was drawn to the birth of Jesus Christ.
 
In every church I served in the last 35 years, hundreds of families have personalized Advent celebrations in their homes.
 
The impact has been impressive. Our discovery of this very old Christmas tradition was remarkable. And maybe some of us have helped our children see the difference between the way the secular world celebrates Christmas and the way believers celebrate Christmas.
 
I believe this is one way we can respond to Milton Hollifield’s plea to disciple our families.
 
I also believe a family Advent celebration can make a big difference in our Great Commission assignment. Please read IMB President David Platt’s appeal in the Nov. 22 edition of the Biblical Recorder. Pray for our missionaries and pray that your family will give your largest gift to LMCO this year.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Please share your Advent experiences with us. To learn more on how to make the most of the true meaning of Christmas, visit our Celebrating Advent page.)

12/2/2014 11:37:45 AM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments