'Georgia-centric' Baptist paper signaled by board of directors

ATLANTA (BP)--The board of directors of The Christian Index announced a major overhaul of the nation's oldest Baptist newspaper following their regularly scheduled meeting Jan. 25.

Board chairman Rick Brown called the revamping an opportunity to refocus the paper on news of Georgia Baptists as they work to bring others to Christ. He assured subscribers that The Index would maintain its current production schedule and there would be no interruption of the paper's bimonthly delivery.

"We are exploring ways to redirect the resources of The Index to enable it to be more effective, more responsive, in telling the story of how God is working through our churches," said Brown, a Macon attorney. "Georgia Baptists are a creative people who are constantly pushing the envelope in finding creative ways to share the story of Christ. We want to aggressively locate and share those stories with our readers who will, in turn, be motivated to be more bold in their witness."

During the meeting, the board unanimously elected Joe Westbury as interim editor during the transition. Westbury, who has served as associate editor since January 1998, has spent 27 years as a journalist within the Southern Baptist Convention.

J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, said the revamped paper "will challenge Georgia Baptists to see the lostness of their state through new eyes."

"Georgia Baptists are a people of the Book and we want to share exciting stories of how they are harnessing their faith to bring others to Christ," White said. "We want to showcase stories that are real-world examples of how easy it is to be a soul-winner.

"There's nothing to be afraid about when it comes to telling others about the love of Jesus. We are praying that these practical stories will be used of the Holy Spirit to quicken the lives of those who need a holy nudge in their spiritual walk," White said.

A new set of core values

Board members agreed that the paper, which is owned by the state convention, should be streamlined around a new set of core values:

-- First and foremost, the publication should be "Georgia-centric" in all it does.

-- Second, it should be refocused to allow its personnel and financial resources to concentrate on meeting the needs of churches, associations and state convention ministries.

The bimonthly publication will continue to report news, but priority will be given to stories that occur or directly affect ministry and evangelism in the state.

Board member Becky Watters of Douglasville said The Index "clearly has an imbalance of news which occurs outside of our state. While there is nothing wrong with reporting what is happening around the world, I feel the paper could be more effective by providing more news unique to Georgia Baptists.

"If The Index is going to be a partner with churches in Empowering Kingdom Growth, it must focus its energy on providing original content that challenges laity to take a closer look at their faith and their role in being soul-winners," Watters said. "With this new direction, The Index will be repositioning itself as an incubator, a petri dish, where stories of what's working will be shared with readers."

Details remain to be worked out, but board members said that by making this shift, The Index will be transforming itself into a reliable medium that provides for a cross-pollination of ideas and information-sharing among pastors and laypersons who are reaching Georgia for Christ.

Popular columns will remain

While most of the popular columns and articles will remain, board member Danny Parris of Blairsville said there will be a greater emphasis on stories that will seek to motivate, inspire and empower laity as they embody Empowering Kingdom Growth principles of missions, evangelism, ministry and church planting.

"While change is often challenging, it is necessary to stay current and relevant in a rapidly changing world," Parris said. "This new focus will give priority to what is happening in Georgia - and how our readers can learn from others who have already discovered new and exciting ways of reaching our state for Christ.

"Rather than just reporting on the what of what happened in ministry or evangelism, the paper will go behind the scenes to show its readers the why and how it happened," Parris said.

"I believe that what God is doing in south Georgia clearly has relevance in north Georgia," said board member Elizabeth Butler of Valdosta. "The Index needs to be aggressive in identifying those stories and sharing them with its readers. Only by providing readers with this kind of information will we enhance the value of The Index and give added value to our subscribers."

Shouldering "a moral responsibility"

The Index will increasingly shoulder "a moral responsibility" to be on mission with its readers as they take Christ into their community, board members said. For example, if The Index hears of a church that is seeing strong evangelistic, missions and ministry results, it will attempt to discover what that congregation did that made a difference.

"We pray that, eventually, Georgia Baptists will look to The Christian Index as a resource of ideas where they can turn to be more effective in their ministries," said board member Allen Hughes of Dacula.

Empowering Kingdom Growth, the new Southern Baptist Convention-wide emphasis launched during last year's SBC annual meeting in St. Louis, will be part of the driving force behind the newspaper's direction.

"In short, The Christian Index will strive to be a partner in ministry with its readers," said board member Darrell Henry of Chickamauga. "It will bring stories of Georgia Baptist missions, evangelism, church planting and ministry that will inspire, empower and motivate. It will contain stories of Georgia Baptists written in a fresh, crisp, contemporary style that you won't find anyplace else.

"That's why, later in the year, we will be asking non-subscribers to take a second look at their state paper," Henry continued. "If they haven't seen an issue of The Index by then, perhaps they need to see what they are missing.

"We don't want to have a newspaper that simply reports the news, though that does have value. What we are really looking for is a formula that will allow us to provide content that offers practical application to the lives of our readers.

"We are talking about implementing a formula that will take The Index from being a passive teller of what has already happened to being a proactive force in shaping the future of Georgia - a future that will result in more of our fellow residents experiencing faith in Jesus Christ," Henry said.

The board also said a new mission statement for The Index will be written in the coming months, most likely when a new editor is selected.

"You are going to see a state newspaper that is far more responsive to the needs of Georgia Baptists than you have experienced in quite a while. And you are going to see a state newspaper that is transformed into a proactive advocate that regularly casts a vision of how we can do a better job of bringing the Good News to our fellow Georgians," board chairman Brown said.

The board appointed a search committee to accept resumes for the position of editor. Appointed to the committee were Diana Yarbrough, Paul Garrison, Allen Hughes, Darrell Henry, J. Robert White and Rick Brown. Resumes can be sent to Hughes, who will chair the committee, in care of Hebron Baptist Church at Box 279, Dacula, GA 30019. Resumes should be accompanied by a letter of recommendation, Hughes said.


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