Each year across our nation various professional associations recognize the top performances or achievements in their respective fields. The two primary peer groups for a Christian newspaper like the Illinois Baptist are the Baptist Communicators Association (BCA) and the Evangelical Press Association (EPA). As their names indicate, one consists of Baptist publications, while the other is a broader association that includes multiple denominations, and also independent publishers such as my former employer, Christianity Today.
To our delight, when BCA and EPA each announced their annual recognitions last month, both associations named the Illinois Baptist best overall newspaper. This is an unusual double honor, though the paper received both top honors in 2016 as well. These were in addition to the annual recognitions received in numerous individual categories such as news or feature writing and design.
What makes the excellence and effectiveness of our 115-year-old state Baptist paper especially noteworthy today, I think, is that there are many publications that print more pages, pay for nicer paper, or publish more frequently. On the other hand, there are also many Christian organizations that have given up on print periodicals entirely, some after more than a hundred years, either due to the expense or because of the undeniable migration by many readers toward electronic media.
In continuing to publish the Illinois Baptist, and in seeking to do so with high quality and yet moderate cost, we are seeking to deliver optimum value to our network of churches, and to actively engage them in shared cooperation and mission. Our annual survey of churches tells us that print publication is still the preferred method of communication by about half of respondents, while almost as many cite our website or some other form of non-print communication. Through the support of your church’s Cooperative Program gifts, we seek to communicate in all these ways with quality and frugality.
By the way, this principle of balancing quality with frugality in order to deliver enduring value to churches drives more than just the decision to publish a top-quality newspaper. Our Baptist network here in Illinois has sustained at least two other resources of enduring value that I’ve noticed other church networks ceasing or reevaluating.
For example, several state conventions or local associations are divesting themselves of their camps or retreat centers. Others are selling their physical office properties. In many cases, these may be wise or necessary decisions under the circumstances.
But thus far, by God’s grace and through the generosity of Illinois Baptists and careful stewardship, we have been able to continue the enduring value of these resources. Both Lake Sallateeska and Streator Baptist Camps have received updates and renovations, and prior to the pandemic both camps were experiencing annual, double-digit growth in use by churches and associations. Our Springfield office and conference building has been renovated for efficient and frequent use by both our staff and church network.
In fact, this fall we will celebrate 50 years since Illinois Baptists first moved into the iconic “Baptist building” at the corner of Stevenson and Dirksen. During its 2011 renovation, our architect told us it would cost $10 million to build today. Yet not only is the building debt-free, our second-floor tenants share a large portion of its annual operating costs. That’s enduring value!
It’s your church’s Cooperative Program and Mission Illinois Offering gifts that allow us to continue delivering the enduring value of high-quality print publications, spiritually-transforming retreat centers, and conference-friendly office buildings. Thank you. These days especially, resources that are 50 or 115 years old and yet as good as ever are hard to find, and worth celebrating.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.