In action taken by the Florida Baptist Witness Board of Directors during a called meeting on Aug. 1, the Witness will no longer function as a cooperating ministry of the Florida Baptist State Convention, but as a ministry within the Florida Baptist Convention organization.
The Florida Baptist Witness Board of Directors will dissolve its corporation and turn over the operation of the Witness publication and online presence to the state convention.
The move of the publication as a Convention ministry was determined as the best strategy moving forward, said Shelly Chandler, pastor of First Baptist Church of Bonifay and chairman of the Witness Board. The new direction was adopted “unanimously and enthusiastically,” he said.
Since 1884, the Witness has served as the official news source of the Florida Baptist State Convention, tasked with keeping Florida Baptists informed about what God is doing through the missions and ministry efforts of His people in Florida and around the world.
Tommy Green, Florida Baptists’ executive director-treasurer, said the Convention is committed to continue the Witness as a free digital publication available to all Florida Baptists.
In recent years, the Witness was challenged by decreasing subscriptions and paid advertising, rising production costs and the challenge of communicating in an evolving digital age. Since January, the once weekly and then biweekly publication has been published monthly.
The Florida Baptist State Convention is the largest contributor to the Witness’ operating budget, providing nearly 50 percent of its annual budget. In 2017 the Florida Baptist Witness is earmarked to receive $284,000 from the Florida Baptist Convention Cooperative Program budget.
Following the recent announcement that executive editor Kevin Bumgarner planned to resign effective Aug. 14 to become director of communications for Bell Shoals Baptist Church, the Witness Board discussed several options for continuing the publication, said Chandler.
“In a day when Cooperative Program dollars are limited, we need to find creative ways to do more with less. This new strategy will accomplish this task while also moving the Witness into the digital age to reach more people,” Chandler added.
Bringing the Witness under the Convention’s umbrella organization is both an “efficient and effective” use of Cooperative Program dollars, he said. “Change has taken place throughout the state of Florida. Therefore, changes to our Convention and our cooperating ministries must happen for Florida Baptists to reach the state with the Gospel.
“Dr. Tommy Green and his staff have a vision for the Florida Baptist Witness to reach Florida with an online presence. The Witness Board has full confidence in their leadership moving forward,” he added.
The Witness faced the same challenges as other state Baptist papers. According to Baptist Press, Georgia's Christian Index and the Baptist General Convention of Texas' Baptist Standard both have phased out print editions and moved entirely online, and other publications have decreased the frequency of their print editions. Overall, state paper circulation has declined from 1.2 million in 1997 to 593,500 in 2017, according to data from SBC Annuals.