What Churches Can Learn From Dying Newspapers


I’ve finally done something I was determined not to do, something that sounded so outrageous as to be almost blasphemous. I thought I would never change my principles, but everything came crashing down in my world a few weeks ago —

I cancelled my subscription to the Dallas Morning News.

Before you pick up that stone, please give me a chance to explain myself. I am a child of print journalism. I helped start the newspaper at Allen High School years ago, then I worked summers at the local rag, Allen American. For a period during college, I was the sports editor for that twice-weekly publication.

I chose to study broadcast journalism in college, which eventually morphed into an interest in film production, but I have never lost my appreciation and passion for the newspaper. In fact, during seminary, I was a regular contributor to the DMN’s Religion section, which was a weekly section of 6-8 pages once upon a time.

Furthermore, I, too, am someone who likes to read the paper in the morning with a cup of coffee. But those days are long gone. Lately, I’m lucky if it takes me half a cup of joe to get through the whole thing. Face it — the paper is pretty thin these days.

It started a good number of years ago, when I began to notice that many of the stories on the front page were written by the legendary reporter, “From Wire Reports.” Less and less of the copy was written by people with names who live and work in Dallas.

Then I started to recognize much of the paper’s content because I had read it the day before, online from another source! For the first time, the day’s paper started to feel like old news.

Not to mention the fact that I found the DMN to have far too little coverage of film, TV and music, and far too many recipes, gardening tips, and health-related info-ads. Unfortunately, I’ve never been interested in the comics page either.

Still, I held on. For one thing, the DMN was the best place to get local news, though maybe not as incisive and investigative as Jim Schutze and the Dallas Observer folks. And you couldn’t beat the Sports page either, unless you listened to The Ticket or The Fan, or kept up with any number of sports blogs or online sites.

The last straw came a few weeks ago, when the paper slashed its staff — again — and then promptly trimmed a few more pages from their daily product — again! The editorial and opinion section, which held down the last two inside pages of the front section, was reduced to one measly page. The only entertainment writer I liked (Chris Vognar) was sent packing, and so was sportswriter Eddie Sefko.

And I decided I was done.

This is not a proud moment for me, but the Morning News has done nothing to keep me around. I would like to support local print journalism, which I think plays a vital role in keeping government accountable, citizens engaged, and communities united. But sadly the paper no longer does those things well.

Print journalism can blame the internet or television or social media, but the truth is that certain journalism outlets have thrived in the new environment. They have adjusted with the times, and adapted to new mediums, new subscription models, and new ways of attracting talent.

I’m just sad that the Dallas Morning News has not been one of them. I still want great journalism, but I get it elsewhere now. That’s the way capitalism works — for better or for worse.

Now, let me challenge you to switch mental gears. Just as there are lots of people now canceling their subscriptions to printed newspapers, there are even more people out there who are no longer going to church. The reasons are similar.

They may have grown up going to church, and appreciating church, and having rich experiences with church. But over time, they noticed that the church was no longer meeting their spiritual and social needs. They wanted to support their local churches, which they think should play a vital role in fostering encounters with God, explaining and interpreting the Bible, and building fellowship. But sadly they have come to the conclusion that the church no longer does those things well.

Over time, people began to sense that there were more authentic ways to experience God, interact with Scripture, and enjoy Christian community. As the modern millennial might put it, “I still want spirituality, but I get Jesus elsewhere now.”

Churches can blame the internet or television or social media, but the truth is that certain congregations have thrived in the new environment. They have adjusted with the times, and adapted to new mediums, new models of ministry, and new ways of paying the bills.

As the special General Conference in St. Louis nears, the question looms large before us: Will the United Methodist Church go the way of the Dallas Morning News and print journalism, or will it find ways to thrive in the new world?

What about Kessler Park UMC?

Connect 52

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Sunday marks the beginning of the 2019 KPUMC Pledge Campaign, called “Connect 52.”

In the past, our pledge campaigns have focused entirely on financial pledges. We come up with a budget, we ask you to fund it, you return a card with your weekly or monthly pledge to pay.

The truth is that giving your money to the church is only part of the membership experience — an important part, for sure, but not the entirety.

This year, I’ve asked the Finance Committee’s permission to focus on the gift of time during our pledge campaign.

Did you know that when you joined KPUMC, you pledged your “presence” to the church? That means that you committed to spend time with your brothers and sisters in Christ, not only for your own good, but for theirs as well.

Not only that, but when you made your own personal commitment to Christ, you also made an implicit pledge about how you would spend your personal time. To follow Christ means to spend your time in conscious, intentional discipleship. It simply means that you have new priorities in how you spend your time.

That’s why I’m making a very special “ask” in this year’s campaign.

I am asking each and every one of us to give one extra hour per week to God in 2019. Thus, the name of our campaign — Connect 52. If you give an hour per week, then you’ll be giving a total of 52 additional hours to God’s work.

What you do with that hour is between you and God, but I encourage you to think carefully about what you want to do with that hour. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be musing on the subject of time and our use or misuse of it. Perhaps you’ll decide that you need to spend your hour in quiet prayer, sitting in God’s presence with no other objective or agenda. Or maybe you will get involved in some ministry that the church offers, such as reading at Hogg Elementary. Perhaps you will decide to join a weekly Bible study at the church. Or maybe you will simply decide to start attending Sunday School!

More than anything else, I am simply inviting you to spend time reflecting on how you use your time. If possible, keep an hourly time diary for a week — mark down how you spent each hour, what you accomplished, and how you felt. At the end of the week, go back over the diary and review how you spent that time. Tally up totals if you wish.

How much time did you really spend at work? in leisure time? in scrolling through Facebook? in wasting time? in conversing with family members? in watching reality TV?

Most importantly, ask yourself, “How much time did I spend with God? in improving my discipleship? in serving others selflessly? in prayer?”

If you’re not happy with your answers, then the pledge campaign is an opportunity to set things right.

What are you going to do with your 52 hours?

Generosity Will Save Us


Before I became the senior pastor of KPUMC, the Finance Committee recognized that giving declined during the summer months, which caused an unfortunate cash crunch  somewhere around August. As a result, they started a fundraising campaign which asked individuals or families to “pay” $250 for one day in the month of July. 

The church would publish a July calendar with names of people who had “bought” a particular day of the month, and an invitation to buy the days which were still available.

After I got here, the committee agreed to tweak the idea a little, and now we celebrate Generosity July every year. We invite everyone in the church to set aside $5 per day to give to the church, above and beyond the amount people have already pledged. We still publish a calendar, but now each day of the month specifies a generosity challenge.

This has obviously helped church finances over the past couple of years. But even more importantly, it has forced us all to think about generosity every year.

A lot of us have been complaining about the general mood of the country lately. Recent current events and news bulletins have made us all crabby and cranky. We’re all a little on edge.

Unfortunately, when people are angry and distempered, we also tend to close themselves off from others. We end up clinging a little tighter to what is ours, and we get defensive and reactive.

This is precisely the time for us to practice generosity. I think that it might be the only thing that will save us in these perilous times.

For example, I wish we are all a little more generous in our judgments and conclusions of others. What if we gave more benefits of the doubt, and wished more people well?

I wish our government and society operated out of a posture of abundance and generosity rather than a posture of scarcity and austerity. And I wish our institutions and organizations adopted mission statements that had generosity as a core value and virtue.

Generous organizations and people are open-hearted, warm, and easy to get to know. We like them, and we want to be like them.

So why aren’t we generous year-round? What is it that keeps us from being generous all the time? I always ask myself this question in July, because generosity is fun! It’s a blast to give things away to, and on behalf of, others. 

Perhaps it’s because we find ourselves surrounded by a culture that teaches us the opposite. This is one of the downsides of capitalism; a capitalist economy stresses competition, teaches us that there are winners and losers. Advertising teaches us that what’s important is what we buy and acquire, not what we give away.  Even our politics is now a zero-sum game — everything is all or nothing. Compromise is a bad word, and there is hardly any generosity in governance.

The church is one place where generosity continues to be a virtue. In fact, it is one of our most important characteristics: God is generous, and God’s most generous act was the sending of Jesus Christ. Jesus was generous, and left behind disciples and apostles who were generous. Generosity was the primary ethos of the early church, after all. In the Book of Acts, we read that the first Christians ate together frequently and shared their goods freely among one another. 

Generosity July is supposed to be the prototype of all the other months of the year. It’s the time when we intentionally practice those small and random acts of giving that we ought to be doing all the time.

Because when we finally get it right, it’s generosity that will save us.