In 2016, shortly after being elected president of Mennonite World Review Inc., I reached out to Barth Hauge and Tobi Thiessen, board chairs of The Mennonite and Canadian Mennonite. I wanted to see if they were interested in talking about the future of journalism in the Mennonite Church in Canada and the U.S.
If their publications were like MWR, I told them, then they were also grappling with an uncertain future with declines in circulation and advertising and the rise of digital communications.
I asked them: “How will the church communicate in the future, and who will pay for it?” I added that I didn’t have any grand ideas, but maybe there was wisdom in talking together about the future.
They responded enthusiastically. We had several conversations about the future of communication in the church.
We all had good reason to be concerned. All three publications had experienced significant changes over the past decade or so.
We weren’t alone. Through my involvement with Canadian Church Press, I have had a front-row seat on the challenges facing church publications.
Over the past two years, four publications have closed. A survey of other surviving publications showed that many weren’t sure they’d be around in 10 years. Those that thought they would said that digital would increasingly be the most important way they communicate with readers.
What’s true for church publications in Canada is true for MWR and The Mennonite. That’s why we entered into discussions a year ago about our futures — and whether we might be stronger together.
Initially, we talked about ways to collaborate to save money. But MWR editor and publisher Paul Schrag suggested a new question: What if we merge? That idea changed everything, and here we are today.
Over the past 16 months, representatives from the boards of the two publications have held meetings about a potential merger — the pluses, minuses, challenges, opportunities.
In the end we agreed that a merger would produce a stronger, more nimble and forward-looking enterprise, poised to serve the church for decades to come.
Are we 100 percent sure this will guarantee our long-term survival? No. But one thing is certain: Doing nothing is not an option. That way only leads to failure.
When thinking about communications, I often think about the Apostle Paul, for two reasons.
First, Paul was adept at using the best communication technologies of his time: Letters and ships. Like Paul, we need to use the best technologies for communicating in our day.
Second, in the Book of Romans, he stated that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
But, he went on to ask, “How can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”
Telling the story of faith is the goal of MWR and The Mennonite. Together, as a merged entity, we believe we can do it better — and longer. Decisions on the merger proposal are expected this fall.
What about Canadian Mennonite? Right now, it seems wisest just to focus on the two U.S. publications. Perhaps one day conditions will be right for other Anabaptist communicators to join this vision.
John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.