The nonprofit organizations that publish the two leading U.S. Mennonite periodicals, and manage robust digital platforms, are exploring a merger to strengthen Anabaptist journalism in a fast-changing media environment.
The proposal calls for merging The Mennonite, Inc., and Mennonite World Review, Inc., to create an independent media organization that explores “the intersection of faith, life and culture through an Anabaptist lens.”
A merger would consolidate the organizations’ strengths and preserve their traditions while adapting to changes in the ways people use digital and print media in the 21st century.
Each organization’s board approved the merger in principle in March.
The proposal was presented to the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board on April 13 in Lansdale, Pa., inviting the board into conversation about the proposal. A letter describing the proposal was mailed April 12 to the 150 members of the MWR, Inc., corporation across the country. Mennonite Church USA and the MWR corporation members will be asked to give their approval, which would finalize the plan, later this year.
A task force led by the chairs of each organization’s board — Barth Hague of Newton, Kan., for The Mennonite Inc.; and John Longhurst of Winnipeg, Man., for Mennonite World Review Inc. — began working on the proposal in April 2017.
The CEOs of each organization — Hannah Heinzekehr, executive director of The Mennonite Inc. until January 2018, and Paul Schrag, editor of MWR and publisher of MWR, Inc. — worked closely with Hague and Longhurst. They were joined on the task force by other board and staff members and later by a member of the MC USA Executive Board.
“It is important to both our boards that we consider such a merger at a time of relative strength in our organizations,” Hague said. “We’re far more similar than we are different; our missions and the way we carry out those missions are remarkably similar. By combining forces, we are able to move forward in the best position to serve the constituents of Mennonite Church USA and the wider Mennonite Anabaptist family.”
If approved, the new organization would begin operations in summer 2019. The new, merged print periodical and digital platforms would likely begin in 2020.
Like MWR, Inc., the new periodical and digital platforms would be independent, not affiliated with any denomination or conference. Like The Mennonite, Inc., the new media would give priority to serving the members of MC USA, who are also MWR’s largest constituency. This vision continues MWR’s mission of “serving the global Anabaptist movement” and fulfills The Mennonite’s goal to be “a forum for Mennonite voices.”
The Mennonite, Inc., publishes the MC USA monthly magazine but is incorporated separately from the denomination. MWR Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Newton, Kan., publishes an independent biweekly newspaper.
Schrag, editor of MWR since 1996, said inter-Mennonite identity and service to MC USA are essential and compatible parts of the vision for a new organization.
“Our Mennonite Brethren and Lancaster Mennonite Conference board members made it clear that their support for this plan depended on maintaining the broad vision of the church that MWR has held for 95 years,” Schrag said. “I’ve promised to keep that inclusive view, offering a publication that the members of Mennonite Church USA and other groups can call their own.
“I believe that combining the best of these two journalistic traditions will create an Anabaptist ‘flagship’ publication — a digital and print communications hub that will be the indispensable source of news, opinion and inspiration for Mennonites and Anabaptists in the United States and beyond.”
Longhurst, the MWR, Inc., board chair, said a merger would create strong possibilities for innovation and growth so the organizations can serve the church for decades to come.
“While the print versions of both publications still have vitality, we know people increasingly get their information digitally,” he said. “A merger will enable us to position the new publication to be ready for that transition so we can serve new generations of readers who are interested in an Anabaptist witness in the world.”
Sheldon C. Good, who began as executive director of The Mennonite, Inc., in February, said the new organization would be more adaptable to distributing content and cultivating engagement online.
He noted that the digital platforms for MWR, Inc., and The Mennonite, Inc., already reach far more individuals than their periodicals. With a merger, investments in newer forms of journalism such as podcasts and video, as well as digital subscriptions, could be brought to scale and create more opportunities to generate revenue.
“By combining our resources, readers and reach, we will be able to grow in ways that simply are not possible in our current arrangement,” said Good, who was assistant editor and web editor of MWR from 2010 to 2012.
“I am committed to continuing to engage in the work of building equitable media platforms where content is by and for all those compelled to explore the intersection of faith, life and culture through an Anabaptist lens. This merger is an opportunity to come together, in service to each other and to God, to create and share something that will benefit the body of Christ for generations to come.”
Shé Langley, a member of the merger task force and a digital content strategist for The Mennonite, Inc., said the current digital landscape makes serving varied groups both a challenge and an opportunity.
“It’s an exciting time to consider new and creative ways to reach audiences that have never been exposed to Anabaptism, while also serving those who consistently consume the content we produce,” Langley said. “The merger will position us to stay digitally nimble as joint forces in the quest to amplify Anabaptist journalism among all audiences.”
A vision statement written by the task force says a new organization “will provide diverse content that people of various ages, racial/ethnic identities (including Spanish-speaking constituents) and levels of engagement with the institutional church will participate in creating and find inspiring, entertaining and useful.”
Building on its predecessors’ long histories of denominational and independent publishing, the new organization will “engage and support the global Anabaptist movement” while being “rooted in the U.S. context” — recognizing that the Anabaptist media in other countries are best able to cover their own contexts.
Founded in 1920 in Newton, Kan., the organization known today as MWR, Inc., began as the vision of pastor and entrepreneur H.P. Krehbiel, who saw a need for an independent periodical to bridge the gaps between Mennonite groups. Krehbiel founded Mennonite Weekly Review in 1923, and subsequent editors adopted the slogan, “putting the Mennonite world together.” Switching to a biweekly schedule in 2012 prompted a name change to Mennonite World Review.
The Mennonite was founded in 1998 as a merger of the The Mennonite, founded in 1885 and adopted in 1893 as the official English-language paper of the General Conference Mennonite Church, and Gospel Herald, published by the Mennonite Church since 1908 and itself a merger of two earlier papers, Gospel Witness and Herald of Truth. The merger of Gospel Herald and The Mennonite preceded by four years the denominational merger that created MC USA.