Last month one of our regular news writers, Maia VanderMeer, wrote a Behind The Banner article on “Why Church News Matters.” It’s something she’s come to discover while finding and telling your stories back to you, the members who make up Christ’s church, and I’m grateful for the attention she and the dozen or so other news writers give to this task.
Banner news is something different from a church or ministry newsletter. Newsletters are the place for ministry boards or church leadership to share with their direct constituents what’s going on so members might attend, support, or benefit from hearing about their activities. The church or the ministry chooses what they want to say and how to say it. Banner news instead shares independently with the wider church about the impact of those activities—positive, and sometimes negative. It asks (and hopefully answers): who was involved in shaping those activities and who are they for; what did they cost and what good did they do; where did they take place; when; and why? The sharing is meant to benefit the wider church so they know what’s happening in another corner of God’s kingdom.
Sometimes when I read comments asking “Why is The Banner promoting such-and-so?” beneath a news headline on Facebook, I silently respond, “We’re not promoting it, we’re reporting on it.” Telling the church what the church is doing is the job of The Banner news editors and correspondents. Reacting to what the church is doing—praising or criticising—comes after that, in editorials or letters to the editor.
So, how do we decide if an event, activity, or ministry would be significant to someone on the other side of the country? Sometimes we take a hint from what’s being shared at classis (a meeting of a regional group of Christian Reformed churches, convened two or three times a year). If a local church has shared about their ministry and it shows up in the classis minutes, several other people have found it significant enough to share, so it might be of interest to the wider church. That’s how we heard about the Every Man a Warrior Bible study in Hudsonville, Mich.
Sometimes something a church is doing ends up in mainstream media. That was the case when Bridge Church in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., hosted a drive-in Easter service at the city’s Centennial Centre parking lot.
If we get a tip from our online “Got a News Tip?” form, or one of the correspondents hears about a possible story from the connections they’ve built among the churches they cover, I have to decide. Has The Banner covered something like this recently? Have we heard from this church or this classis in a while? Is this ministry or event unusual or remarkable? We got an online tip about the second location of Hope Unexpected, an organization serving young single mothers and their children, opening at Westend Christian Reformed Church, in Grand Rapids, Mich. The first location (also at a CRC) was at capacity, with pregnant mothers on a waiting list. It was the demand for the ministry that made me think it was significant. One of our correspondents found the story about neighborhood connections in Boston. I chose that story because the Atlantic Northeast classis hadn’t been heard from in a while.
Other types of stories—like church anniversaries (100, 125, and 150, but not other years), or ministry director retirements, or the deaths of CRC ministers—we have decided as an editorial team, over many years, to always report on. Similarly, we’ve made guidelines to not report on fundraisers (unless they’re “highly unusual,” and then we’d only do it after the fact) or churches rallying around a particular family’s tragedy—these kinds of things happen in every local church, and we don’t want to make one instance seem more significant than another one.
However, sometimes we do report an event at one church that might be typical of many churches—like summer building projects, outdoor concerts, or neighborhood cookouts. In those cases we’re trying to share one example, with quotes and specifics, of church practices you’re already familiar with.
In the opening paragraphs of our news correspondents’ guidebook, I tell news writers, “In (The Banner) news section we report on the church and its people, both happy and difficult stories. At our best we do that with love, with clarity, and with grace. It’s part of the ‘mirror’ in the metaphor editor Shiao Chong uses to describe the Banner’s role.” And that’s exactly what we try to do.