CHICAGO, IL (April 3, 2013) – Covenant Newswire – the daily online news report produced by Covenant News Service on behalf of the Evangelical Covenant Church – observes its 15th anniversary this month.
The first online story appeared in April 1998, says Don Meyer, executive minister of the Department of Communication, and over the years has averaged around 700 online stories each year. That would put the number of published news stories in excess of 10,000 over the 15-year period, he notes.
In just the past five years, Newswire stories have received more than 2.2 million page views during 1,078,841 visits, which accounts for 18 percent of traffic to the Covenant’s website at CovChurch.org. These totals do not include the thousands of other individuals who read Newswire stories via RSS feed or through the Covenant’s CovLink mobile app.
“When I assumed the position as executive minister in August 1997, two key Covenant concerns were the potential loss of a sense of Covenant identity and connectedness as the denomination continued to grow,” Meyer recalls. “Given my background in daily newspapers – and the emerging influence of the Internet – a daily online news report seemed a logical first step in helping Covenanters to be better informed and feel a greater sense of connectedness,” Meyer says.
During the early months, Meyer had to fill roles of reporter and editor as there was no staff to support the new initiative. That changed in 2000 when Craig Pinley joined the team as the first full-time reporter. Pinley, an ordained Covenant pastor, had served for a number of years in a secular daily newspaper role. In 2004, he felt a sense of call to return to full-time pastoral ministry in Mason City, Iowa, and currently serves as pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Paxton, Illinois.
Pinley was succeeded by Stan Friedman, another former daily newspaper reporter and editor who is also an ordained Covenant pastor. Friedman continues to serve as reporter and news editor for the department. Two additional key players in the daily news report are Evy Lennard, who serves as administrative assistant and helps manage the flow of online news content, including major Covenant events coverage, and Cathy Norman Peterson, who serves as features editor for the department and as backup editor for the daily online report.
Covenant Newswire stories primarily focus on ways in which God is at work through the ministries of local churches, affiliated ministries including Covenant camps, and regional conferences, as well as shared ministries facilitated through denominational offices, including North America and the roughly 50 countries around the world where the Covenant has a presence. “While the daily news report was initially intended as an informational tool, it became clear rather quickly that it played another important role – connecting ministry ideas and individuals involved in those ministries,” Meyer says.
“I think the first time I knew that Covenant Newswire was going to be an effective tool for delivering news about ministries throughout our denomination came during CHIC2K in Knoxville, Tennessee,” Pinley says of his experience. “We had put out a few stories on our website and we had pretty immediate feedback and appreciation from parents of kids that were glad to know that CHIC had made such a positive impact.
“I believe the larger impact of how Covenant Newswire has helped the denomination is in giving churches a wider look at how ministry ideas have panned out for individual congregations,” he continues. “At the time I worked for Covenant Communications, I was an ex-pastor trying to find ideas that other churches could use and/or innovate for their own situations. And now that I’m back in ministry, I look for those kinds of articles to see if I can glean ideas from those very same kinds of stories.”
“One of the biggest challenges I faced when starting here was getting Covenanters to let us know what was happening in their churches,” Friedman recalls. “They didn’t consider that what they were doing might be of interest to others, and yet the stories about seemingly small ministries often have received the most attention. I know of several churches that now encourage their members to tithe produce from their gardens to a food bank because someone had read about another Covenant congregation doing it,” he cites as one example.
“Now, more people are seeing that they have something to contribute to the larger church and are sharing their stories with us as a way of sparking ideas for others,” Friedman says. “The online news submission form also makes it easier for them to send us ideas without worrying that they have to write the story themselves.”
It is not unusual for stories about new ministry initiatives to spark phone calls from other churches seeking similar advice and encouragement. Readers also interact with online stories through the reader feedback form attached to each article.
The technology at the time was fairly primitive by today’s standards, Meyer notes. “Joel Pearson was a key player in turning the idea of a daily news report delivered by email to a self-selecting audience,” Meyer says. Pearson was the first Covenant webmaster, working part-time under a shared arrangement with Covenant Trust Company where Pearson served as a computer programmer.
“We had little money to support expanded efforts,” Meyer says, “so the participation of the trust company at that time was crucial.
The impact of the daily report became apparent within a matter of months, Meyer recalls. “President Glenn Palmberg returned from one trip in the fall of 1998 and shared how impressed he was with the number of individuals who commented about stories they had read online. That experience served as an early indicator of the impact the Internet was to have in the months and years to come.”
Over the years, other Covenant-oriented informational and connectional tools have evolved – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and text messaging, to name a few. Today, tens of thousands of Covenanters are informed and connected using tools that did not exist a decade ago.
Two additional key resources are CovChurch.tv, where all Covenant-oriented videos will be found, and CovBooks.com, the Covenant’s online bookstore where paid and free resources may be accessed.
Of course, many thousands more continue to be informed and connected through the Covenant’s more traditional print media – The Covenant Companion, Covenant Home Altar, the Covenant Quarterly, Covenant Reporter, and a myriad of newsletters and other informational pieces.
“God has provided effective tools to help us in our mission to inform, connect and resource our churches and individuals,” Meyer says. “It is exciting to think what the landscape will look like another decade from now.”
Individuals interested in subscribing to the free Covenant Newswire email news service can do so by visiting the Covenant website home page, where pathways for engaging Covenant social media and other tools such as CovLink and CovEvents apps are also available. Online subscriptions also are available for The Covenant Companion and Covenant Home Altar.
Editor’s note: If your church has an example of a ministry that was inspired by a Covenant Newswire article, please submit it using the accompanying “Leave a Reply” feedback form.