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Bumgarner to depart Fla. paper, change coming

EDITOR’S NOTE: The 12th paragraph was corrected Aug. 1 to reflect accurate financial data for the Witness.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP) — Florida Baptist Witness executive editor Kevin Bumgarner has announced his resignation to become director of communications at Tampa-area Bell Shoals Baptist Church.

Along with the leadership transition, the chairman of the Witness board of directors told Baptist Press, the paper will consider changes in its structure and function at an Aug. 1 meeting.

Bumgarner, who served three and a half years as chief executive of the Witness, wrote in a July 27 editorial announcing his departure, “I am honored that God has shown me His will for this season in the life of the Witness, and has allowed me to be a part of this ministry’s legacy.” The resignation is effective Aug. 14.

During his tenure, Bumgarner wrote, “I have been responsible for creating a suite of print and digital products that capture the attention of and help set the agenda for those who are interested in the Kingdom-building work being done by Southern Baptists in Florida. Readers tell me they have appreciated the changes in the Witness.”

Witness board chair Shelly Chandler, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bonifay, Fla., said Bumgarner “came to us” when “the Witness needed a renewal. It needed a new look. It needed to go in a new direction, and Kevin brought all of that. He highlighted churches in the state of Florida. He highlighted pastors and leaders in the state of Florida and how they were taking the Gospel throughout the state and through the world.”

In his editorial, Bumgarner noted that under his leadership the Witness:

— Transitioned from a twice-monthly print publication to a monthly one with “multiple pages of content in each issue devoted to the growing number of Spanish-speaking Florida Baptists.”

— Published during the first half of 2017 some 101 stories exclusively online “for or about Florida Baptists.”

— Posted “documentary length videos” on its YouTube channel highlighting the ministries of Florida pastors.

— Distributed news and information to tens of thousands of Facebook and Twitter fans and followers.

— Arrived at a “stable financial condition.”

Chandler said Bumgarner led the Witness through challenging financial times. Between 2005-2016, expenses for the paper exceeded its revenue for seven separate fiscal years, according to annual audit reports. “It was a God thing” that the Witness achieved as much financial stability as it did, Chandler said.

Bumgarner wrote he is “honored to have been able to work with a number of Florida Baptist pastors and lay leaders who have given generously of their time to set the direction for the Witness as members of its governing body. It also has been gratifying to work with the Florida Baptist Convention in a way that the Kingdom has been advanced.”

At Bell Shoals, Bumgarner will lead in “executing a churchwide strategy in the areas of communication, promotion, advertising, social media, brand management and news and information,” according to the editorial. “I will also have the opportunity to work closely with campus ministries, Bell Shoals Baptist Academy and Moving Forward, the radio ministry of Pastor [Stephen] Rummage.”

‘Going forward’

Bumgarner added in his editorial, “I also would ask that you join me in praying for wisdom for the future of the Florida Baptist Witness. The Board of Directors is in the process of meeting with [Florida Baptist Convention] Executive Director-Treasurer Tommy Green and, as needed, other members of the Florida Baptist Convention to discuss and decide on the best strategy for the Witness going forward.”

Bumgarner’s departure from the Witness comes amid a Southern Baptist Convention milieu that has led other state Baptist papers to transition their structures and functions as well.

Georgia’s Christian Index and the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ Baptist Standard both have phased out print editions and moved entirely online, and other publications have decreased the frequency of their print editions. Overall, state paper circulation has declined from 1.2 million in 1997 to 593,500 in 2017, according to data from SBC Annuals.

North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder reported in a 2014 editorial by editor Allan Blume a $94,000 reduction in Cooperative Program revenue over three years and decreased print subscriptions even as online readers increased by nearly 500 percent. Other state papers have reported comparable revenue challenges.

The Witness’s board has yet to work out details of the organization’s future, but “change is definitely coming to the Witness,” Chandler said.

“The state of Florida is changing,” Chandler said. “Tommy Green understands that the Florida Baptist Convention needed to change” and has implemented key changes. “So it’s not surprising that the Florida Baptist Witness is going through change and needs to change.

“I have confidence that Tommy Green and his leadership will guide and direct the Witness and all the entities of the Florida Baptist Convention in the right direction,” Chandler said.

The Witness is an entity of the Florida Baptist State Convention, funded in part through the Cooperative Program and governed by a board elected by the state convention.