Cooperation is a word with special meaning for Southern Baptists. Churches, associations, state conventions, and agencies working together can achieve greater outreach and ministry than can be realized separately. A current model of Baptist cooperation has helped FamilyNet, the Southern Baptist cable network, achieve a record growth year. From a more than 100 percent increase in the number of cable affiliates to launches in major cities such as Nashville, Jacksonville, Richmond, and Charlotte, FamilyNet is on the move. In the spirit of Empowering Kingdom Growth and Kingdom Families, Southern Baptists are embracing FamilyNet as a tool for reaching more people for Christ and strengthening families. At the same time, the denomination is presented to the general public as a caring people working together on mission.
Pursuit of a FamilyNet cable channel in Nashville is an excellent example of Baptist cooperation. With the sizeable concentration of Baptist churches and Southern Baptist entities located in the area, Nashville was a natural choice for such a cable carriage campaign. In addition, programming from Two Rivers Baptist Church could and can be seen each week on the network. While possible for a FamilyNet staff member to enlist the help of a number of local churches, the Nashville Baptist Association maintains contact with all of the Baptist congregations. With the support of Executive Director Jim Freedman and Associate Rusty Sumrall, FamilyNet has been able to communicate to churches the importance of requests being made to the cable company to carry FamilyNet.
The call to action started spreading to individual Southern Baptists. Baptist pastors, church staff members, and laypersons united to call, write, and email the cable company. The message was simple: "We would like to have FamilyNet and, if launched, we will support it." These requests for FamilyNet began having a positive impact. The cable operator knew these indications of interest represented the potential for a more satisfied and enlarged subscriber base. In addition, the company's selection of FamilyNet could also be seen as being responsive to community interests while justifying their allocation of valuable channel space.
Other Southern Baptist entities in Greater Nashville joined in the cooperative effort to secure and sustain a FamilyNet channel. Letters and calls went to the cable company from Dr. Morris H. Chapman and the SBC Executive Committee staff, Dr. Richard Land and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission team, and from Dr. Jimmy Draper and the LifeWay employees. Senior management at LifeWay hosted cable officials for an on-site meeting and tour which underscored the desire and support for FamilyNet. Baptist and Reflector, Tennessee's Baptist state paper, carried articles about FamilyNet as an additional way of informing Nashville area residents of the potential for a FamilyNet cable channel in the area.
In late August, cable company officials made the announcement the Baptist family had been working and praying for: FamilyNet would be added to the digital basic lineup in Nashville. The model of cooperation worked successfully and more was to be accomplished in coming weeks.
Baptist cooperation now focused on securing viewers for the channel and equipping local churches to respond to viewers seeking spiritual help. Obviously, viewership would be essential if lives were to be changed and families strengthened. For viewers seeking help, the North American Mission Board's Evangelism Response Center (ERC) was in place. Since the ERC is a cooperative ministry in which volunteers (called Telephone Encouragers) answer the calls and local churches (called Covenant Churches) agree to promptly visit callers requesting such contact, FamilyNet staff urged local churches to become involved in this outreach.
During chapel at LifeWay headquarters, the official FamilyNet launch announcement was made to employees. Following the chapel service, local cable representatives were on hand to explain how to get FamilyNet as well as to demonstrate how digital technology can be used as a tool for controlling what kind of television content is allowed into the home. Moreover, the launch news was reported in LifeWay's weekly employee newsletter. In support of this new channel, Dr. Jimmy Draper said, "We are thrilled that FamilyNet will soon be available to Comcast subscribers in the Nashville area." He continued, "Comcast's leaders are to be commended for responding to our requests, and the requests of other Christians, to bring more faith and family programming to television viewers throughout Middle Tennessee. FamilyNet provides first-rate programming that will strengthen families and encourage people of faith. I, for one, will be watching and urging others to tune in."
Other cooperative efforts to generate awareness and viewership were initiated by Baptists in the Nashville area. Focusing on a clientele which would welcome the availability of more family-friendly, values-based programming on cable, literature and posters were utilized in local LifeWay Christian Stores. FamilyNet staff members also conducted Saturday promotions in these stores. Churches featured FamilyNet in Sunday bulletins, mailouts, and announcements. A brief video introduction to the network was shown before worship services in a number of congregations. Church signs carried the good news, too. Associational meetings and publications were also utilized in the awareness phase of the launch, along with a feature and advertising in the Baptist and Reflector. Baptist Press articles on FamilyNet developments bolstered awareness in Nashville and beyond. The Tennessee Baptist Convention committed to making FamilyNet's availability known at their upcoming annual meeting.
The model of Baptist cooperation in Nashville has been highly successful. Viewers receive family-friendly, values-based programming which reaches people for Christ, the work of the local church is supported, and Southern Baptists are rightly seen as caring people on mission. This model can be duplicated in cities and towns across America as local churches, associations, state conventions, and Baptist agencies work together to achieve even greater Kingdom growth.