In a GetReligion post last year, I wrote:
"Church-planting" is, of course, a buzzword in Christian circles these days.
Not too many journalists, though, could turn that esoteric subject into the lead story in the Sunday edition of a major metropolitan daily.
In that case, I was talking about award-winning Godbeat veteran Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
But add another religion writer to that elite list: budding star Holly Meyer of The Tennessean.
Meyer's deep dive on a United Methodist church plant in the Nashville area dominated the top two-thirds of her newspaper's front page on Easter Sunday.
Her timely angle:
Providence United Methodist Church has a new beginning this Easter season.
The church began eight years ago with an Easter Sunday service in Mundy Memorial Park in Mt. Juliet. And after holding 389 services in parks, school gyms and the like, Providence will celebrate its first Easter in a new building of its own on South Rutland Road.
It's a key milestone in the history of the congregation, which began as a church plant and has emerged as a leader in the Methodist denomination's nationwide efforts to grow.
“I’m pumped about our building because of what we get to imagine together,” Pastor Jacob Armstrong told the congregation during the final service at West Wilson Middle School.
Members of the church sat on bleachers and folding chairs as the gym's basketball hoops hovered overhead. They listened intently as Armstrong, 35, recounted how Providence's dream to reach those who feel disconnected from God and church manifests itself in overseas charity work, special-needs ministry and more.
“It’s been a great run in the school, guys, hasn’t it? It’s been a great run," Armstrong said. "Celebrate it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But here’s what I don’t want to do — stop dreaming.”
Providence began in 2008 just as the United Methodist Church as a denomination was preparing to launch a program focused on the intentional creation of new churches across the country. But it's not just the Methodists; new Protestant churches nationally are starting faster than old ones are disappearing, Nashville-based LifeWay Research shows.
Denominations are making it a priority, with more than 4,000 new churches launching in 2014 across the nation, said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research and an expert on planting churches.
Count Stetzer among those impressed with Meyer's story. He tweeted to his 186,000 followers:
Here at GetReligion, we celebrated the news late last year that The Tennessean was restoring a full-time religion writer — Meyer — to its staff:
At that time, we quoted Michael A. Anastasi, vice president and executive editor of The Tennessean:
I believe Faith is one of the foundational pillars of community. To truly understand and inform a community, rigorous news coverage of Faith is as important as other, perhaps more traditional, forms of hard news, such as education, government, politics, crime and business. This is particularly important in a state such as Tennessee where Faith often intersects with those other topic areas.
When I was an editor in Salt Lake City, we at one point had two full-time reporters devoted to coverage of Faith and I learned first-hand of the value of such coverage in informing citizens and providing a greater understanding of the culture, of daily life and of many different groups of people. The Salt Lake Tribune has been many times recognized among the nation’s best Faith sections by the Religion Newswriters Assn., including in 2007 when I was one of the editors.
I anticipate The Tennessean will provide a similar level of coverage.
Meyer's story Sunday worked because it had a clear focus — a single church plant. At the same time, the writer put that one church's experience into a broader context by interviewing experts and providing relevant statistics. (A personal note: I would love to have seen even more detailed figures on the state of United Methodists in Tennessee and nationwide. I know newspapers don't like to overwhelm readers with statistics, but I would have welcomed a few more. Maybe that's just me, though.)
Sunday's prominent treatment of Meyer's story and the roughly 2,000 words of space given what some might deem an obscure topic demonstrate once again The Tennessean's renewed commitment to the Godbeat.
That is very good news indeed to those — like all of us at GetReligion — who see the need for serious, in-depth coverage of religion news.
Easter is, of course, an easy day for newspapers to give a huge chunk of space to religion news. Even The Dallas Morning News — which no longer has a full-time religion writer — did that:
Here's hoping that The Tennessean affords Meyer plenty more opportunities to shine on the front page — even when it's not a major religious holiday.