Several months ago, fundraising efforts began to secure the $250,000 needed for Books & Culture magazine to continue in 2014. As editor John Wilson explained, the 18-year-old publication "has always depended on support both from the company as a whole and various outside sources." Given the changing face of publishing and the current economy, Christianity Today found it difficult to financially support the magazine as it has in the past. Books & Culture magazine could not continue after 2013 if donations and pledges failed to reach the amount by Monday, September 9.
Less than a week before the deadline, things didn't look good. So Wilson took to Twitter. On September 4, he tweeted: "The Nov/Dec issue of @booksandculture will be the last unless we raise $110,000 in the next 3 days."
"John is a rock star on Twitter, everyone just loves him," said Jake Walsh, director of marketing. But nobody was expecting such an overwhelming response of support through Twitter, the blogosphere, and news outlets.
"I can't overstate what a loss B&C's disappearance would be," blogged Martyn Jones on Patheos. "Nowhere else will you find an evangelical journal with the same depth and breadth, the same consistently high-grade editorial quality, the same brainy cast of contributors."
"Books & Culture has an important place, a place only it can fill, in the world—the shrinking world—of serious Christian magazines," echoed David Mills in a post for First Things. "It's the flagship publication of its sort in the evangelical world and the major magazine in which evangelicalism's peculiar genius is applied to cultural matters."
In addition to praise, donations and pledges began pouring in. Christianity Today found itself actually having to play catch up. A team assembled to manage the situation: media group publisher Terumi Echols guided the process as CT online managing editor Ted Olsen fielded outside calls; Walsh and Books & Culture art director Jennifer McGuire created a hover ad, posted by Kathy DePue; and marketing analyst Josh Wood created a pledge form for 2014 so the funds would go towards the 2014 year instead of the general donation page. Harold Smith, president and CEO, and development director Vicki Howard wrote the donor page, which executive director of technology Theresa Hoffner updated often to reflect the donations coming in and to encourage those giving. Throughout the weekend, Howard and others tracked the incoming pledges and donations.
By 10 p.m. on Sunday, Howard texted Smith the good news: not only had the goal been met, but exceeded. The next day—the deadline—money and pledges still flowed in.
Christianity Today has never witnessed such an event in its history. Howard believes it worked because there was a set amount and a deadline in place, which helped motivate people to give. "But honestly, this was God's surprise," she said. "That's the first thing that Harold said: 'To God be the glory.' Yeah, we did the mechanics of campaign, but it was God who provided through his people for Books & Culture."
Other team members agree their own roles were small in comparison to what happened. "It was us starting a spark and the readers and followers of Books & Culture turning it into a blaze," Walsh said. He also repeated Howard's belief that the most important lesson that people are taking away is God's hand throughout the process. "I don't think he's discouraging us from trying on our own, but I think the reliance on him to provide is an important lesson," said Walsh.
"The most important thing to know about this whole thing is that God said 'yes,'" said Howard. "And that's awesome."
With 2014 provided for, Christianity Today still hopes to obtain funding for Books & Culture for the next five years. Pledges and plans are well under way, and in the meantime, Howard, Echols, and others will work on strategies towards building a self-sustaining model for the magazine.
And Books & Culture itself?
"We're never going to run out of subjects," said Wilson when we talked back in August, before the magazine's future was secured. "We won't run out of books, we won't run out of things to talk about. Because just about anything could yield interesting conversation.
"I often say that I think of each issue of the magazine as in a way like a microcosm. It should convey a sense of variety, of the many-sidedness of things, and always suggest that there's more and more that we aren't talking about—pointing to that more," said Wilson. "Each issue is a microcosm of this much larger reality, which reflects the endless bounty of a Creator God who is always surprising us—there's always more. Not a God who simply meets our needs, but the God of the miracle of the loaves and fishes and the water turned into wine, a God who always exceeds what we might expect or hope for."
Such as this time.
Elissa Cooper is assistant editor of Christianity Today magazine.
Partner with Books & Culture magazine here.