Baptist Communicators Connect to Learn, Grow, Refine Skill

Editor’s Note: BCM/D Media Specialist Dominic Henry, featured in the article below, attended the Baptist Communicators Association annual workshop in Ridgecrest, North Carolina, last month along with Communications Director Megan Jones and BCM/D Children’s & Youth Consultant/Communications Consultant Kris Buckman. The BCM/D communications team won two awards: First Place for a Print Publication-Magazine for the BaptistLIFE Magazine: Abuse and the Church: A Journey of Growth; and third place in the Design Division – Print Collateral/Specialty Design for Pathways: Prevention & Protection rack cards, showing the steps for churches to take to help them protect the vulnerable. 
Missions photographer Kathleen Sparks, media specialist Dominic Henry, and content creator Kedrick Nettleton — communicators from different areas of Southern Baptist life — now have something else in common.
They were first-time attendees at the Baptist Communicators Association (BCA) annual workshop, April 17–20, at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
“It truly makes a difference,” said Sparks, senior photographer, and photo archivist with the International Mission Board, “to commune with like-minded communicators within the same space — learning, growing, and refining skills while pausing from the fast-paced day-to-day work life.”
It was “refreshing,” she said, to hear from fellow attendees “about how they are communicating to their audiences and how the Lord is moving in their areas of the country and in their workplaces.”
Inspiration and hope
Henry, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s media specialist, said the BCA workshop “gave me inspiration, peace and hope.” He garnered “inspiration for my own projects and goals,”; “peace in learning how God truly guides our steps for His glory and grace,”; and “hope in choosing a line of work that glorifies God and lifts up His workers to the world.

Kathleen Sparks is senior photographer and photo archivist with the International Mission Board. (Photo courtesy of Jim Veneman

“I had never seen so many knowledgeable and experienced communicators in one place,” Henry said. “Merely talking with them showed me that there is a path set before me and that I’m not ‘winging it.’”

Not alone
Nettleton, content creator for Oklahoma City-based WatersEdge, a financial services ministry for individuals, families, churches, and ministries, said his “main takeaway” from the BCA workshop “was that we as communicators, and as Christian communicators specifically, are not alone. Other people are grappling with the same questions and issues and concerns.”
BCA, he said, is “creating a community of people working in the same way — not necessarily on the same projects or content — but in the same manner of professionalism and skill and sensitivity to our faith.”
Sparks said “having to turn around images quicker than quick” is among the challenges in her work.
“With the advent of social media and live streaming … it’s challenging for me as a photographer who wants to craft a great storytelling image or series of images. When the world is oversaturated with images of lesser intention and quality, it’s harder for more striking storytelling images to cut through the murky mire.” Nevertheless, “How can one not get excited about the opportunity to use a skillset that was given to you for a greater purpose? My camera is just a tool, but it’s one that enables me to see deeper, to see God’s story unfolding.”
Henry said his multimedia work for the Maryland/Delaware convention is the “best job I’ve ever had. I spent years going from job to job never truly feeling fulfilled until this one. I feel my work has meaning and not just an earthly one.”
Yet, a key challenge he has faced has been working on podcasts dealing with sexual abuse.
“Learning about and meeting some of the victims had a profound impact on my work,” he said, noting that coping with the trauma “was a skill I had to learn if I wanted to truly continue doing my job.”
Nettleton, who attended the BCA workshop with his wife, Laura, and 4-month-old son, said his work involves “making complex financial topics easy to understand and, more importantly, compelling to be a part of. I do not have a finance brain, so for me, the biggest challenge is understanding the ins and outs of what we actually do as an organization.”

He likened it to his creative writing studies in college – “to tell stories … to take a concept that could be abstract, like faith or ministry work or missions or whatever else

Nettleton, content creator for Oklahoma City-based WatersEdge, a financial services ministry for individuals, families, churches and ministries, says his “main takeaway” from the BCA workshop “was that we as communicators, and as Christian communicators specifically, are not alone.” (Photo courtesy of Jim Veneman)

we’re writing about, and embody it for a reader. It’s a cliché to say that we as humans learn and make meaning from storytelling, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. I get to do that in my own small way with feature writing in our magazine (Generosity).”

Keynote speakers
Several keynote speakers were featured during the four-day BCA workshop, including two who focused on the nation’s changing demographics: Bob Smietana, national reporter for Religion News Service and author of a new book, “Reorganized Religion: The Reshaping of the American Church and Why It Matters,” and Ed Herrelko, the International Mission Board’s vice president of marketing and communications, who addressed “Marketing and Communicating Across Generations in a Noisy World.”
Another keynoter, Katie McCoy, director of women’s ministries for the Baptist General Convention of Texas (Texas Baptists), spoke via Zoom on culture’s proliferating gender issues, reflecting her forthcoming book, “To Be a Woman: The Confusion Over Female Identity and How Christians Can Respond.”

Team-building was the topic of several breakout sessions: “Cross-Training for Success,” “Becoming a Multimedia Communicator,” “Building and Leading Creative Teams that Last” and “Meant to Mentor.”

The workshop also included two missions junctures. Representatives of the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina detailed its ministries to train and assist families for foster care and adoption — but also in outreach to college students who have aged out of foster or residential care and in services to adults 65 and over to help maintain their independence.

During a devotional period, an IMB representative led a time of prayer drawing from a booklet, “Loving the Lost through prayer: People and Places,” highlighting such unreached people groups as the Moors of North Africa; the Hui people in China’s Yunnan Province; and the deaf in Cuba, Uganda, Kyrgyzstan, Suriname and Niger.

During the annual awards dinner, Nettleton won the top prize for exceptional achievement in feature writing. Other grand prize winners included Eric Reed, Ben Jones, Kris Kell and Lisa Misner of the Illinois Baptist State Association for newswriting; Max Power of the IMB for photography; Union University’s Office of University Communications for interactive communications; Innovative Faith Resources in Lynchburg, Virginia, for print media and design; Chrystelle Thames of The Baptist Children’s Village in Mississippi for the radio, television, film and video category; and the Arkansas Baptist State Convention’s communications team for public relations and development.

Among other winners, The Alabama Baptist and The Baptist Paper also won a combined 25 awards during the event.

About BCA
Its 250-plus members include Baptist professionals focused on writing/editorial positions, electronic media, photography, graphic design, public relations, marketing, and management. Marilyn Stewart, senior editor for news at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, is the current BCA president; Meredith Flynn, a freelance writer in Illinois, is the membership vice president.
BCA’s 69th annual workshop will be April 20-24 in Richmond, Virginia. To learn more, click here.
This article, written by Art Toalston, originally appeared in The Baptist Paper.
Feature Photo: Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware Media Specialist, Dominic Henry, says the BCA workshop “gave me inspiration, peace, and hope.”
(Photo courtesy of Jim Veneman)