Ending a 35-year relationship is hard, even when the other party has no feelings to hurt.

I’ve always been a fan of print journalism. As a boy, I read The Lincoln Journal, a weekly publication in my hometown of Lincolnton, Georgia. A town of 1,000 people can produce only so much news, but the paper covered the football games and whatever the county commissioners were up to. There was often a list of police reports or delinquent taxes, along with pictures of big fish from the Clark Hill Reservoir, deer killed by 10-year-olds, and the first wild turkey of every season.

We also took the Augusta Chronicle to keep up with news on a state, national, and world level. It came every day and I read it just as often.

While making my way through life, I subscribed to the Hogansville Herald while serving a church in Hogansville, Georgia, and even wrote a weekly devotional column for it. When I came to North Carolina for seminary and served a church in Oxford, I signed up for the Oxford Ledger.

In Boone for four years, I faithfully took the Watauga Democrat. When I moved to the Apex/Cary area in 1988, I happily subscribed to the Raleigh News & Observer, even though someone told me its editorial board was – gasp – liberal.

The N&O came every day, and I read it every day. I found comfort in the morning ritual of reading the paper, then working the crossword and Jumble puzzles to get my brain in gear. I did the Cryptoquote until they cut it, presumably to save money.

The relationship was a happy one for many years, but life has been hard for print journalism. I was editor of North Carolina’s inaptly named Biblical Recorder for nine years, and I learned how difficult it can be to attract and keep subscribers while the cost of printing and postage continues to rise.

That’s one of the reasons I remained so faithful to the N&O, I suppose, even when the owners began to downsize both the staff and the size of the paper. I didn’t mind fewer pages, so long as what remained was responsibly reported and reasonably up to date.

With growing pressure from digital news sources, however, both the newspaper and its iconic building were sold. It’s now a part of the McClatchy conglomerate, which owns 29 newspapers in 14 states. Much of the “local” content now comes from the Charlotte Observer, also owned by McClatchy.

Over time, the paper grew increasingly smaller, and the Saturday edition disappeared altogether. Cost cutting led to a smaller staff and apparently less editing. Mismatched headlines and typographical errors became common.

The worst thing, though, was the loss of timeliness. Busy newsrooms meeting late-night deadlines and overnight printing became passé. The schedule shifted backward so much that, when we arrived home from Israel around 1:30 a.m. last week, the next day’s newspaper was already in the driveway.

When news is two days old, it stops being news, especially given the many digital news options that provide same day coverage.

Outside of feature stories and investigational reports (including which local restaurants got less than “A” grades during the week), reading the paper became an exercise in reviewing stuff I already knew. I wasn’t sure it was worth the environmental cost of printing, bagging, and delivering, even though we faithfully recycle.

And, as content, quality, and customer service shrank, the price inflated substantially.

I believe in the importance of journalism, including local journalism. I love the feel of a print newspaper in my hands. Still, though it breaks my heart, we have to break up.

I’ll still subscribe to the digital version so I can keep up with local news and opinion and the occasional “breaking news” article. Our driveway may miss the early morning love-tap of a tossed paper, but I’ll be doing the crossword online.

Change is hard, and some of us adapt more slowly than others. But change is also real, and not just in the news business.

Churches are facing even bigger challenges. The number of people who are committed to attending and supporting a local church seems to be getting down to a shrinking pool of holdouts who still find the visceral experience of singing and worshiping in community to be meaningful.

The number of people willing to give money toward keeping that enterprise alive is also aging out. The days are not just fast-approaching, but already here, when many once-thriving traditional churches begin to experience the same fate as a printed newspaper.

In 2019, the last year I can find for which figures are available, about 3,000 Protestant churches were started, but 4,500 closed. Many of the new churches that are starting will be non-traditional and much smaller. Many people now choose to have their church experience online. Some observers find hope in the promise of the church reinventing itself, and I hope they’re right.

Whatever happens with the churches we have known, the world around us will continue to change in manifold ways, but the call to follow Jesus does not. Neighbors in need of love abound, and it doesn’t take a subscription to bring – or to be – good news to them.

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