Materials and Communications, Pt. 2
Summary: This article picks up the story of our materials and communications in the early 1970s, when US NavPress was launched. It largely follows the development of NavPress and how it related to the parent US corporation until the end of Kent Wilson’s tenure as publisher in 2007.
NavPress in the 1970s
NavPress Strategy Discussions, Late 1970s
Global Policies for Publications
Progress into the 1980s
Navigator Materials, 1980s
Navigator Communications, 1980s
Developments and Struggles at NavPress, 1980s
Overview of NavPress, 1993-1995
NavPress Leadership Changes, 1996
Changes in the Publishing Industry
Contributions of US NavPress Publishers
NavPress in the 1970s
In the summer of 1973, Dan and Scharlotte Rich came to Glen Eyrie for our first lay and couples conference. Jack Mayhall was the main speaker. He asked them to join him and Carole for breakfast, at which he outlined the need for a business-oriented person to be involved in the materials R&D team and to determine how best to distribute materials once they were developed. Dan accepted and arrived in October 1973. Jack’s directive, in a nutshell, was “help us figure out what to do with our materials.”
Dan made a two-year commitment to lead the materials R&D team. During his first four months,1 he moved swiftly to:
- Conduct a SWOT2 analysis of our materials department and program
- Talk with numerous Nav staff and leaders to understand their needs
- Contact John Bass, president of the Christian Booksellers Association in Colorado Springs, who connected Dan with key Christian bookstore owners and leading publishers at Moody, InterVarsity Press, Scripture Press, and Zondervan
The most repeated comment Dan encountered, especially from bookstores, was that their customers continually asked for Nav materials,3 but it was so hard to obtain them that it was not worth the headache. In other words, there was pent-up demand.
After his research, he presented Mayhall with two options:
- Set up a publishing, marketing and sales task force to complement the materials R&D team for two or three years after which the task force would disband, leaving our materials program better than we found it, operationally.
- Set up a niche-publishing program similar to Moody and InterVarsity Press that complemented the Nav field ministries. This required staffing and structure, with financial projections and a detailed plan, which Dan developed.
Mayhall chose the second option, asking Dan to act as publisher for at least the remainder of his original two years. Dan recruited John Eames, who joined us in August 1974 as CFO to head up finance and accounting, forecasting, financial modeling, and the development of operational systems and processes. Already available at our USHQ were Carol Clifton as editor, Ken Metzger as production manager, Lee Schindler as creative director. Dan himself handled branding, packaging, marketing, sales and the overall direction of the NavPress team.
What Dan and John inherited was a small operation, assembling and selling the Topical Memory System (TMS), Design for Discipleship Bible studies and the four-book series God’s Design for the Family. Both men agreed that there was immense potential for an expanded print product ministry, especially in the light of the reputation of The Navigators and our international ministries.
During the early life of NavPress,4 1975 was a crucial year. It began with a decision that NavPress should be a profit-making entity with potential worldwide influence. Constituent departments were identified and reporting relationships between the publications committee and NavPress were defined.5 By the summer, we were far enough advanced to rent a booth at the Christian Booksellers Convention in Anaheim, CA. Progress was rapid in the financial year ending August 1975. Six new Nav booklets, five new verse packs (three versions each) and an NASB version of the TMS were developed. More than twenty older materials underwent graphic and editorial overhauls. To spread the word, Catalogue 75 was distributed, using The Log newsletter to send out some 75,000 catalogues. More than five hundred catalogues were sent to bookstores.6
In May 1976, Mayhall chaired the first meeting of the NavPress policy committee.7 NavPress was formally confirmed as a branch of the US Navigators with two initial publishing guidelines. First, to provide tools and materials for the Nav ministry that uniquely and directly contribute to the objectives of The Navigators, A) new materials would be approved by a publications committee; and B) books would be approved by the editorial committee. Second, NavPress would adapt and market these tools and materials to a wider market than the Nav area ministries.
The policy committee formed three working groups to produce objectives, financial plans, and guidelines for international markets. Entry into a new market would need approval by the yet-to-be-formed NavPress board of directors.
The international business sourced from US NavPress was relatively small with revenues around $100,000 per year, but quite a few issues were already emerging. Though there was an obvious need for materials in other countries, such countries would continue to buy from US NavPress until they had their own institutional capacity. Dan Rich listed our overseas problems from the perspective of US NavPress:8
- Countries have a variety of requests, as well as frequent turnover of staff responsible
- Lack of purchasing guidelines
- Orders arriving at destinations damaged
- Variable discounts/terms
- Should we charge royalties, approve translation requests, insist on orders going through our national offices?
- Should countries sell to other countries (example: Singapore to Canada)?
Some of these problems were rather intractable and led later to the appointment of a rights and permissions desk at US NavPress.
As regards overall sales, US NavPress had inherited a significant level of activity. This can be seen in their “financials” for their first three years of operation.
Link: Table 1: US NavPress Financial View, 1973-1975
NavPress Financial Problems
Understandably, we were encountering cash flow problems by 1976. Our practice had been to transfer the year’s accrued profit to the parent US Navigators without regard to the amount of cash that NavPress had on hand. This, as Jerry Bridges pointed out, amounted to declaring a 100 percent dividend and retaining no earnings for operations or expansion.9 As a result of our rapid expansion, the NavPress cash balance deficit had gone from zero at the end of 1973 to a projected $218,000 at the end of 1976. This was untenable in itself, and because it removed any sense of responsibility from NavPress to manage cash flow, the group was not retaining any earnings for operations. To address this, our US Treasurer Jerry Bridges made some firm recommendations to Mayhall.
The NavPress policy committee continued to meet during 1976.10 For the first time, they had before them a range of five-year projections that were now available. Specific studies of the international and the church markets were presented.11 In August, the committee accepted scenario II which assumed that transfers to the parent corporation would be made only as cash became available and thus no additional liability would occur.
NavPress was growing fast. A staff of thirty-four was projected for August 1977 and was expected to rise to fifty in August 1981.12
However, by the end of 1976, problems were mounting. Dan Rich sent financial statements for 1976-1977 (note the short time horizon) to the policy committee with the comment: “It is possible we have exhausted our individual capabilities to communicate the problems as we understand them regarding the development of the materials ministry. Therefore, we are looking to this Committee for specific direction to ensure that NavPress is in concert with The Navigators corporate direction and objectives.”13
Dan pointed out that hitherto NavPress had approached the financial process by first determining the dividends required by other Navigator operations and then building a budget that would yield such a dividend. However, small variances against the NavPress budget had multiplier effects on this assumption. Thus, he took the opposite approach for 1976-1977 by presenting what NavPress reasonably believed to be attainable sales parameters. However, salient risks would come from introducing new products,untested marketing efforts, and a still-unsettled computer performance. On the surface, progress looked encouraging.
Publishing sales rose 18 percent from $788,000 to $926,000 and total sales growth during the last two years was 43 percent, which he compared with 34 percent for the religious publishing industry in general.14 “It will be a long, arduous task,” he concluded, “to bring our balance sheet back under control.”
The NavPress programs on our USHQ computer were still in disarray. In view of the damage that was being caused in relationships with many of our customers and in our ability to make reliable forecasts, extra temporary staff were brought in and the lengthy report on this issue to the policy committee ends with the disconcerting words that, as regards sales analysis, “the entire program is still in the design stage.”15 John Eames and his team worked extensively with the IT department and, at the end of January 1977, the policy committee was told of progress. “The problems in accounts receivable have been isolated to five critical issues.”
NavPress Strategy Discussions, Late 1970s
In May 1977, a NavPress strategy conference was convened ”to understand . . . to explore . . . to build outline recommendations for the overall work of the Press.”16 It drafted two aims:17
- Primary: to support the US Nav ministry by publishing discipling materials for the staff and their constituency.18
- Secondary: to enlarge the US Nav ministry by actively distributing discipling materials to selected markets.
The NavPress policy committee met on June 22 to review the implications of the two aims, after additional reflection. Then, a major surprise. Bob Sheffield opened by confirming that “the decision had been taken, the previous day, to select only the primary aim from the conference on strategy, namely ‘to support the US Nav ministry by publishing discipling materials for the staff and their constituency.”‘ Reasons given were:
- To prevent NavPress from reaching out increasingly far beyond the parameters of the US field ministry.
- To lessen the projected capital tied up in inventory and accounts receivable, and the associated financial risks.
- To lessen the projected involvement of the leaders of the parent organization, which seemed likely to increase.
We would cease publishing or distributing books, after carrying forward our commitment to Her Name is Woman (Karssen), the work in progress on No Magic Formula (Eims), and Better Marriage by Choice (Mayhall) would be pursued with other potential publishers.19
Dan and John were then called to meet with Sheffield and Sanny, at which time they were asked to develop a plan to shut down NavPress. This took place not long before our third CBA convention. Other Christian publishers, such as Tyndale, Scripture Press, Thomas Nelson, Moody, Zondervan,20 all expressed interest in buying NavPress.
Then came a reversal. One month later, the policy committee met again after some intense dialogue, especially between Jack Mayhall and Bob Sheffield. The committee agreed with Rod Sargent that the process had been inappropriate. Thus, “We were unanimous in accepting Jack’s proposal that we proceed, for at least one year, with the general level of activity that would take us back beyond the construction of our two aims to a continuing trend of moderate growth, while we investigated our range of choices.” It is not coincidental that, in November, the NavPress policy committee was made an official subcommittee of the US board of directors.
This reversal was welcome. For example, it allowed us to proceed with publishing Jerry Bridges’ The Pursuit of Holiness, which has now sold well over a million copies.
In essence, the 1977 uncertainty arose because our US regional directors desired only one aim (field-serving) for NavPress. However, after further reflection, we realized that some additional analysis was prudent. What emerged was “not so much an agreement to launch a full-blown publishing ministry as to study the alternatives without curtailing the present direction of NavPress.” During the year, inquiries from other prominent publishers21 were discounted because of risks and implications that we were not ready to face. The last six months of 1977 were therefore very unsettling for Dan Rich and John Eames. This continued until the US board met in January 1978: It agreed with the double aim as presented by Dan and John but that we should pursue it in “an essentially conservative direction.”
In John Eames’ view, a couple of unsettling concerns had surfaced among our field leaders: we would be producing “paper disciples” and we might begin to align ourselves with the charismatic movement.
The above uncertainties had shown Dan that there were limits to what NavPress could accomplish, tied as it was to a ministry organization, especially in a context where the leaders of the parent organization changed unpredictably, from the viewpoint of NavPress. It seems fair to say that most Nav leaders never really understood publishing, which made it hard to launch new initiatives. As Dan recently22 summarized:
Probably the biggest conflict was that NavPress was a business, a very mission-driven Nav compatible business, but a business all the same. It was a different animal than the Nav ministry, requiring different but similar success factors to keep it running profitably and effectively for the long haul. It needed competent business leadership, capital, continual innovation, creativity and tenacity. By its very nature, it involved ‘risk,’ especially to those not fully committed to making it work.
NavPress generated revenue and cash adequate to cover operating expenses over most of its history. However, product development and author advances often required dipping into our “line of credit” to cover costs which would be recouped once new revenues were generated. Because the practice was to provide this working capital or line of credit from the Navigator “float,” money designated and held for Nav missionaries, it generated emotional reactions.
During the 1970s, the 2:7 Series was introduced. This came from the creative zeal of Ron Oertli to serve local congregations with materials designed for their specific needs. It proved to be very successful and was later introduced in many countries. The story of this series is covered extensively in my article on “Navigators Among the People of God.”
Global Policies for Publications
In 1978, global policies were introduced to cover Nav publications.23 At that time, 26 percent of our total global sales of materials of $1.7 million occurred outside the US and there was an increasing need for coordination of concepts, rights, and translation practices. These policies laid down:
- Publications will forward our Primary Aim and adhere to standards of content and presentation recognized as excellent in the issuing country, in which they should be copyrighted.
- Countries wishing to revise existing publications must obtain the approval of the issuing country. Also, translating a publication into another language requires the approval of the issuing country.
- When a Publication becomes available in several revisions prepared in several countries, the original issuing country retains the export rights to other countries.
- Outsiders who wish to translate a publication into another language must also apply for permission to the issuing country and obtain the support of our local country leader.
- If a country other than the USA is the issuing country, an approval to translate should follow closely the model conditions available from US NavPress.
- US NavPress should be sent a file copy of every publication and of every subsequent revision or translation.
Lest these Policies be seen as restrictive and impersonal, US NavPress gave a briefing to our international conference of regional directors in West Germany in May 1979. It was designed to summarize how NavPress had developed, to describe some intended directions, and to inquire how this might relate to our ministries outside the US.
Progress into the 1980s
It was also in 1978 that Don Simpson joined NavPress, where he continued to serve until 2014.24 Other editorial staff were recruited as well.
Because of his longevity and deep understanding of the Nav ethos, Don became increasingly valuable. He recalls the late 1970s and the 1980s as exhilarating.25 Literary agents were rare and large Christian publishing houses with stockholders were not yet dominant. However, by the 1990s, Christian booksellers became attracted to popular books that would sell in large numbers. Naturally, they went for the strong sellers.
Debate among our US leaders arose again toward the end of 1979. In November, for example, Lauren Libby wrote: “! have noticed that NavPress is gradually dropping things that are great personal ministry tools and gradually moving into a book publishing mode.”26 Consequently, as 1980 dawned, Dan Rich presented to Bob Sheffield his current aims for NavPress:
- To support the US Nav ministry by publishing discipling materials for the staff and their constituency
- To enlarge the US Nav ministry by actively distributing discipling materials to selected markets
He commented that the mission set by these two aims had “given the publishing ministry clear direction and a long list of projects to accomplish, that is, product development projects to provide tools asked for specifically by Nav staff and distribution projects to make proven Nav materials available for more people.” His judgment was that ”the basic needs of Nav staff and constituency for tools have been met and actually exceeded. Needs will continue to arise from time to time, but it is questionable whether they will be as demanding as they have been in the past.” He went on to offer three options for the future direction of NavPress.27
Beginnings of Discipleship Journal
The launch of Discipleship Journal, in 1981, was arduous. Mayhall had asked Dan whether we could create a publication to reach pastors and church leaders; Dan undertook some research. He met with Eames and Unger to explore how we might capture the Nav ethos in such a publication.28 Because NavPress by now had a complete management team,29 Dan was able to concentrate on the Discipleship Journal project. He worked with Thomas Womack on the concept and with John Eames on a business plan. We carried out careful market research and testing, which yielded very positive results.30
Senior leaders from Christianity Today were asked for their opinion of our magazine mockup. They felt that the mockup was “too heavy” in what it expected of the reader and that it would never sell. We hesitated for some months, testing various scenarios, before making a firm decision to publish. After all, our ethos was a call to the obedience of discipleship. We wanted a product that was far more than mere “fluff.” Another question was whether or not to accept advertising. Eventually, we launched Discipleship Journal with Tom Womack as editor, supported by Steve Eames’ design skills.31 In the years that followed, Discipleship Journal flourished with a strong renewal rate and a mailing list that became the most sought after of any evangelical magazine. In the late 1980s, circulation eventually peaked at around 150,000 copies.
Leadership Changes at NavPress
Meanwhile, the resignation of Dan Rich had occurred during 1980. He was an intense and capable leader who had found his calling unfold as the NavPress ministry evolved and he saw how people were impacted around the world. God had gifted and equipped him for this work. However, after hearing numerous Nav leaders over the years say that NavPress and other ministries like Glen Eyrie and Eagle Lake were not important to the fulfilling of the Nav mission, he decided that he did not want to give his life to something that was viewed as unimportant or second-best. Also, he found it harder and harder to get decisions from the parent organization.32
June Whitely, who gave more than thirty years of service to NavPress, recalls how both Dan and John Eames respected their staff and “created an environment where we were free to be creative and be ourselves. . . . They also believed in me as a woman. . . . Women flourished in their jobs at NavPress because they were treated well and valued by their leaders. . . . The work atmosphere allowed for growth, usefulness, creativity and being part of a team/family.”33
Don Simpson became our editorial director in September 1982. Around that time, Navigators were again becoming alarmed by the number of titles we were publishing and felt that they, as the parent organization, were losing control. Therefore, an editorial approval committee made up of Nav staff was formed to decide whether or not we should publish each new potentially controversial title that NavPress brought to them. This process was cumbersome and time consuming. It meant that we had to go through a two-tiered process in which NavPress leaders first decided whether or not to publish a title, after which Nav leaders weighed in.
Although some Navigators seemed to be suspicious of the Press, this was not always so. Lome Sanny, for example, often praised an ad or catalogue that NavPress produced. The continuing commitment to Jesus Christ and to the Scriptures was evident.34 Also, the design of our literature was of consistently high quality, deriving from the consummate creativity that Steve Eames contributed. While design is a crucial element in attracting book browsers and in accurately representing the internal message, great design also communicates the credibility of the publisher.35
Navigator Materials, 1980s
Beginning in the late 1980s, Nav staff began relying less on materials and focused more on using the Bible in their ministries. Or, in some cases, they used books that were not necessarily NavPress products.
Meanwhile, our international consultation on special groups took place in Penang, Malaysia in March 1982. In focus were the new approaches that would be necessary as we moved into the orbit of the major religions.
Warren Myers presented a paper which was fairly conservative on “Contextualizing Present Nav Materials and Methods.” He wrote:
After winning the hearts of our key men and women, we will probably be able to mold them with relative ease, though perhaps slowly, into our ways of doing things, both practically and spiritually. . . . How many spiritual generations will it then take them to sort through patterns we have established and to become more satisfactorily contextualized? . . . If we do not from the first give high value to contextualizing, will they in tum be motivated to do so? Or will our transplanted patterns become the norm of the truly mature and effective Navigator follower of Christ, a norm which might be at least a partial hindrance in their culture?
Warren concluded that we must avoid “automatically transplanting our foreign framework of thinking, living, and training.”
Jim Petersen contributed a paper on “Materials” in which he contrasted various cultures and suggested that: “Often we have a blind spot. . . . We translate materials verbatim from one culture to another without giving much thought to the relevance and contents to the needs of the hearer.” He instanced Design for Discipleship, which was translated into Spanish because of the urgent need for a tool to meet the demands. However, the result had many rather embarrassing weaknesses, so Sam Clark carefully revised and reworked it, testing it as he went along. We decided that he would develop the basic materials for new Christians, Ken Lottis for Christians in transition, and I would do some materials for those moving into leadership. The format had to be changed, because Latins were not responding to the question-verse-answer approach used in the North.36
Jim concluded that, “Materials are probably a universal need in the Navigator ministry. . . . They facilitate the passing on of the things we teach. . . . They are tools of our trade. But we should not build our works with borrowed tools.”37
Navigator Communications, 1980s
We now record developments in the wider field of communications.
When Terry Taylor became US director in April 1984, several new initiatives arose in quick succession.38 One was a communications project arising from the work of our consultant Jim Engel, who presented an alumni report39 to the USLT in June 1985. The report found that only 30 percent of our alumni were active in discipling and only 24 percent were evangelizing. We needed to emphasize lifetime laborers beyond the campus or base. We should be people developers, not target impactors. The report confirmed our major impact in relating to Christ and absorbing his Word. However, three deficiencies continued to haunt us:
- Authoritarianism lingered: still, a tendency to decide for others rather than help them figure out God’s will.
- Limited help as regards practical ways of adapting to marriage and family life.40
- Inadequate preparation for participating in local congregations.
This third area of concern was the most prominent. Only 40 percent of the alumni said that their Nav training helped to understand what a local church is and how it functions. The value of the 2:7 Series was strongly affirmed but alumni pointed to their lack of training in working with the “marginally committed.” Being used to Nav friends who were “intense, goal-oriented, disciplined” they did not know how to relate to more normal Christians.
Our communications committee had originally comprised Rod Sargent, John Eames, Paul Stanley, and Jerry Bridges.41 They went to work in the light of Engel’s report.
By September 1985, Taylor initiated consideration of Dan Rich being asked to be our communications director. Sadly, Rod Sargent was already declining: He passed away in February 1987. Thus, in response to an invitation from Jerry White, Dan had become our director of development from August 1986 until July 1990.
Dan inherited a department in which Rod had made most of the key decisions. It was falling short of its overall budget by about $300,000 per year. Direct mail was outsourced to an agency42 which had worked closely with Rod for many years. Meanwhile, Nav Log had erratic publication dates because of frequent budget shortfalls. Dan immediately implemented several new directions:
- His managers would be responsible to develop their plans with their teams
- All crucial skills should come in-house, rather than using consultants
- We would communicate with donors regularly with the new One-to-One43
- We would recruit a donor team to fund our “where needed most” fund using Discipleship Journal and Daily Walk subscribers, as well as names from Leroy Eims’ radio broadcasts. These became the One-to-One Fellowship.
The new communications team included Scott Morton (with enhanced responsibilities), Lorne Libby for major donor relationships, Judy Couchman as communications director responsible for One-to-One, and Dave Kassing as production coordinator.
During the four years until Dan handed the department to Lauren Libby in 1990, it had become a profit center staffed by a competent leadership team and providing in-house services to staff, mainly through Scott Morton.
Several years later, our US communications department conducted a staff (1,157) survey on HQ communications, including field work at Round-Up 95. About 9 percent responded. A March 1997 detailed report44 on the findings of these surveys was prepared by Tina Clark.
Developments and Struggles at NavPress, 1980s
By 1984, US NavPress was developing the concept of what became the Life Change study series. One of those we consulted was the Scottish theologian Sinclair Ferguson who advised us, in shaping the questions, to give equal attention to the objective truth of Scripture and to the subjective pilgrimage of the students. Under the editorial direction of Karen Lee-Thorp, we sought to follow that counsel.
However, as Don Simpson reported, ”NavPress continued to experience a steady decline in revenue across the full range of its backlist so that cuts had to be made in their operating budgets as a consequence, John Eames challenged his team “with a bold new initiative to double or triple our book introductions, with a vision to reach the thirty to fifty million evangelicals in the US.”45
In April 1990, our senior developmental editor Jon Stine had written to Eugene Peterson proposing that he work on a fresh translation of the New Testament.46 The response was positive and Eugene began disciplined work. The hardback New Testament of what was named The Message was introduced by NavPress in June 1993. The entire Bible appeared in 2002.47
In general, the core of NavPress that kept us going financially were studies such as Design for Discipleship, The Life Change Bible Study Series and The 2:7 Series. Bible studies were certainly more profitable than books. In fact, surprisingly, The Message actually had the lowest profit margin of any product that we published. Bibles in general typically had quite high revenue, but very low profits.48
John worked at distinguishing the staff of the Press as a strategic operational team, while being an integral part of something larger: our parent organization.49 This required John and members of his leadership team to travel frequently to Navigator events, working very hard at mixing with the staff and leaders at every opportunity. John became part of our US leadership team from the early 1990s but, curiously, was never asked to make a presentation to update them on what NavPress was doing and why they were doing it.
At a lower level, organizationally, the NavPress advisory committee reviewed manuscripts that might be controversial from authors such as Dan Allender and Hugh Ross.
From the NavPress perspective, the first requirement was to identify felt needs in the Body of Christ; only then would NavPress discuss what format might be best able to connect with our constituencies. Meanwhile, there was occasional pressure from Terry Taylor, as US director, on why NavPress didn’t devote more resources to publishing work by our staff. This peaked around 1994. From Terry’s viewpoint, it was a question of what he called alignment. Yet the challenge for John and his team was to take the rather vague vision of making disciples and figure out how to publish print products that exemplified that vision. NavPress published content that focused on the Scriptures, the person of Jesus Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit. However, it was not easy to communicate the vision in ways that would generate sufficient interest in print products.
Later, as our ethos embraced reaching the lost and discipling to the second and third generations, the editors at NavPress found it easier to align our materials and publications with their parent organization.
Another issue that began to surface in the 1980s was the giving of monetary advances to authors, egged on by the new phenomenon of authors’ agents. Our first major advance was to Eugene Peterson as he worked on The Message.50 Zondervan and Tyndale and others began to offer substantial advances which we could not match, and which set back our process of author acquisition. By then, Zondervan was owned by HarperCollins and Waterbrook (Dan Rich) by Random House, though Thomas Nelson remained a large independent publisher until the early 2000s.
NavPress outgrew their space in at USHQ. They needed space to accommodate their office as well as shipping and warehouse functions.51 Our north wing had not yet been built. Therefore, they acquired the Lexington building.
Except for the money borrowed to finance this acquisition, NavPress only borrowed internally to provide working capital. As anticipated, inventories and accounts receivable put the most strain on our balance sheets, though Discipleship Journal generated significant income. When Discipleship Journal started to decline, there was real pressure on NavPress.52 According to John Eames, however, NavPress was at no stage required to contribute a fixed annual sum to our parent corporation.
While he was still NavPress publisher, John Eames had launched Pinon Press. The rationale was to offer products that we could sell through the general trade, but not in the religious section. We felt that there were a number of strong Christian authors who had the ability to communicate and write to a general audience, with a thorough biblical foundation. They would not quote chapter and verse. However, at that time, if the general trade saw that your book was coming from a religious imprint, it automatically went in the religion section, even though it might have been a book on parenting. Pinon Press was intended to give us access to that broader market while remaining thoroughly Christian and a part of the mission of The Navigators.53
Pinon Press launched in 1991 with The On-Purpose Person by Bill McCartney. In general, it did not live up to our expectations and divided the attention of the NavPress leaders.54 After some years, Pinon Press became unnecessary, in a sense, because the general trade changed their strategy. They started placing books that came from a religious imprint in whatever category was appropriate.
In the late 1980s, John also arranged to hire a sales force of four women who would cover their territories three times a year to introduce new, as well as sell existing, titles. This was quite productive for some years, because the industry was moving toward responding to sales reps. Since ours only sold our products, they had a degree of success. Sensibly, they were invited to our staff conferences.
Kent Wilson joined NavPress in 1987 as circulation director for periodicals. He moved us toward direct marketing. He recalls being “excited about the energy with which NavPress pursued new ideas and the ability to find new and creative ways to disciple individuals through our products.” However, he had assumed that there was a well-settled understanding of the place of NavPress within our broader ministry. Yet, there was still disagreement and sometimes contention over the choices of products published or of the direction in which NavPress was moving.55
Years later, when we held face-to-face focus groups with subscribers to Discipleship Journal, Kent recalls that we were taken aback by how many of them considered themselves to be Navigators, even though their only relationship to us was the fact that they subscribed to our magazine. Our largest market segment for Discipleship Journal was middle-aged women very active in ministry. Being active was a crucial part of the demographic because our readers were not merely church attendees, but often actually led Bible Studies or were volunteering in church or were part of discipleship ministries.
The next periodical that we launched (from May 1990) was Current Thoughts and Trends, originally entitled Current Christian Abstracts. Kent Wilson recalls that we were forced into publishing this because we had a software division at NavPress that published the magazine in electronic form, even though the print version was being managed by an outside company.
When that company decided to stop production, we took it over because we knew how to do print. Current Christian Abstracts was an unusual magazine that we had not created or set out to acquire. However, it was a useful magazine during the brief period before the Internet became a primary source of information and made such magazines obsolescent.
One of his first initiatives was to launch Clarity, which was designed to reach out to a segment of Christian women that was virtually untouched: those, as it were, who found themselves caught between the church and the world. They were Christians but did not feel they fit in the church. Judy Couchman was our editor.
Sadly, Clarity only lasted for three issues. NavPress had agreed with our parent board on some performance milestones, as regards both finances and circulation. We knew what our cash flow needs would be, issue by issue. The most crucial milestone was the response rates to marketing after the first issue was published; regrettably, they were disappointing. When we had revised our model, we came back to the Navigator board and presented the need for additional working capital. Even though our financing donor wanted to give that additional amount, the board stopped publication because they did not believe it would be wise stewardship.56
Overview of NavPress, 1993-1995
It may well be helpful to provide a snapshot57 of NavPress as we entered 1993 to 1995.
Evaluation of 1993-1994
- We had the highest ever book group sales of $10 million. The Message is our most successful product launch ever. It has sold over 300,000 copies of the New Testament.
- Pinon Press continues to grow and build acceptance for our titles in the general trade (Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble, etc.)
- Outsourced all order fulfillment related activities to an agency in California, Gospel Light. We are still working out a variety of minor problems, but the overall transition is highly successful.
- All critical book group financial targets-sales, margins, cash flow, and debt reduction ended the year ahead of expectation.
- We experienced major product failure in Clarity. Closed after three issues and in the process of selling to another publisher.
- Both periodicals, Discipleship Journal and CTT, achieved all planned targets.
Focus/Priorities for 1994-1995
- Establish an associate publishing position for Pinon Press to give clear, proactive leadership to this important imprint.
- Continue aggressive book group balance sheet management and debt reduction.
- Shape appropriate response to Clarity shutdown.
- Continue to build highly responsive product acquisition process.
The NavPress Leadership Team is comprised of eight people: publisher, John Eames; communications director, Steve Eames; finance and operations director, Scott Miller; marketing director, Paul Santhouse; Pinon Press associate publisher, Erik Thrasher; periodicals associate publisher, Kent Wilson; editorial director, Kathryn Yanni; sales director (to be filled).
Major energy has been invested the past two years to limit NavPress structure to three levels. We resist hierarchy and encourage our people to work directly with colleagues positioned to solve problems or respond to opportunities.
- Understand where God is working and how we might best respond.
- Continue to pursue aggressive debt reduction.
- Build reputation for content and service to the general trade.
NavPress Leadership Changes, 1996
In 1996, to their surprise, John and his wife Susan were asked by Terry Taylor to meet him and Lauren Libby at the Raleigh-Durham Airport. During this session, Terry indicated that John’s “spiritual journey was going in a different direction than The Navigators.” John realized that this phrasing must cover more specific issues, but he was surprised enough not to ask. Therefore, John Eames resigned as publisher in 1996. In his briefing to our authors, he pointed out the continuing challenge concisely:
Conducting a for-profit business within the context of a not-for-profit ministry organization presented a unique opportunity for both constant challenge and conflicting expectations, including such issues as funding, breadth of product line, investment, and perceptions of the needs of a large field ministry staff. The national leadership of the organization concluded that my leadership of the publishing ministry did not appropriately reflect the mission, vision and values of the Navigators.58
Except for the last couple of years, John describes his time with NavPress as “marvelous.” He and his team all felt that they experienced the hand of the Lord in what they were doing. They were enhancing the larger ministry of The Navigators and making a significant contribution to the Body of Christ.
With hindsight, John comments that he “managed downward more effectively than I managed upward.” He was given to speaking his mind and this was not always acceptable within our US leadership team at the time.
As an interesting sidelight, John recalls that on more than one occasion, our subsequent US director Alan Andrews commented that he looked to NavPress to provide a “theological framework” for the US Navigators.
Kent Wilson succeeded John Eames as publisher in 1996.
Meanwhile, Don Simpson had been appointed senior acquisitions editor in 1998.59 As regards acquisitions, Don leveraged our warm connection with Eugene Peterson and with Dallas Willard to support Steve Webb who launched our Spiritual Formation line. This would have served our constituency well. In Don’s view, we had an opportunity, but we missed the boat. Then, InterVarsity Press saw the opening and introduced a fine succession of spiritual formation books through their Formatio line.60
The main competitor for our niche in discipleship and spiritual formation was indeed InterVarsity Press (IVP). During the 1980s, we had dominated that niche because of our strong products, but IVP moved in to become the clear market leader.61
Meanwhile, during the years 1992 to 1998, Don Simpson had been serving as our US communications director. In 1994, he created Dawson Media, recognizing that Navigator staff were developing and using innovative print ministry tools that were not appropriate for publication by trade-focused NavPress. Very soon, we realized that Dawson Media’s niche was producing resources for people in grassroots ministry, primarily on evangelism and discipleship. These were effective and sold well, but they shut down the imprint in the 1990s.
When Don left communications, Leura Jones took over Dawson Media exclusively. She writes: “My passion became finding experts in specific fields among our Nav staff and helping them develop their life message,” products that were beneficial to others in the same line of ministry. Three examples follow:
- Scott Morton: With three decades of innovative fundraising experience, he had the only published Bible study on fundraising attitudes. DM published Funding Your Ministry in 1999, a text which is now used by more than 100 organizations and churches.
- Nate M: He is one of the leading authorities on international student ministry, having pursued this for more than forty years. DM published Home Again, which serves as a handbook for anyone ministering to international students in America, Europe, and Australia.
- Nabeel J: His experience in ministry among Muslims was very extensive and so DM published his book, Unshackled & Growing, written for those interested in Christ and those who reach out to them.
Dawson Media had no marketing budget. Our readers found us! We also published Advancing the Gospel by Mike Treneer, A Muslim’s Heart by Ed Hoskins, English in Action by Wally Cirafesi, One-Verse Evangelism by Randy Raysbrook, The Issue of Shame in Reaching People for Christ by Ralph Ennis, Meditation by Jim Downing, Living Legacy by Jim Downing and half a dozen other well-loved and practical guides.62
The mission statement of Dawson Media was to help Navigator staff and lay people create and experiment with new ministry tools for personal evangelism and discipleship.
Dawson Media ceased to exist in December 2007, after it was placed in the hands of NavPress.63
Changes in the Publishing Industry
The turn of the century was a time of turbulence in evangelical publishing. Under Kent Wilson’s leadership, we became very much focused on the trade (bookstores) and stopped advertising in consumer publications. Indeed, we did not even advertise our line in our own Discipleship Journal for a while and decided, one year, that NavPress would not have a display at the CBA Convention. Whatever the reasons, as the market changed, some confusion and lower morale crept into NavPress.
In 1997, we launched Pray! Magazine, which continued with only moderate sales until 2009.64
We also introduced ThInk. This was an attempt to develop a version of our core titles that would appeal to the emerging Gen-X generation. We started by taking some titles such as Design for Discipleship and restructuring them for those between sixteen and twenty-one. Rebekah Guzon soon joined the small ThInk team,65 whose output rose to a maximum of some fifteen books a year. The very relevant product line included such topics as “cutting” and depression. Kent Wilson curated a ThInk task force once a year. Rebekah was promoted to associate publisher of NavPress. Eventually, in 2013, we discontinued ThInk. It was a challenge to manage because the staff assigned to it were so visionary and energetic about pushing the limits!
During this time of rapid change in Christian publishing and in our broader society, Kent Wilson gave much attention to the culture of NavPress. He wanted it to be values-based. Every year, he and his staff measured our performance against our values. Even decisions on how to decorate the department and embellish the environment in which our staff worked were drawn from the values that we wished to transmit to one another.
Kent also had a special desire to invest in coaching our younger, less mature countries. Partly, this was because of his background managing the Wilson Foundation, which was internationally focused. He worked at pulling together our international publishing partners in support of one another and bringing some of them to the US for training.
Other communications outside the orbit of US NavPress included:
- In 1984, Donald McGilchrist launched NavWorld, an international newsletter that included an insert of strategic prayers and was issued three times annually. The contents gave updates for our staff on major Nav initiatives and gatherings, featuring ministry highlights, with an opening letter in each issue from Jerry White. It was a mix of news and reasons for what we do.66
- Starting in 1990, the IET published Worldwide67 four times a year under the capable supervision of Dave Wagner. By October 2010, sixty-eight issues had appeared. At this point, we changed from two to four color. At the peak, we had a print run of five thousand copies. The original audience was our IET supporters but, under Mike Treneer, this target became our staff. Glenn McMahan is now the editor. Between print and online editions, it reaches more than nine thousand people around the world. In October 2018, the IET published the hundredth issue of Worldwide, commemorating twenty-five years of publication.
- Two years later, Terry Taylor introduced Perspectives, a bi-monthly newsletter to stimulate thought and action toward reaching America for Christ. It was addressed to ”the Navigator family.” It ran until at least February 1994.68
In 1987, David Bok had put forward a proposal69 for a Navigator in-house journal that would meet the need for our practitioners to understand issues that we faced. He pointed out that “in the last ten years, I have heard of more consultations and papers produced in the Navs than in the fifty previous years” and observed that we have become “secure enough to take a hard and critical look at ourselves.” He suggested seven areas of focus and a format somewhat similar to Missiology or EMQ, perhaps printed in Singapore. Nothing came of this excellent concept, though a descendant would be the papers and videos produced after the birth of The Core in 2002.
Contributions of US NavPress Publishers
What were the main contributions of our US publishers (Dan Rich, John Eames, and Kent Wilson)?
Dan Rich was a visionary, outstanding in his sense of what was needed and what would work in the marketplace. He was tenacious, excellent in the craft of publishing, and a consummate professional who had imbibed our Nav values. However, as a serial initiator, he sometimes became embroiled in disagreements with our parent US corporation. For much of his tenure, according to June Whitely, “NavPress was just trying to survive. We wanted our products to be available worldwide, but that was not yet the emphasis.”70
John Eames was an excellent accountant, who broadened from financial to marketing leadership during his tenure. Like Dan, he did not always find it easy to discover what our parent corporation wanted or how best to execute it. His innovations included Pinon Press and our in-house sales team. The Message was launched during his tenure.
Kent Wilson71 was a shepherd leader who cared more about the welfare of his team than our overall financial condition. He gave much energy to coaching our smaller publishing operations in other countries. He was an innovator.
By way of conclusion, how may the ethos of U.S. NavPress be viewed during the thirty years from its launch in 1975 until 2005? From my perspective, there was a persistent focus on Biblical essentials, with a particular emphasis on life-upon-life discipling.
The Scriptures were taken as timeless; claiming God’s promises and obeying his commands were paramount. Particular strengths were in scripture memory and Bible study, pursued in patterned ways that developed within The Navigators. There was little investigation of context or genre.
We were a how-to publisher. We looked for practical applications, often within the guiding framework of The Wheel illustration.
When we experienced wide success, as with the writings of Jerry Bridges or Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Scriptures, or the popularity of Discipleship Journal, what appealed was a combination of intimacy with the Lord and practical help.
When we did publish on more controversial areas, such as relating to Roman Catholics (A House United?) or the theology of the kingdom (The Kingdom Life), we were not widely read.
In short, NavPress largely reflected the ethos and concerns of our parent corporation, interpreted through the creative and sometimes experimental lens of a professional evangelical publisher.
By Donald McGilchrist
See also articles on:
Materials & Communications I
Navigators Among the People of God
Overseas Policy Conference: 1961
The Community Ministries
Ethos and Values
The Wheel: History
The Hand: History
- The following account of what Dan initiated is heavily dependent on the typed input provided by him on May 10, 2016.
- SWOT: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. The thinking of the SWOT approach is that internally, an organization has strengths and weaknesses but externally, it has opportunities and threats.
- Although the term “materials” had a long pedigree within The Navigators, NavPress used the normal industry language of titles and product lines. This was not problematic.
- A name suggested by Carol Clifton and adopted in January 1975.
- Proposal of January 24, 1975.
- As a result of this activity, NavPress experienced an increase in volume of 32 percent in 1974-1975, with 10 percent of net publications revenue derived from the sale of new products. About 75 percent of dollar sales were coming from non-staff customers. Our overseas business was largely unprofitable. Source: review of marketing, finance and operations for fiscal years ending August 31, 1973 through 1975 (dated December 6, 1975).
- Minutes of May 12. Present: Bridges, Eames, McGilchrist, Rich, Stephens.
- Summary of problems encountered in international business: Rich to Mayhall, December 1, 1975.
- Memo: Bridges to Mayhall of April 7, 1976.
- This committee settled into two meetings per year through 1986.
- Committee minutes of June 10 and August 5; church market August 5; international market June 30.
- Schedule B of June 7, 1976: of the fifty, sixteen would be in customer service and accounting and eleven would be in shipping.
- Memo to policy committee, December 17, 1976.
- Nevertheless, in the three years to August 1976, $502,000 had been transferred out of NavPress to other Navigator funds, and $212,000 had been pumped back in the form of inter-fund notes payable. As a result, the increase in interfund notes payable had risen from 30 percent of total assets in 1974 to 51 percent in total assets in 1976. Source: Report to policy committee: December 17, 1976, page 2 and 13.
- Report to Policy Committee, January 25, 1977.
- Conference agenda for May 31 and June 1, 1977.
- In fact, rather similar to the May 1976 aims that the NavPress policy committee had chosen.
- Constituency defined as the NavLog list in the US.
- Victor Books published Eims’ second book Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be and Hemichsen’s Disciples are Made–Not Born. Source: “Dear Gang,” 1975-4.
- For example, at the CBA convention, Zondervan approached Dan and said, “I understand that The Navigators want to sell NavPress; if so, we want to be at the front of the line.” Dan suggested to enquiring publishers that they call Jack Mayhall. The uncertainty at USHQ had arisen out of concern for future financial risk. Lorne Sanny understood that, unless we published more and more, we would not be able to pay the NavPress bills. Yet, we certainly did not want to dilute the focus of our core Nav ministry. This concern was somewhat parallel with the struggle that Ron Oertli had recently experienced in persuading Navigator leaders to accept the 2:7 Series as genuinely core Navigator material.
- Our alliance with Tyndale House eventually took place in 2013, under very different circumstances.
- From Dan’s recollections dated May 10, 2016, p. 5.
- ILT April 1978 global policies, section 22. In February 1979, Dan Rich sent to our country and divisional leaders an extended interpretation of how US NavPress interpreted and would follow these Policies. Letter of February 15, 1979.
- Don had spent the previous two years (1976-1978) as editor of Global Report that was published by the World Evangelical Fellowship, then led by Waldron Scott who had discipled Don. Don’s previous employment was with Systemation. He was absent from NavPress from 1987 to 1992, co-launching Helmers & Howard with Kathy Helmer as a boutique evangelical publisher.
- Much of the following is based on answers to questions presented to Don Simpson, dated December 9, 2014.
- Libby to McGilchrist of November 28, 1979. Lauren was a member of our editorial committee.
- Rich to Sheffield of January 3, 1980.
- Dan initially assumed that Monte Unger would be the editor and that NavPress would take care of production and marketing. However, Unger made it clear that he did not anticipate a role for himself beyond helping to launch the project.
- Bern Thompson, editorial; Rebecca Price, marketing; Steve Eames, creative; Carl Camp, sales; Don Simpson, advertising. After working on the first few issues of Discipleship Journal as contributing editor, including the magnificent Issue 3 on God Calls You to the World, Bern left our staff in 1981.
- Senior leaders at Christianity Today felt that the market research was so affirming that it might be bogus. It was not, and CTs publisher, Harold Myra, offered Dan a position as his R&D director!
- Issue 3 was a powerful affirmation of God’s heart for the nations and the part that we can play toward the ultimate vision when ”the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
- Therefore, when the president of Thomas Nelson offered Dan a position, he concluded that he could exercise his gifts better at Nelson than at NavPress.
- Thoughts by Whitely, dated September 16, 2014.
- In addition to Sanny, some of the Nav leaders who most encouraged Don were Roger and Jean Fleming, Jim Petersen, Jerry Bridges, Donald McGilchrist, Rod Sargent, Denny Repko, Ron Oertli, Lee Brase, Dave Hawes.
- Steve (John’s brother) had been hired as our creative director in 1977, after serving as a missionary in Indonesia. He received many trade awards for excellent design. After leaving NavPress in 2001, he can now be reached at EamesCreative.com which is based outside Boston.
- In this process, Sam analyzed the DFD Studies as received. He discovered that the two topics given the most attention were obedience and service, but this emphasis would not be fruitful among Latins who had been taught that even the grace of God is something one earns. So, when we started the new version, we placed a heavy emphasis on grace.
- The papers by Myers and Petersen can be found on pages 213-218 of the COSG preparatory essays.
- It was a project-oriented approach. The USLT had before them ten projects and listed another seven for consideration as such.
- “Post-Graduate Experience of Navigator Alumni,” preliminary report by Dr. James Engel, June 1985.
- One focus group spoke of the “never-dater Navigator” syndrome that discouraged male-female relationships.
- For their purpose and tasks, see the July 1985 appendix F to USLT minutes.
- Killian & McCabe in Dallas.
- In 1996, the US communications department conducted a mail survey of three thousand of the 62,000 donors receiving this report, which by that time was “the primary organizational piece produced for our donor audience.” Just 219 responded. Recognition and recall were both high, with 42 percent saying it was important for them to receive the One-to-One. See March 1997 findings prepared by the Communications Department, eight pages plus numerical analyses.
- Fourteen pages plus tables.
- Simpson letter of March 17, 1986 as editorial director, attaching Eames’ plan of February 13, 1985.
- Christianity Today had published a couple of chapters from the book of Ephesians, translated by Eugene. Jon, therefore, made his proposal to Eugene and acted in a close partnership as his editor.
- The contract agreed to with Eugene Peterson’s agent stipulated that we pay him a higher percentage royalty than had been our custom. This added to the financial pressure on us.
- Source: Interview with Kent Wilson, October 1, 2014.
- Much of what follows is based on McGilchrist’s telephone interview with John Eames on February 11, 2015.
- Basically, agents did not exist in the mid-1970s in Christian publishing. That changed dramatically when Rick Christian launched Alive Communications. Then came Yates & Yates.
- The context was the recent Savings & Loan debacle, so that there was plenty of property available at low prices. We purchased the Lexington building. However, one psychological effect was to increase the distance between NavPress and the rest of the US Navigators.
- The internal debt carried by The Navigators and used as working capital for NavPress ranged between $500,000 and $1 million.
- Steve Eames created the concept for and acquired the first products for Pinon Press.
- According to John Eames, some on our Pinon team tried to move too far away from evangelical trappings and language. For more information on the Pinon c oncept, see “Prospectus for the Strategic Development of a Line of Pinon Fiction,” submitted May 18, 1994 to the NavPress product planning group.
- The following paragraphs draw from an interview with Kent on October 1, 2014.
- It should be noted also that certain editorial content in the first issue of Clarity was controversial. We had to learn the hard way that, although our target audience very much embraced the editorial content, other Navigator leaders and friends exercised a major influence over the decision to cease publication. Basically, the constituency for Clarity was more liberal than the main Navigator constituency. Clarity appeared from March 1994 to July 1994.
- Prepared by John Eames, undated.
- Source: Eames to NavPress authors, May 17, 1996.
- During the years 1992 to 1998, Don led our communications department which, at that time, was part of the NavPress group.
- Peterson and Willard were part of the small but influential Chrysostom Society that had been started by Richard Foster, author of the Celebration of Discipline. We did publish Writing the River by Luci Shaw, another outstanding author in the society, but it was allowed to go out of print rather quickly.
- Campus Crusade for Christ had a press for many years, with Bible study series similar to our SCLs and DFDs.
- In addition to Leura, those working on DM included Kendra Venable, Katie Kassing, Pat Manby, and Carol Rebell.
- Source for Dawson Media: Reports by Leura Jones and Kendra Venable.
- Final issue, May/June 2009.
- ThInk: Rebekah Guzon, conversation on September 18, 2018.
- NavWorld was produced for around three years: 1,200 copies printed on light blue stock with a special logo and black-and-white photos. One unforeseen consequence of the photo of our council in Issue 1 was the receipt of several comments that our dominant mentality was still masculine and American. This was largely true. Source: McGilchrist archives, box 3.
- Successor, on a much more polished and attractive format, to NavWorld (1984-1987), with most articles written by IET members who offered observations from their recent travels.
- Perspectives came at irregular intervals, with the editorial role moving from Judy Couchman to Don Simpson.
- Contained in his paper “Unity in Diversity” at the forum for the established countries in January 1987, p. 62-69.
- Comments by June Whitely: September 8, 2014. Dan Rich returned briefly to NavPress as senior director of business development in April 2002.
- Mike Miller had been hired as a consultant by the US board and it became apparent that the new directions that Mike recommenced made him a clear choice to take over NavPress, which he did in July 2007. He resigned as publisher from May 2013.