The Beacon Lights staff thinks we have a problem. In fact, we are convinced that we have a problem. The problem concerns the reading of the magazine, or more accurately, the lack thereof.
Our subscription numbers have historically been tracked by our business manager and reported at our monthly meetings. For the last several years this number has remained relatively stable.
However, the subscription numbers do not necessarily translate equally to the numbers of those who actually read the magazine, especially our Protestant Reformed young people. This is ratio is difficult to measure factually, although not impossible.
For a long time the staff has been concerned with this issue, and has searched for ways to measure our readership. Recently this discussion has intensified in the monthly meetings. Shortly ago the staff decided to send our promotions manager, Mary Grace Schimmel, to go to Covenant Christian High School to do some informal and anecdotal fact-gathering and to encourage the students to read Beacon Lights. She was given the opportunity to address the student body, numbering more than 350, at a chapel assembly.
Mary Grace began by asking how many in her audience have heard of Beacon Lights, with the result that about 98% raised their hands. She then asked how many of their parents or they themselves currently have a Beacon Lights subscription. The percentage dropped to about 85. Next question: How many read Beacon Lights? About 12% raised their hands. Her final query was, how many read the magazine from cover to cover? Two or three hands went up.
Admittedly this is not a scientifically or technically accurately survey, but even if her numbers are doubled or even tripled arbitrarily, the results of her survey are a general indication of the reading status of Beacon Lights among this sampling of a large numbers of our young people. To the extent that these results reflect reality, we have a problem. The results are disappointing and even disturbing.
Why are they upsetting? Because the numbers surely show a lack of interest in Beacon Lights. This stands to reason. If a person has little or no interest in a certain activity—in this case reading—he will not perform that activity
This brings up the question why only a few or at most bother to read of you young people read Beacon Lights. I can think of three reasons.
First, this is a matter of priorities. Young people today are very busy. There is school, church, catechism, homework, sports, perhaps dating, a part-time job, and possibly other activities and obligations. Somehow Beacon Lights gets shuffled to the bottom of the pile. It quickly and easily becomes the lowest priority.
Second is the rise and use of social media. I am convinced through my own observation that this is a huge influence upon most people, especially our young people. Almost everyone has a smart phone, a laptop, and an ipad. Most are on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Everywhere I go I see people texting. If they are not texting, they are talking on their cell phones. I call this black-ear disease. People, including you, young people, are virtually addicted to our electronic devices and the media they transmit.
Third, I wonder if parental supervision of the use of social media has gradually deteriorated. I am convinced that some parents make sure that their children read at least part of Beacon Lights. Congratulations to those of those who do! But I also suggest and am afraid that many do not, and this is disappointing. Is not our calling as parents to see to it that our children develop good habits that are beneficial to their spiritual lives? They are the next generation of the church. Should not parents do all in their power to prepare them to do so? If the young people do not learn now (and Beacon Lights surely teaches!), then when?
What is the solution to this issue? I admittedly do not possess a silver bullet that will magically solve this problem, but I do have some ideas.
First, you young people need to reorganize your priorities. This is not easy to do, because it involves breaking habits, some of which are long-standing. But this is necessary. In the midst of your busy lives, those of you who do not read Beacon Lights need to reorder your priorities to make time to read the magazine. You are our target audience; Beacon Lights is written specifically for you. It is our desire out of Christian love for you that you read the magazine, along with other profitable, edifying Reformed literature. We do not publish it just for fun, but for your benefit. Besides, if you do not get into the habit of reading good Reformed literature now, what will happen when you get older and even busier?
Second, you need to reduce or eliminate your use of and dependence on social media. This is both huge and difficult, but if done, will reap good fruit. When smart phones initially became available, I had to make a decision whether or not to get one, or to fall behind in the development of advanced technology. Although they have some very attractive applications, I opted out because I did not want to be so connected. When Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were invented, I again opted out. All I have is a cell phone, which is quite useful and fulfills my needs. Facebook and Instagram are tremendous time-wasters. I do not need to know what you had for breakfast or what you intend to do tonight in all the gory details.
Please, young people, do not dismiss me as an ornery old curmudgeon who is out of touch with reality. I assure that I am not. The matter is really quite simple: should you spend your discretionary hours on Facebook, or should you read good literature, with Beacon Lights at the top of your list? Before God and your own conscience, you need to answer this question honestly.
Third, a word to parents. We know that many or most of you read Beacon Lights. It is your covenant obligation to bring up your children in the fear of the Lord. One aspect of this is to insure that your young people read the magazine and other good Reformed material. Please put forth every effort to do this.
Last, a word to grandparents. Yes, grandparents. We know with absolute certainty that many of our oldest generation are avid readers, and we very much appreciate this. With that readership comes an opportunity to influence your young grandchildren. Many times a quiet word from Grandpa or Grandma is more effective than the admonition of a parent. I know, because I am a grandparent. That quiet word should be “Read!”
So why, young people, should you read Beacon Lights? Because after a great deal of time and effort, we have come out with an attractive cover-to-cover redesign of the magazine? No. Because a great deal of donated energy is put forth by the staff to produce a high quality and relevant product? No. Because your parents or grandparents tell you that you should read it? No. Because I just said so? No.
Rather, the reason is that Beacon Lights is part of your spiritual life and growth in sanctification. You can’t learn this from social media, but you can learn it from the excellent and interesting articles that appear in the magazine as we make our way toward heaven in the midst of a sin-cursed and increasingly wicked world.
So what really matters? How will you use your time? You decide.