After 34 years in the same building, WORLD magazine is this month moving its offices. We've grown, it seems, to the point where we need something a little smaller.
"Hold on!," I hear someone object. "Didn't you tell us just a couple of issues back that WORLD is this year celebrating its 25th anniversary? And what on earth do you mean when you say you've grown-and now need smaller quarters?"
WORLD magazine is in fact just 25 years old this year. But its corporate history actually goes back to 1942, when physician-missionary-journalist Nelson Bell (he was also Billy Graham's father-in-law) returned from China to Asheville, N.C., and founded a magazine here called The Southern Presbyterian Journal. For the next generation, that sturdy publication championed the cause of conservative Presbyterianism-ultimately leading, most church historians would agree, to the 1973 founding of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
But with the coming of the PCA, the journalistic mission of the Journal seemed to many to be fulfilled. "It was like the March of Dimes after polio got licked," one fellow told me. In 1977, I was asked to join the Journal's staff-and to help explore its future.
One of my very first assignments was to gather the staff of only a dozen people under one roof. "The editorial people and the business people," I was told, "haven't talked to each other for 20 years." A quick look around town led me to 2,400 square feet of inexpensive rental space on the lower level of the already-aging Innsbruck Mall-a half-occupied facility on Asheville's busiest thoroughfare and less than a mile from downtown.
Innsbruck was not spiffy when we got here 34 years ago, and two or three renovations later, it still has no elegant touches. It's always been passable. It's been a workplace-not a showplace.
So it was in this gritty context that we decided in 1981 to launch a series of news magazines for children, the God's World News lineup that for 30 years has helped several million children understand what it means to look through the eyes of faith at what God is doing week by week in the world He created.
And it was here, chased by roaches under antiquated lights and both warmed and cooled by temperamental H/AC equipment, that we launched WORLD magazine in 1986. To make way for WORLD, we soon published the last issue of The Presbyterian Journal. But Nelson Bell's 45-year-old articles of incorporation, prophetically labeling us as a "non-profit religious and educational organization," couldn't have been a better fit for our new assignment.
And, indeed, here we've been for all of WORLD's 25 years. Yet, during that span, two inexorable forces have been at work:
First, an already modest building continued to deteriorate. Nobody was asking, as I say, for a showplace. But even a workplace owes comfort, safety, and security to those who labor there. Little by little, we've watched those necessities slip away-even while rental rates continued to rise.
Second, mirroring the miniaturization of virtually every electronic device over the last 25 years, WORLD's office needs have also actually shrunk-even while our publishing outreach has grown. From a smaller and smaller physical base, we keep watching more and more of WORLD's gifted staff saying persuasively: "I can do that job just as well from my office at home." It's no longer just a fad. We have well over a decade's experience now to show that WORLD's staff can be scattered across the whole country and still effectively produce a quality magazine on schedule. And it's a magazine with growing impact both through its print version, its various internet expressions, and an increasing radio broadcast version.
So we're moving this month, 3.3 miles south to a comfortably practical (but still not ostentatious!) building in the historic Biltmore Village on the south edge of Asheville. We're just half a mile north of Exit 50 on I-40, only two blocks from the entry gate to the world famous Biltmore Estate. Our new home will, we trust, still be more workplace than showplace. But a little more than in recent years, we'll be ready to welcome any of WORLD's readers who want to stop in and say hello.
Email Joel Belz