Keeping the Faith
CONSIDERING THE role the Bible played in the invention of the printing press, it’s not surprising that religious institutions still hold the printing process in such high esteem. In fact, some of the largest in-plant operations are maintained by religious organizations. To name just a few:
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), has a massive Printing Division in Salt Lake City with 400 employees.
- More than 340 Jehovah’s Witnesses, all volunteers, work at the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society’s Wallkill, N.Y., Printery, with over 1,000 volunteers in its 18 printing facilities worldwide.
- Pacific Press Publishing Association, the West Coast in-plant for the Seventh Day Adventist Church, has 143 employees, 60 of them in production, in its Nampa, Idaho, operation.
- In Springfield, Mo., the Assemblies of God employs 275 at the Gospel Publishing House, 85 of whom work in production.
- About 220 miles away, United Pentecostal Church International employs 56 people, 29 just for production, in its Hazelwood, Mo., in-plant, called the Pentecostal Publishing House.
Add to this the fact that the Vatican runs one of the oldest in-plants in existence, dating from 1587. It employs about 200 in a modern facility that serves the printing needs of the Pope and the entire Roman Catholic church.
As impressive as these operations are, there are many more small in-plants at churches and religious organizations across the country. They supply the letterhead and newsletters that keep their churches going.
The large in-plants grab the spotlight, though, because despite downsizing in the printing industry, they continue to thrive—even grow. The predominant reason for their success: they are strongly integrated into the goals and missions of their religions. In short, they print materials that help spread the Word of God.
“By producing literature for people around the world in their language...we feel we are having a share in the work Jesus directed his followers to do,” explains Tom Cheiky, assistant plant manager at the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society’s Wallkill Printery.
Also, since most of these in-plants are staffed by Church members, they provide a way for the faithful to contribute to the Church.
“They don’t look at it as just a job,” explains Larry Craig, production manager at the Pentecostal Publishing House, “they look at it as...this is a talent that God’s blessed me with, so this is how I’m utilizing these talents to put back into the work of the ministry.”
Their dedication ensures a level of quality and responsiveness that no commercial printer can touch.
As a group, religious institutions are one of the most loyal supporters of in-house printing. They give a number of reasons for this:
- Historical precedent, even scriptural mandate.
- Better responsiveness in addressing unexpected needs.
- Better control of content, especially when confidentiality is crucial.
- Better control of quality.
- Smarter use of their Church’s financial resources.
- To generate funds for the church.
In the United States, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the oldest in-plant still in operation. The presses were fired up in 1849.
“When the pioneers came to the valley, there was nobody else to do printing,” explains Craig Sedgwick, director of the LDS Printing Division. Printing, he adds, is an integral part of the religion, mandated by scripture. He quotes a revelation in the church’s Doctrine and Covenants in which the Lord said: “I have commanded you to organize yourselves, even to print my words...”
“Thus, from the very beginning of the Church, a ‘printing house’ has been established,” says Sedgwick.
Likewise, printing played a crucial role in the early days of the Assemblies of God Church.
“Even before the Church was officially organized [in 1914], some of the founding fathers of the Church were doing printing to a like group of people who endorsed the faith and ministry of the Church,” notes Arlyn Pember, general manager of Gospel Publishing House.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church also has deep printing roots; it has done its own printing since 1874.
As years went by and the religions grew, the need for printed materials—in numerous languages—skyrocketed. Today most of these large in-plants produce long runs of magazines, books, bibles and other materials used to get their Church’s message out. Most of them have web presses—a rarity among in-plants. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society added seven new webs in just the past few years to print multilingual versions of its journals. (The Watchtower alone has an average semi-monthly printing of 28.5 million copies in 161 languages.)
Directors and managers of these large in-plants say one of their greatest attributes is their ability to respond quickly and accommodate numerous difficult requests.
“We’re more responsive,” declares Chuck Bobst, vice president of production at the Seventh Day Adventist’s Pacific Press operation. “When we see a need we can react a little faster.”
“Reprints of magazines or books can be done quickly to respond to unanticipated requests,” adds Cheiky, of the Watchtower Society. “For example, recently congregations in the United States requested over 1 million copies of the book ‘What Does the Bible Really Teach?’ in just one month. It was necessary to make a number of quick printings.”
When confidentiality is a factor, religious organizations can trust their in-plants.
“We have some very confidential items that we would never send out,” says Sedgwick, of the LDS Church Printing Division.
Likewise at the Vatican, papal documents are produced in a special department of the in-plant where employees are sworn to absolute discretion.
As for saving money, that’s basically a given for any in-plant. But at religious organizations, employees take that goal personally. They know any dollar wasted in the printing process is a dollar the church can’t use to carry out its mission.
“We believe we owe it to the leadership to be very good stewards,” says Pember, of Gospel Publishing House. If his employees see a more efficient way to print something, they will tell the customer so modifications can be made.
Jehovah’s Witnesses take cost cutting to the extreme by relying on volunteer labor in the in-plant. Volunteers receive room and board and typically serve for several years.
“It is...cost effective and allows us to make the best use of the donated funds we receive,” says Cheiky. “This enables us to distribute our literature without charge.”
Gospel Publishing House takes a different approach, relying on sales of its printed material to fund the church’s missions.
“One hundred percent of what we’re about is to fund the ministries of the church,” says Pember.
Devotion to Quality
Universally important to all of these large religion-based in-plants is print quality. Managers say their employees take this personally, viewing the quality of their work as a reflection of their devotion to God. They want people who see their printed material to be impressed.
“Every time we produce a brochure, a magazine, we look at it that this is a product that’s going to go out and fall into somebody’s hands that possibly may lead them to Christ,” says Craig, of Pentecostal Publishing House.
“They believe in what they’re printing, so they read it,” adds Jon Harrell, account consultant manager at Gospel Publishing House. As a result, in-plant employees catch occasional mistakes. “You’ve got that kind of quality assurance all the way through. These people care about what they’re doing.”
Their devotion, both to their work and their faith, leads to a very positive plant atmosphere, managers say.
“We try to apply Bible principles in our workplace and in our dealings with one another,” notes Cheiky, of the Watchtower Society. “Overall, this results in a calm and pleasant atmosphere to work in.”
Pember cites the “high moral standards” of his employees at the Gospel Publishing House. Off-color jokes won’t sour the air and friendliness abounds.
“It’s very family oriented,” adds Harrell, a 25-year veteran of the Gospel Publishing House. And he should know. Both his father and his grandfather worked in the in-plant before him.
A pleasant working environment combined with a strong feeling of purpose leads many employees to stay a long time.
“I don’t have a very big turnover,” remarks Craig, of Pentecostal Publishing House. “People come here because they feel like they’re being a part of the ministry.”
Training the Faithful
This leads to a strikingly different hiring methodology than most in-plants have. Instead of seeking skilled workers, these shops hire devout believers and then train them.
“Only members of our church in good standing can work here,” explains Sedgwick, of the LDS Church Printing Division. “Therefore, we train from within. We hire entry-level people and we promote.”
“We try to hire people that are of our faith because they understand...the market, the demographics that we’re trying to reach,” adds Craig.
Most new employees at Pacific Press start out simply with a desire to serve the church, says Bobst.
“We find it’s easier to train somebody with a good attitude and some skills than the other way around,” he notes.
“It is very seldom someone comes in with a printing background,” acknowledges Cheiky. “Because they’re volunteers, they’re very eager and willing to learn. All of our workers have volunteered to do this work as an expression of their personal devotion to God.”
The Power of Prayer
The like-mindedness of employees contributes to a congenial atmosphere, managers say. Prayer brings people even closer. Most of these in-plants have weekly chapel meetings. Watchtower staff holds morning bible discussions. Others have impromptu prayer meetings next to the presses.
“If one of our people has a need, it’s not uncommon for people to stop and pray for that person on the spot,” says Craig, of Pentecostal Publishing House.
Though much of what these in-plants print is intended to help spread the faith to new people, Bobst points out that existing church members are still a main focus.
“You can produce material to create new membership, but you also need to create material that enhances the members that you have and keeps them energized,” he says. “We encourage church members by bringing them new titles. We probably do 30 new titles a year.”
Pember agrees: “Our focus has to be on providing culturally relevant resources for our end users,” he says. “Our goal is to expand those resources. They need a broader menu of...ministry resources.”
Despite the differences in their beliefs, these in-plants share many traits, including a positive in-plant atmosphere and a shared sense of purpose among employees.
“People are very committed to working here,” says Sedgwick.
“Most of the people that work here...feel like this is part of their ministry,” adds Craig.
“They believe in what they’re doing,” Pember says.
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Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited nearly 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.