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Conference centers’ revitalization begins with organizational changes

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A centralized organization with top leadership based in Nashville has been announced as the first major step in total revitalization of Southern Baptists’ two national conference centers.

Glorieta (N.M.) and Ridgecrest (N.C.), the two LifeWay conference centers, will be operated as one organization with facilities at two locations, according to T. Michael Arrington, vice president of the corporate affairs division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tenn.

The positions of director of Glorieta and of Ridgecrest will be eliminated and replaced by a Nashville-based director of conference centers.

Additionally, the national staff will include a sales and marketing manager and an event planner. The persons filling these positions will provide strategic leadership and implement coordinated actions at both centers. During the transition period while national leadership is being identified, on-site leadership at Glorieta and Ridgecrest will be provided by interim operations managers at each center — John Horton, at Glorieta, and Bill Bowman, at Ridgecrest. Both currently serve as associate directors. Regional sales and marketing managers will be located at each center.

Larry Haslam, director of Glorieta since 1973, and G.W. Lankford, director of Ridgecrest since 1992, will retire effective Sept. 30.

Haslam, 60, is a 32-year employee of LifeWay. Prior to assuming leadership at Glorieta, he was program and promotion specialist at Ridgecrest. Earlier, he was a church recreation consultant at LifeWay.

Lankford, 56, is a 15-year employee of LifeWay. He was manager of engineering, maintenance and construction for LifeWay’s Nashville complex before becoming director at Ridgecrest. Earlier, he was supervisor of building maintenance at Ridgecrest.

“The experience and contributions of Larry Haslam and G.W. Lankford have served LifeWay and Southern Baptists well in using existing resources to meet changing conferencing needs,” Arrington said. “At this strategic intersection in the histories of Glorieta and Ridgecrest, the two largest Christian conference centers in the United States, they leave a legacy of strong leadership on which their successors will build.”

Arrington said the most massive research ever conducted on the ministry of the centers “shows that while the ministries of Glorieta and Ridgecrest continue to be appreciated, revitalization of facilities, programming, marketing and service is needed to enable guests in increasing numbers to experience spiritual renewal through the centers.”

In their semiannual meeting at the agency’s Nashville headquarters in February, LifeWay’s trustees received a report citing the condition of facilities, the ministry of the conference centers and projections for the future based on independent market research. At that time, trustees approved the direction and concepts outlined in a 15-year revitalization plan for the two centers.

James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay, said he believes “we have a window of opportunity through this major revitalization to reach more persons and increase the effectiveness of our ministry to Southern Baptists and others who are seeking spiritual transformation through a closer walk with Jesus Christ.”

Included in research about the physical condition of the centers were observations that current conditions do not represent the quality and standards needed to serve and minister effectively. No new accommodations have been constructed at either conference center in 27 years, the report continued, and deferred maintenance has left deteriorated facilities and less-than-suitable environments.

The strategic plan calls for incremental site development with review of results prior to subsequent steps of development. Requests for funding will be presented to trustees for review and budget approval prior to each step.

Arrington said a 10-year fund-raising plan projected by LifeWay’s capital resource development department would provide $73 million toward the estimated $84.7 million cost through the 15th year.

Ridgecrest, begun in 1907, and Glorieta, started in 1952, served more than 107,000 persons in LifeWay’s 1998-99 fiscal year. Thousands of spiritual decisions have been reported at each location throughout the years, including professions of faith, rededications, commitments to full-time Christian vocations and other life decisions.

Market research identified large groups in adult conferences as the greatest ministry opportunity, but one that will require significant facilities upgrades and new development, the report indicated.

A master site plan, a budget for the first-phase building project at Ridgecrest and a marketing and communications plan for the centers will be presented to trustees at their Sept. 11-13 meeting in Nashville. The master site plan will identify needed new facilities, existing facilities to be refurbished, structures to be removed and a combination of new and remodeled conference space.

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  • Charles Willis