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FIRST-PERSON: LifeWay Research: Lighting a path

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Christians live in an age where there is a gap between “what is” and “what should be.” Unfortunately, we do not fully know what “what is” really is. We do not truly understand the health of our churches, the level of commitment of their members or the level of impact churches are having in their communities. As a result churches become inefficient in reaching the spiritually lost with the Gospel.

We do come closer to having an idea of what should be, but we don’t know how to close the gap. LifeWay Research will help churches, Christians, the culture and the unchurched clearly identify their respective realities. Additionally, LifeWay Research will propose ways to close the gap so that what should be becomes the new “what is.”

I announced the launch of LifeWay Research a couple weeks ago at LifeWay’s semiannual trustee meeting, six days after officially becoming LifeWay Christian Resources’ ninth president. I do not state this lightly: My goal is to make LifeWay Research the premier Christian research organization in the world. I am driven to that end by my passion for the local church. I love Christ’s church. I love communicating the world of the church, the hopes of the church and the struggles of the church. Helping churches and the Christians in those churches reach their potential in Christ is my passion.

To reach that potential, however, we must first acknowledge reality, and reality is that about 96 percent of the churches in America do not meet the criteria for being effective evangelistic churches. Most of these churches have good pastors and good laypeople, but they have not broken out of their mediocrity. They have become satisfied with the status quo; they resist change and often minister only to those inside the church. They may have large budgets, but they are not making a significant impact on their communities.

Those are the facts. How do we change them?

One primary purpose of LifeWay Research is to help LifeWay better understand churches and their needs so we can respond with more relevant products and ministries. We are a ministry that may operate as a business, but our goal is -– and will become even more so -– to provide biblical solutions that help churches become breakout churches that move beyond good to become great. Excellence permeates everything about breakout churches. These are churches that reach at least one person for Christ an average of every two weeks.

This type of connection between the church and its effectiveness in its community is enhanced when Christians and churches understand the relevant issues of the day. This is another purpose of LifeWay Research. We will have a finger on the pulse of culture and the unchurched world. Our intention as Christians is not to mirror culture or concede to culture but to impact culture with the truth of Scripture. LifeWay Research will explore culture and the unchurched world with this impact in mind.

LifeWay Research will also attempt to understand specific areas of ministry better, such as students, women, Sunday School, small groups, leadership, music and more. LifeWay’s goal is not to help churches do more; it is to help churches identify strategic opportunities that can be maximized for the greatest Kingdom impact.

Do I know at this time what LifeWay Research will finally look like? I do not. We’ve launched this boat from the dock not yet fully built, but with a definite destination in mind, with a blueprint that allows us flexibility to adjust quickly and the intention to delivering timely and relevant information.

My predecessor, Jimmy Draper, told LifeWay, its trustees and readers of this column that we live in serious days and called for the employees of LifeWay -– and Christians as a whole –- to inventory the spiritual gravity of our times. His desire was for LifeWay to be a serious organization, one with its hand to the plow working in the field when Jesus returns. I embrace that vision and make it mine as well. Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, LifeWay Research will be a torch that lights a path leading from “what is” to “what should be.”
Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

    About the Author

  • Thom S. Rainer