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LifeWay projections: Growth despite tough economic times

NASVHILLE, Tenn. (BP)–LifeWay Christian Resources stands to see a 3.4 percent increase in overall revenue for 2003, providing employees continue to perform well in a bleak economy, Ted Warren told trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention entity Feb. 10 in Nashville, Tenn.

LifeWay’s executive vice president and chief operating officer said revenues would still fall more than $18 million short of the budget for the fiscal year of Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, with revenues down across the board within LifeWay’s business units due to the sluggish national economy. Still, Warren said, each division controlled expenses well so far this fiscal year.

The international department has been especially hard hit, with revenues deeply affected by the continuing economic crises throughout many countries in South America, Warren said.

“Companies have been dealing for years with ways to deal with the fluctuation in foreign economies and that is one of the challenges we face as well,” Warren said.

Warren also reported that the market value of LifeWay’s retirement trust fund has dipped below its future payout obligation, but LifeWay plans to designate reserve funds to make up the current deficit.

The deficit is due to the significant decline in the stock market during the last three years, he said.

“It is important for our employees and retirees to understand that the trust fund is still well-funded and that employee and retiree pension benefits are still intact,” Warren said.

LifeWay’s retirement trust fund is 96 percent funded and remains in a solid position compared with many other U.S. corporations facing similar financial challenges, he said.

“With an improved stock market, we anticipate the retirement trust fund returning to an over-funded position in the coming years,” Warren said. “We will continue to be good stewards of the fund as we carefully monitor the markets and respond accordingly.”

Trustees approved a recommendation authorizing an increase in the price of all dated and undated Sunday School curriculum by as much as 3.7 percent, effective in the spring of 2004. The actual price and percentage increase, if any, will be determined in the summer of 2003.

Gene Mims, vice president of the church resources division, cited increased production costs and unit declines as the reasons for a possible rate increase.

Mims reported several highlights from 2002, citing:

— Vacation Bible School growth in sales and impact.

— Success with a new Beth Moore Internet study, with 32,000 people from more than 50 countries involved in the online Bible study, “Believing God.”

— The inclusion of Scripture from the Holman Christian Standard Bible(r) into all Sunday school curriculum by the fall of 2003. The King James Version will still be available in selected curriculum lines.

— The ongoing expansion of the FAITH Sunday School Evangelism Strategy.

Ken Stephens, vice president of Broadman & Holman Publishing, told trustees the Holman Christian Standard Bible(r) is progressing on schedule.

“The entire Old Testament is all the way through the third and final draft, and the final manuscript is due July 1,” he said. “The completed Bible will be available in April 2004.”

B&H’s best-sellers in 2002, Stephens said, included the Oliver North novel, “Mission Compromised,” and three Beth Moore books, “When Godly People Do Ungodly Things,” “Praying God’s Word” and “Jesus the One and Only.”

New releases for 2003 include “Faith in God & Generals,” a Civil War book that complements a major motion picture, “Gods and Generals,” which will open Feb. 21; “Beloved Disciple” by Beth Moore; “Jericho Sanction,” Oliver North’s second novel with B&H; “Covenant Marriage” by Gary Chapman; and “The Kingdom Focused Church” by Gene Mims.

Despite a national economic slowdown, Mark Scott, vice president of the LifeWay Christian Stores division, reported a solid performance in the first quarter of 2003. He said LifeWay’s Christmas sales were strong despite the holiday season being billed as one of the worst in 32 years for retailers.

The number of LifeWay stores has reached 115, with two more planned in 2003, Scott said, reporting that the first of two phases of a chain-wide system to improve point-of-sale business processes is complete.

Mike Arrington, vice president of corporate affairs, reported that a committee is continuing to study water availability for proposed developments at the LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico.

The capital resource development department raised more than $748,000 in 2002, with plans for further fundraising in 2003. Arrington said one campaign will seek to honor denominational leaders by naming rooms at both conference centers after them.

Attendance at both the Ridgecrest (N.C.) and Glorieta conference centers should increase when renovations are completed, Arrington said. Improvements include completion of year-round youth facilities and multi-level meeting spaces at Glorieta.

Arrington shared results of a recent LifeWay brand identity study by Ellison Research, which showed that 88 percent of Southern Baptist ministers are “very familiar” with the LifeWay brand, while brand recognition among SBC laity and customers continues to rise. Corporate affairs commissioned the research to help LifeWay increase awareness of its brand.

Tim Vineyard, vice president of the technology division, said more than 7.6 million Web user sessions were recorded in the first quarter of 2003, a growth of 156 percent from the previous quarter. He said 350,000 of those were first-time users of the newly redesigned LifeWay.com site, launched in October.

Jim Carter, vice president of the finance and business services division, reported that 98 people, encompassing 44 employees, 16 family members, two trustees, four retirees and 32 LifeWay friends, participated in nine LifeWay-sponsored evangelistic trips in 2002.

“We started 18 churches and saw 8,770 professions of faith,” he said. “I just love this work.”

Carter said since 1997 LifeWay has sponsored 28 trips in which 43,834 people received Christ and 132 churches were started. “These mission trips are changing our lives and the lives of a lot of church members who are going with us,” he said. “They are going back after these trips and starting their own outreach programs.”

Carter said LifeWay is working to alert churches and Southern Baptist organizations about the significant savings available through the newly named Southern Baptist Purchasing Alliance (SBPA).

Formerly known as the Cooperative Purchasing Agreement, the SBPA utilizes SBC entities’ relationships with several large companies, including Microsoft, Dell and Toshiba, to provide high-quality software, hardware, equipment, furniture and supplies to Southern Baptist churches and members at discounted rates.

Since its inception in 1998, the SBPA has saved Southern Baptist entities about $13 million, Carter said.

Meanwhile, Mike Harry, director of logistics, told trustees his unit was going to spend $750,000 they previously authorized for warehouse improvements to buy a computerized assembly packing machine that will dramatically increase efficiency at the Lebanon distribution center.

Luis Aranguren, director of LifeWay’s international department, said in 2002 his coworkers sponsored 549 leadership workshops that trained 57,428 pastors and leaders in 4,811 local churches from 50 different denominations. He said LifeWay now has publishing partnerships with two countries, Brazil and Canada.

Aranguren said the international site on www.lifeway.com continues to grow, offering a variety of helps for international Christians. In October 2002, the site logged nearly 66,000 hits.

In other action, LifeWay trustees re-elected George Iwahiro, a layman and retired utility executive from Honolulu, as chairman of board. They also elected Roger Willmore, pastor of First Baptist Church in Boaz, Ala., as vice chairman, and re-elected Tim Marrow, pastor of Taylor Ranch Baptist Church in Albuquerque, N.M., as recording secretary.

Ben Rowell, retired pastor from Rogers, Ark., and Jerry Vernon, pastor of Portage Missionary Baptist Church in Chesterton, Ind., both rotated off the board after concluding eight years of service.

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