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LifeWay reorganization provides way to hear needs of churches better

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The massive reorganization implemented Oct. 1 in the largest division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention is designed to allow the organization to better listen to the needs of the churches, a leader of the organization said.

David Francis, director of regional operations for the LifeWay Church Resources Division, told state convention leaders attending annual meetings in Nashville Nov. 26-28 that the division is now organized more like the Southern Baptist churches it serves. For example, publishing is organized by age groups rather than ministry areas.

“We can now better listen to and learn the needs of our churches,” Francis said.

To do that, LifeWay Church Resources is placing 16 consultants on the field across the United States “to live and work in assigned areas,” he said.

“Their goal is to go in to the churches and listen and learn. Their goal is not to tell churches what they need or which of our products they need. We are going to ask churches, ‘How are we doing at LifeWay?’ And, we know they will probably have a few complaints.”

Francis said LifeWay is committed to “fixing those things” that concern churches.

“And we can’t do that if we don’t listen,” he said. We will listen to their needs, articulated and unarticulated.”

One way LifeWay consultants will work with churches, Francis said, is through a new visual model called M.A.P.

The Church Model and Process (M.A.P.) is being used to illustrate how a church can reach people for Christ, mature them as disciples and involve them in service and ministry. The model is not a cookie cutter approach, but a diagnostic tool to enable a church to identify current practices and determine what changes are needed to strengthen the five functions of the church-evangelism, discipleship, ministry, fellowship and worship.

Francis said the simple diagnostic tool “is testing at about 100 percent in effectiveness. M.A.P. helps churches achieve a balanced approach to ministry, Francis said, with results that include numerical growth, spiritual transformation, ministry expansion and Kingdom advancement.

Francis said the 16 field consultants will not be able to personally visit every church. They will “deal with those churches that want to have a relationship and ministry with us, one on one.”

“Our methodology is to listen for needs, recommend solutions and to learn from the church. If really great things are going on in the churches we want to make sure those stories get told so they can encourage others. We want to hear about your successes.”

In a separate session, state leaders were given a chance to speak about their concerns and hopes for working with LifeWay Church Resources in the future.

Paul Clark, music ministries director for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, said he was hopeful about the “cross discipline taking place in the new structure” and about “the gifts and talents” offered by LifeWay personnel.

“I’m optimistic after hearing the hearts of the people at LifeWay who have shared with us. The guy out in the pew doesn’t know or care (about the reorganization). He just wants to know our hearts and where we are coming from. The passion that comes from here affects everything we do in a local church.”

Terry Arnold, Sunday school director for the Nevada Baptist Convention, commended M.A.P.

He said he hopes LifeWay teaches it to directors of missions and those in charge of church planting at the North American Mission Board.

“What is LifeWay doing to inform church planters about M.A.P.? What are you doing to help DOMs buy into M.A.P.?” he asked.

Arnold said he believes “everybody should be on the same page” when helping churches reach Kingdom goals.

Neal Davidson, who directs several program areas for the Baptist Convention of New England, said he joined the state convention staff eight years ago and has seen constant change at LifeWay.

“I applaud all those changes, and with my counterparts, affirm and encourage you to keep your eye on the future. I want to challenge you to never be satisfied unless you are making a difference in the churches.”

Davidson said he had some concerns about whether LifeWay’s field consultants will really be heard when they report the needs of the churches.

“Will LifeWay truly let these people be the advocates they need to be for us? When they come back and share what we’ve said to them, will they truly be heard?”

Dennis Rogers, training director for Georgia Baptist Convention, said he “applauds LifeWay even when it stretches our comfort zone. It’s easy to get used to certain folks who we have built relationships with. Then all of the sudden those relationships are not here. We have to learn different people and who to relate to now.”

Rogers said the “openness and honesty” of LifeWay leaders “was refreshing. There really is a chance for some collaboration for doing things together that we’ve been hungry for for a long time. Thank you for your honesty. And let’s continue to give the local church the priority.”

LifeWay Church Resources President Gene Mims said his division is committed to working with state conventions individually to best meet their needs.

“We won’t treat all the states the same anymore,” he said. “We need to have state-by-state agreements and meet the needs each state has. We want to have a relationship that lets us know what you need.”

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  • Terri Lackey