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LifeWay reports strategic changes

COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP) — LifeWay Christian Resources is poised to reach a million people this fall with its Christ-centered curriculum, The Gospel Project, leaders announced at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Columbus.

During his report to SBC messengers, LifeWay President Thom S. Rainer laid out three strategic changes LifeWay is making to prepare for the future and serve churches more effectively. These strategic changes include selling its sprawling headquarters in downtown Nashville later this year and building a smaller facility nearby.

“Our leadership believes you make strategic changes when your organization is strongest,” Rainer said.

Rainer explained some of its buildings date from the early 20th century and weren’t designed for modern technology or collaborative work. LifeWay has moved printing, assembly and shipping elsewhere, leaving about two-thirds of the current property unused. Employees are scattered through nine buildings on nearly 15 acres, with five times the space they need.

“We cannot waste time, money and other resources on inefficient facilities,” Rainer said. “We must be the best stewards of the resources Southern Baptists have entrusted to our care.”

LifeWay expects to break ground this fall on a new facility in downtown Nashville and move into the new building by late 2017.

The second strategic change was merging LifeWay’s Church Resources and B&H Publishing divisions. “It no longer makes sense to have two different publishers under one roof,” Rainer said. “The fusion of these two divisions has given us an incredible opportunity to lead with LifeWay.”

With that, Rainer also introduced plans to focus LifeWay’s retail stores more strongly on LifeWay products. “The stores will become more and more a local expression of LifeWay,” he said.

Unifying into “One LifeWay” will position the publisher to provide better services to churches, Rainer said. One such service, a smartphone app called DevoHub, was unveiled during the SBC meeting with live demonstrations in the exhibit hall and a presentation from LifeWay Resources Vice President Eric Geiger.

DevoHub is designed to eliminate barriers to daily Bible reading, a practice Geiger said impacts every other spiritual discipline. DevoHub will allow churches to provide devotional content to members and guests throughout the week.

“Devotionals will be sent to users’ phones from your church,” he said. “It’s a tool to allow them to study the Scripture every single day in their personal devotions.”

Rainer noted LifeWay has seen three consecutive years of growth in providing Bible study materials after nearly 30 years of decline. Helping drive that growth is The Gospel Project, introduced in 2012 to guide church groups in teaching theology. LifeWay initially projected 30,000 users.

“Three years later we are amazed at what God has done,” said LifeWay Insights Vice President Ed Stetzer. More than 750,000 people now use the curriculum each week.

The number is expected to reach 1 million this fall as The Gospel Project launches a new three-year study plan, stretching chronologically from Genesis to Revelation and focusing on the role of Christ, Stetzer said.

“We believe Jesus isn’t part of the Bible story — He’s the point of the Bible story,” Stetzer said. “Every age, from babies to adults, will study the same Bible passage each week.”

The theology-oriented Gospel Project is one of four LifeWay curriculum options, each based on a different starting point, Geiger said. Explore the Bible approaches Scripture book by book; Bible Studies for Life focuses on life issues. And for churches “who want their small groups to really be in sync with their pastor’s sermons,” Geiger said, LifeWay this year launched SmallGroup.com. The online tool allows leaders to build their own Bible study curriculum from more than 1,500 existing studies.

“You can search a passage of Scripture or a topic you’re wanting to study, and then you can customize a study for your group,” Geiger said.

Rainer also recapped high points from LifeWay’s past year:

— B&H Publishing landed 28 titles on the Christian Booksellers Association Bestseller List and was voted Spanish Publisher of the Year for the second year in a row. Rainer noted the B&H book imprint will continue despite the division’s merger.

— LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina hosted more than 64,000 guests and more than 2,100 campers at Camp Ridgecrest for Boys and Camp Crestridge for Girls.

— LifeWay Christian Stores served nearly 2.7 million customers in 185 stores and partnered with customers and the International Mission Board to send 200,000 Bibles to South Asia and 126,000 to Central America.

“All of this has happened in a season of significant change for LifeWay,” Rainer said, with shifts occurring in church practices as well as the publishing industry.

LifeWay believes its new strategic directions are the best way to serve churches’ needs, he said. “Change is not about us — it is about us seeking God’s face, moving forward where He shows us. That is what we are doing, and we covet your prayers as we go.”