RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–LifeWay Christian Resources is seeing good ministry results while making tough but necessary decisions to control costs in an economy that business leaders are calling “ugly,” and in the midst of a Christian publishing and retail environment that has been labeled “bad.”
That’s the report LifeWay executives gave trustees at their semiannual meeting Sept. 8-9 at LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C.
LifeWay President Thom S. Rainer told trustees that despite a “perfect storm” of higher fuel costs, mortgage and banking crises and weak consumer spending, LifeWay continues to impact the world for Christ with new resources like the Worship Project and a new website called “The Transformational Church” (www.transformationalchurch.com).
Although LifeWay recently announced a 5 percent workforce reduction and a cut in operating expenses, Chief Financial Officer Jerry Rhyne said, “LifeWay’s financial health is good.” He cited a strong balance sheet, no debt, a healthy reserve fund, a growing and updated chain of LifeWay Christian Stores, a strong and diverse customer base, and a steady stream of theologically sound resources.
“LifeWay is a ministry that must operate on a sound business model,” Rhyne said, “and we must adjust our business model as church practice and the marketplace change.” He emphasized that LifeWay is well positioned to weather a prolonged economic downturn, which business leaders polled recently in CFO Magazine felt could last well into next year.
LifeWay’s executive leaders updated trustees on the following ministries:
Vice President John Kramp highlighted several new LifeWay initiatives, including resources for African American, Hispanic and urban churches; the release of the new Baptist Hymnal and Worship Hymnal; the launch of LifeWayWorship.com; an Internet strategy through a revamped LifeWay.com; and new resources for girls, baby boomers and senior adults.
Kramp also previewed the 2009 Vacation Bible School themes: Boomerang Express and Club VBS: Truth Trek. He noted that the new student model of spiritual development is divided into three areas: Know, Own and Known –- knowing Christ personally, growing in one’s spiritual life and sharing Christ with others.
The division also anticipates continued strong work in women’s ministry with new releases such as Beth Moore’s study of Esther along with other studies by Kay Arthur, Priscilla Shirer, Jennifer Rothschild, Anne Graham Lotz and others as well as expanded conferences and training events.
Kramp highlighted the church resources division’s ongoing emphasis on evangelism through the new FAITH resources, “Share Jesus Without Fear” and discipleship through “The Call to Follow Christ” series, “Experiencing God,” “MasterLife” and other core discipleship resources. In addition, a small-group resource is being developed in conjunction with the film “Fireproof” and will be released early in 2009 to help churches strengthen marriages and families.
B&H PUBLISHING GROUP
Vice President Brad Waggoner discussed steps the division is taking to improve operational performance, including proactive author and content acquisition, building long-term relationships with both authors and readers, and better marketing and sales strategies. He also emphasized the importance of innovation as B&H moves into the future.
Waggoner reported on the division’s most popular trade books in 2008, including “The Love Dare,” which ties into the major motion picture Fireproof; Oliver North’s “American Heroes”; and “5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter” by Vicki Courtney. Also, B&H has launched a new fiction portal on its website at www.bhpublishinggroup.com.
The Holman Christian Standard Bible continues to gain acceptance among pastors, seminary professors and students as well as laypeople, Waggoner reported. Soon to be released is “The HCSB Study Bible” that features an interactive website with downloads, study helps and videos.
LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN STORES
Vice President Mark Scott reported that 2008 has been a challenging but rewarding year. The division opened its 150th LifeWay Christian Store, saw a significant increase in Bible sales and ministered personally to many customers who were led to faith in Christ while visiting the stores.
Scott also spoke of the division’s ministry to Christians, who represent most LifeWay Christian Store customers. “Our primary ministry is equipping and informing believers so they can be strong disciples of Christ,” he said.
FINANCE AND BUSINESS SERVICES
Vice President Jerry Rhyne presented LifeWay’s overall operational and financial results and outlined the proposed 2009 budget. For the company’s two conference centers, Rhyne reported that facilities upgrades and operational improvements at Ridgecrest and Glorieta led to stronger than expected ministry and financial results in 2008. He also noted that a new convention center at Ridgecrest will be completed next spring, capping the major renovations for the conference center.
Vice President Tim Vineyard announced that LifeWay.com this year ranked 126th in gross sales in the U.S. among e-commerce Websites, according to Internet Retailer. He also updated trustees on collaborative efforts with other LifeWay divisions, most notably LifeWayWorship.com, the new digital hymnal being produced by the church resources division. The website is live now but will debut significant new features in October. “God has inspired us with a vision,” Vineyard said, “and we want for Him to receive all the glory from this project.”
The division also will embark soon on a major redesign of LifeWay.com.
EXECUTIVE COMMUNICATIONS AND RELATIONS
Vice President Tom Hellams said his division emphasizes relationships in order to connect people with LifeWay resources. These relationships, with people ranging from online customers to SBC leaders, result in more Southern Baptists engaged in ministry and more unbelievers won to Christ, Hellams said.
Hellams highlighted the work of LifeWay Research, which recently released studies on Southern Baptist pastors’ views on Scripture and Americans’ views on homeschooling. He also reported that LifeWay-sponsored mission trips led by employees have resulted in nearly 98,000 professions of faith since 1997. In addition, the corporate relations team has distributed more than 30,000 Bibles through the YMCA of Middle Tennessee and has involved LifeWay in community support with likeminded charitable organizations throughout Middle Tennessee.
In other business, the trustees:
— approved a budget of $488.3 million for fiscal 2009 and received a report that LifeWay estimates closing out 2008 with revenues of $473.1 million.
— approved the nomination of Rick Evans, pastor of Dalraida Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., as chairman of the trustee board, succeeding William D. “Bill” Henard, senior pastor of Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.
–Approved the employment of Ernst & Young to conduct the 2009, 2010 and 2011 audits of LifeWay operations.
Rob Phillips is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources.