NASHVILLE (BP) – Ben Mandrell, Lifeway Christian Resources president and CEO, expressed confidence in the future of the organization during his report to messengers at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting on Wednesday (June 16).
“I am encouraged by the report that I bring to you today,” Mandrell told messengers. “Lifeway Christian Resources exists to create resources that radically impact people’s lives and churches.”
Despite challenges brought on by the pandemic and some that existed prior to 2020, Mandrell informed those gathered that Lifeway was in a strong position. “Despite what you have heard, Lifeway is not in a fire sale,” he said. “Lifeway is getting focused.”
He noted the pandemic forced Lifeway into a moment of self-protection, as churches stopped meeting in person, conferences moved online, and summer camps were cancelled. These factors and more caused Lifeway to miss its revenue budget last year by $45 million, according to Mandrell.
The Lifeway president said the organization was able to mitigate some losses with budget cuts and reduced costs. He also noted, “We experienced the good favor of God in that some of the things that we do soared during the season of quarantine,” pointing to strong sales of books, Bibles and Bible studies. In 2020, Mandrell said, Lifeway sold more than 2.4 million Bibles and had more than 100,000 women join a Lifeway Women online Bible study.
“Scripture says every good and perfect gift comes from the Father above, so we want to recognize in the history of this organization that God has preserved us and pulled us through,” Mandrell told messengers.
He noted challenges at Lifeway that were evident when he became president in the summer of 2019: an underfunded pension; unsettled store leases from the closing of brick-and-mortar stores; a new, but underused headquarters; not enough cash reserves; expensive renovations needed at Ridgecrest Conference Center; and a complicated website that drove away potential customers.
When the pandemic of 2020 began, Mandrell said Lifeway leaders and the board of trustees “had to press the gas and make strong changes.” The organization sold Ridgecrest to “like-minded individuals that would carry the ministry forward” and has now settled all but two store leases exiting those with 50 cents on the dollar, according to Mandrell. Throughout the entire difficult season, Lifeway did not have to use any cash reserves to fund business operations and is exiting the pandemic with a stronger cash position than the organization has seen in decades, which Mandrell said was “nothing short of miraculous.”
Mandrell also addressed the recent sale of the Lifeway headquarters in Nashville. Funds from that will be used to strengthen the pension fund, fortify cash reserves, invest strategically in what best serves local churches, and purchase a modest space for creative thinking and collaborative work by employees. Because the organization embraced a work-from-anywhere culture, Mandrell said the organization was hiring people from “all parts of the country” that enables Lifeway to create resources that fit various cultures and serve a wider range of churches.
The organization’s president also highlighted the recent rebranding effort, including the new logo that includes a cross to serve as the anchor for the ministry, a folded paper to denote the printed page, a pixel to point toward a digital future, and a person to reflect a relational posture. “We want to be by your side in ministry,” Mandrell said. “We care about church leaders and want to build personal relationships with you.”
As Lifeway moves forward, Mandrell said they are developing a “laser focus” on what the organization sees as its primary and original purpose. The Sunday School Board was launched in 1891 “to serve the churches with high-quality, doctrinally sound content, that’s easy to use,” he said. “We have launched a full-scale return to that vision. Our new mission statement says: ‘Designing trustworthy experiences that fuel ministry,’ and that’s what we want to do. We will move forward to build a relational environment for you.”
Noting recent findings from Lifeway Research on the current challenges pastors are facing, Mandrell said, “Pastors are tired and exhausted, and we want to come beside pastors and help them.”
Concluding his presentation, Mandrell again referenced the initial vision for Lifeway, and quoted the organization’s founder Dr. James Frost: “We celebrate the goodness of Him who has brought us thus far, and giving Him our trust and devotion, we set our faces to the future for larger things.”