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Mandrell shares how Lifeway aims to equip churches to reach next generation

Lifeway Christian Resources President Ben Mandrell gives a report to messengers June 14 at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans. Photo by Josselyn Guillen


NEW ORLEANS (BP) – Speaking with messengers and church leaders at the 2023 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, Ben Mandrell, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, shared a vision for reaching the next generation for Christ.

He pointed to Vacation Bible School, camps and a first-of-its-kind curriculum line all designed to help local churches point kids and students to Jesus.

Mandrell provided attendees with an update on numbers from last year. “Last year, more than 2.2 million kids were enrolled in VBS, and we saw nearly 60,000 professions of faith,” he said.

The 2023 VBS, “Twists and Turns,” has started off well, which bodes well for the future of the SBC. Mandrell said research confirms “the average number of baptisms is noticeably higher among churches that have VBS than among those that don’t.”

He encouraged senior pastors to be actively involved in VBS and kids ministry. Mandrell said he made that shift after moving from pastoring an establishing church in Tennessee to being a church planter in Denver, Colorado. He was challenged to “get his head out of his sermon” during VBS and get involved.

Since coming to Lifeway, Mandrell said he’s heard from student pastors and kids directors that they want the senior leaders at their church to buy into the vision of reaching kids. “If you reach a kid, you can reach an entire family,” he said. Mandrell shared how a small, local church reached him because they cared about local kids and helped disciple him through VBS.

He noted Lifeway was asking God to move in two specific ways to reach the next generation: workers for camps and a new line of curriculum.

Lifeway expects to host 113,000 kids and students at camps this summer. Last year the organization reported more than 1,800 campers make first-time decisions to follow Christ and gifts of more than half a million dollars to missions through the IMB and NAMB.

However, Mandrell said the growth of the camps ministry is limited by the ability to staff seasonal summer teams. “Specifically, it is increasingly difficult to find male staff,” he said. At one CentriKid location, of the 17 staff members, 15 are female. “As we continue to brainstorm ways to find strong young men, we need your help raising them up,” he said.

Mandrell concluded his remarks by introducing Southern Baptists to the new line of curriculum from Lifeway. “Every local church leans toward a teaching or reaching orientation,” he said. “In the past, Lifeway has best served the churches with a teaching orientation.” To serve reaching churches and those in more unchurched contexts, Lifeway created Hyfi.

Centered on 12 simple truths that teach kids who they are because of who God is, Hyfi was driven by three words: flexible, faithful and fun. “Kids are being told by the world who they are, what they should be,” he said. “They need Scripture to inform that, and the message must make sense in their context.” Mandrell said early testing in churches across the country has brought encouraging and positive feedback. He asked anyone interested in learning more to visit myhyfi.com.

At the conclusion of his address, Mandrell answered questions from messengers. He praised the work of Lifeway team members who contributed to the materials published, reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to only produce material that is within the boundaries of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and said Lifeway would love to do more to help churches and parents reach children with autism and special needs. For those who asked questions and others, Mandrell invited them to talk with him in-person.