ANAHEIM, Calif. — Speaking to messengers gathered for the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting, Lifeway Christian Resources President and CEO Ben Mandrell shared the organization’s desire to partner with churches around the globe, including those who have felt underserved.
After noting the challenges of leading Lifeway during his first three years as president, Mandrell said he believes the organization’s vision is crystallizing. “We are expanding the boundaries beyond the Southeast portion of the U.S.,” he said. “We have a vision for serving churches everywhere.”
Serving frontier states
Mandrell showed messengers a map of the United States, with counties colored corresponding to the most populous religious group living there. Southern Baptists are primarily in the Southeast. In 2013, he and his wife, Lynley, saw this map, and it moved them – literally. “We resigned a large church in west Tennessee and moved our kids 1,000 miles west to Denver, Colo., to plant a church.”
After establishing the church, raising up leaders and moving into a new building, Mandrell said he felt called to Lifeway. “Though my family now lives in Middle Tennessee, our heart will always beat for helping church leaders who find themselves in frontier states and highly secular places,” he said.
As part of the effort to better serve churches beyond the South, Mandrell said Lifeway is working to both recruit employees living in those areas and to develop resources designed specifically for congregations in other regions.
By 2027, Lifeway employees will likely be evenly distributed between those living in the Nashville area and those living outside Middle Tennessee. The organization is “drawing writers, editors, graphic designers and software developers from across the country and world,” Mandrell said. “They are staying in their local churches, which is what we want, so that our products begin to feel more versatile. We are moving from a Nashville mindset to a national mindset.”
To that end, Mandrell announced a new next generation curriculum line to be completed next fall, which will give churches an added option alongside Lifeway’s current curriculum lines: Bible Studies for Life, Explore the Bible, The Gospel Project and YOU. As a church planter in Colorado, Mandrell said he didn’t use Lifeway materials, as his church was concerned with introducing people to the basic foundations of the Bible. “Historically, Lifeway has served the teaching-oriented churches well,” he said, “but this new line of curriculum is designed to meet the needs of reaching-oriented churches.”
In addition to reaching beyond the U.S. South, Mandrell said Lifeway was expanding globally.
Recently, Lifeway India released “The Telugu Study Bible,” a new resource developed by a team of indigenous pastors and scholars specifically for the 90 million Telugu-speaking people in India. Mandrell noted some team members behind the study Bible wept the first time they saw the resource in their own language. “When it was released in 2021, pastors lined up by the thousands to get their first copy,” he said. “‘The Telugu Study Bible is now the fastest-growing study Bible in India.”
Mandrell said the goal is to take this model and expand to other language groups. “We are on the move nationally and internationally because God is on the move nationally and internationally.”
Noting the growth of the Spanish-speaking church in the U.S. and South America, Mandrell said Lifeway’s global team is building contextualized resources to serve them. “Rather than translating resources written by English-speaking Americans, we are moving to a model of raising up indigenous authors,” he said. “In 2015, Lifeway had zero Hispanic authors; today we have 53 influential Hispanic voices from Latin and South America reflected in our publishing. The list is growing.”
Mandrell explained the emphasis on native-speaking authors: “If our mission as Southern Baptists is to make disciples of every tongue, then we must build resources that roll off the pen of the people who live there.”
After noting work that has already taken place on Lifeway.com, Mandrell acknowledged the continued need to improve the Lifeway website. He said Lifeway.com was currently under heavy construction and hoped that customers would begin to see those tangible improvements by next year.
Mandrell also asked those in attendance to pray for Lifeway summer camps and churches conducting Vacation Bible School this summer, both for an eternal impact and current safety.
“In the next two months, we have 100,000 kids registered for our summer camps,” he said. “Last year, we saw 88,000 campers, 1,400 professions of faith in Christ and collected an offering of $445,000 for Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings.”
Mandrell expressed gratitude for the work of the Sexual Abuse Task Force and the recommendations approved and noted the ways Lifeway is working to provide a safe Christian environment for campers and employees. “We are taking every step we can to keep people safe,” he said. Mandrell asked messengers to pray “that the Lord would keep campers safe and bring a great harvest this summer.”