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‘God has been faithful to preserve Lifeway,’ Mandrell tells trustees

Trustees Princess Moon, Lana Gragert, Missie Branch, Madeline Harris and Stephanie Greer listen as Amy Whitfield explains the role of trustees for Southern Baptist entities. Aaron Earls photo

NASHVILLE (BP) – Gathering for the first time in person in 2022, Lifeway Christian Resources trustees heard how God has been faithful to the organization through a challenging season and is providing direction for an exciting future, according to president and CEO Ben Mandrell.

At their biannual meeting on Aug. 28-30, trustees also approved a budget for the 2023 financial year and welcomed 12 new trustees.

Meeting challenges and changing needs

In addressing trustees, Mandrell sought to answer three primary questions related to Lifeway’s financial health, adaptations to the changing needs of churches, and important organizational milestones.

Ben Mandrell, Lifeway president and CEO, shares several “big wins” for the organization during the August 28-30 trustee meeting. Aaron Earls photo

To establish the current financial circumstances for Lifeway, Mandrell reminded trustees that prior to the closing of the stores, the organization only had available cash on hand for less than one month’s worth of expenses. Within months of closing the last physical store, the COVID-19 pandemic hit with a significant impact on churches.

“Given these factors, you would probably expect me to report that Lifeway has limped along these past three years, barely scraping by and depleting our savings. But that’s not been the story at all,” he said. “For 131 years, God has been faithful to preserve Lifeway, and He’s done it once again.”

Mandrell reported that Lifeway operated last year with a positive bottom line and projects to do the same this year. “Lifeway has experienced the most challenging season in its history,” he said, “yet we have emerged with resilience and a commitment to innovate for the church in the future.”

Next, Mandrell explored Lifeway’s ongoing response to cultural shifts happening to and within churches in the United States and around the world, including increased secularization and rising pressures on pastors and their wives.

“Gone are the days when you could assume any person you meet in America has a church background,” he said. One way Lifeway is seeking to serve pastors and congregations is by providing more resources that serve as a welcoming on-ramp for the unchurched. “We have to think about the products that churches are going to need to reach them,” Mandrell said.

Lynley Mandrell (center), wife of Lifeway President Ben Mandrell, led several trustees in a service project at the Nashville Rescue Mission on Monday morning, August 29. Lifeway photo

In response to this need, Lifeway is finalizing a “next-gen curriculum line” that is currently in beta testing in 37 churches across 21 states, including many outside of the Bible Belt. “This testing will allow us to hone the resource based on real customer feedback,” Mandrell said. He noted the initial response has been overwhelmingly positive.

In addition, Lifeway developed the “Explorer Bible for Kids” that helps young readers grasp biblical truths and the reliability of Scripture. “The notes make sense of the text. It’s like an Ethiopian eunuch experience for a child,” he said, referring to the story from Acts chapter 8.

To better serve pastors and their wives, Mandrell said Lifeway Research completed the Greatest Needs of Pastors study to identify areas where church leaders feel the most stress and pressure. “That project has shed light on several critical needs that help point the way forward for Lifeway and how we partner with pastors,” he said.

Mandrell closed by highlighting “big wins” for Lifeway in the past year, including the continued rebound in summer camps. Lifeway’s four unique camp experiences drew 106,000 youth this summer, serving 4,000 churches. During those weeks, campers gave $545,000 to the missions offering that will be given to North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board. “But the most important stat is that we know of 1,783 young people who gave their lives to Christ,” he said.

He also noted a strong and steady rise in Lifeway’s ongoing curriculum sales. Over the past year Lifeway has served more than 29,000 churches and more than 6 million people on any given Sunday through these resources.

Trustees celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Christian Standard Bible and the more than 2 million kids and adults in more than 20,000 churches who participated in Lifeway’s Spark Studios VBS this summer.

Mandrell also took questions from trustees on a host of topics including maintaining doctrinal faithfulness in international resources, use of streaming technology in churches, development of resources for urban apologetics, needs in church groups ministry and coming alongside pastors.

Other business and activities

During the meeting, trustees approved a $238.7 million budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, up from last year’s $217 million.

Several new additions to the gathering were included with the goal of deepening relationships between trustees and educating them on their responsibilities. A Sunday evening dinner and time of worship, along with a Monday morning service project provided new avenues for trustees and their spouses to get to know one another outside of the business portion of meeting.

On Monday evening, Amy Whitfield, co-author of “SBC FAQs: A Ready Reference” and assistant parliamentarian at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, explained the process that led to the trustees’ being elected to their roles. In addition to answering related questions from the trustees, Whitfield also walked trustees through the structure of the SBC, as well as the relationships between churches, the convention and Southern Baptist entities.

New trustees

The board welcomed 12 new trustees who began their terms in June. New trustees include Joshua Benfield, Apex, N.C.; Arnaldo, Castillo, Yonkers, N.Y.; Ryan J. Gilbert, Arlington, Texas; Lana E. Gragert, Choctaw, Okla.; Beth Greene, Knoxville, Tenn.;  Elaine D. Hanger, Moseley, Va.; Princess S. Moon, Marietta, Ga.; Seane S. Rice, New Orleans, La.; Janet W. Shrader, Casas Adobes, Tucson, Ariz.; Wes T. Terry, Abilene, Texas; Tony Wolfe, Lewisville, Texas; Scott E. Yirka, Fleming Island, Fla.