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Rainer: LifeWay to ‘move boldly’ via faith, new initiatives

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–It is time for LifeWay Christian Resources to “step out of the boat” and walk on “blue oceans” for the purpose of increased evangelism, biblical depth and helping the church’s relevancy in today’s culture, Thom S. Rainer told trustees Sept. 11 during their semiannual meeting at the LifeWay Glorieta (N.M) Conference Center.

Rainer, LifeWay’s president and CEO, explained that red oceans are where competitors vie for the same customers, bloodying the waters, but blue oceans are found by moving to where competitors are rendered irrelevant. The terms are the ideas of W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne and described in their book, “Blue Ocean Strategies: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant.”

“LifeWay is a business, but it is more than a business,” Rainer said, emphasizing the word “Christian” in the company’s name.

“We begin on the solid rock of Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture. When we talk about our plans, we don’t talk about them in the vacuum of the business world but with the presence of Christ,” Rainer said. “If we hear His voice, we’ve got to get out of the context of the business model and walk in faith.”

Rainer cited the Matthew 14 account of Peter walking on water. Speculating as to why the other disciples did not take the same risk, Rainer said he believes there were three reasons: fear of the turbulent water, fear of the unknown and comfort of the known.

“I’d rather be Peter who got out of the boat instead of the rest,” Rainer said. “Sometimes I think we as Christians live more in fear than we do in faith. The reality is LifeWay is facing some challenges. We can’t know the future with the precision God does, but we can walk boldly into that future putting our confidence in Him.”

Rainer named four realities LifeWay is facing that are keeping the organization in “red oceans”:

— the continued decades-old decline in dated literature (primarily Sunday School material).

— the nearly 20-percent decline in religious trade book industry sales that are creating a challenging market for B&H Publishing Group.

— the highly competitive Christian retailing environment.

— the fact that LifeWay’s Glorieta and Ridgecrest conference centers have lost money for eight consecutive years and five consecutive years, respectively.

“Being a Christian resource provider is a tough business,” Rainer said. “I don’t like to talk about competition, but we’ve got to do something different if we are going to be an effective, viable ministry in the future.”

Rainer said LifeWay will not abandon its core mission, but the Southern Baptist entity will begin to shift money in its 2007 budget — which begins Oct. 1 — for new initiatives, “making an investment in people, ministry initiatives, research, business development and technology infrastructures.” That process has already begun, he said, with the reallocation of some resources over the last three months of the 2006 budget.

The initiatives are designed to position LifeWay to “leave the boat” and begin walking on the blue oceans, Rainer said, noting that several strategic initiatives already are underway that are moving the company in that direction.

The church resources division, Rainer said, is addressing the declining dated materials issues and is developing a number of “exciting opportunities” that will benefit churches. He said LifeWay Christian Stores had a “breakout year” with a proven business model that separates it from competitors and that future prospects are encouraging. And he said a new emphasis on youth and young adults at Glorieta could cause a “positive shift” in the conference centers’ revenue.

In 2007, LifeWay also will add a business development and acquisitions initiative, Rainer said, to find innovative models of growth and to acquire other businesses that share a compatible theology.

A major technology upgrade will undergird these initiatives, Rainer said, indicating that LifeWay’s FPO (funds provided for operation, the bottom line for a nonprofit organization) will be lower in 2007 due to the money invested in the different projects.

“We are looking to make an investment in the long-term future of LifeWay,” he said, “and to do that we’ve got to take some bold steps to go in that direction. We are doing this because we believe strongly in this ministry called LifeWay and the impact it can have in the lives of people and churches.”

Rainer said the aggressive direction is due to an urgency he believes the company needs to have in doing all it can to promote greater evangelism, deeper biblical depth and in helping the church stay relevant in today’s shifting culture.

“These are not days for the faint of heart,” Rainer said. “We are going to have to risk something to get out of the boat and walk on the blue oceans. But I believe if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus we can move boldly forward in faith.”