NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–LifeWay Christian Resources is doing “remarkably well” despite an economy that many observers say is going from bad to worse, LifeWay executives reported to trustees during their semiannual meeting Feb. 9-10 in Nashville, Tenn.
President Thom S. Rainer told trustees that despite an “economic Pearl Harbor,” as investor Warren Buffett described the current U.S. economy, LifeWay has responded nimbly and continues to impact the world for Christ with biblically sound resources.
Jerry Rhyne, LifeWay’s chief financial officer, provided trustees with grim snapshots of the economy: 2008 was the third-worst year on record for the Dow Jones Industrial Average; 2.6 million people lost their jobs; and the financial industry experienced unprecedented chaos. He also cited a Duke University study which reported that 87 percent of chief financial officers say the recovery will not begin until at least the third quarter of 2009.
“We know there’s a rough road ahead,” Rhyne said. “We must continue to remind ourselves that LifeWay is a ministry funded by a business model, and our business model must be adjusted as church practice, the economy and the marketplace change.”
Even so, Rhyne said, “LifeWay’s financial health is good.” He cited a strong balance sheet; no debt; a healthy reserve fund; a growing revenue trend; a strong and diverse customer base; and a steady stream of theologically sound resources. “God is in control,” Rhyne said, “and God has been so good to us.”
He emphasized that LifeWay is well-positioned to weather the economic downturn and asked trustees of the Southern Baptist entity to pray for wisdom regarding upcoming budgeting and operational decisions.
LifeWay’s executive leaders also updated trustees on the following ministry areas:
John Kramp, vice president of the church resources division, highlighted more than a dozen ways LifeWay is responding to challenging times for churches by adding value to church ministries. “For example, LifeWay has conducted extensive research to develop new resources and ministry options for churches such as The Worship Project, which includes the new Baptist Hymnal, LifeWayWorship.com and SongMap [customized music arrangements],” Kramp said.
Based on extensive research, LifeWay has launched a new line of resources called “Threads” for ministries to young adults; ministry resources for black and Hispanic churches; and strategies for churches to reach “boomers” as they move into their senior adult years.
At the same time, the church resources division continues to provide how-to instruction in Sunday School and small-group ministry through the latest 3D Sunday School booklet by David Francis, “Connect3: The Power of One Sunday School Class.”
“LifeWay adds value to churches by providing options for all ages in Sunday School; consistent evangelistic Vacation Bible School resources; and excellent women’s ministry studies such as Beth Moore’s latest, ‘Esther: It’s Tough Being Woman,'” Kramp said. “In all our work, LifeWay Church Resources helps churches be more effective in ministry by providing resources, training, strategies and practical tools to solve tough problems.”
B&H PUBLISHING GROUP
Brad Waggoner, vice president of LifeWay’s publishing arm, highlighted the vision of the B&H Publishing Group to have a “substantive impact” on the Kingdom through Bibles and trade books that promote knowing (mind), being (heart) and doing (hands). B&H leaders have embraced a vision for new ministry opportunities, Waggoner said, noting, “We are seeking to honor God in motive and practice.” Waggoner reported strong first-quarter performance due in large part to the remarkable success of “The Love Dare,” the supplemental journal to the popular film, “Fireproof.” The Love Dare spent 17 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list, and nearly 2 million copies are now in print.
The Holman Christian Standard Bible continues to gain in popularity, with the division preparing to release the new HCSB Study Bible later this year, Waggoner reported.
B&H International recently hosted a summit for 70 Spanish distributors from 15 countries. Waggoner noted the rise in sales of Spanish resources such as the Holman Bible Dictionary and said B&H is exploring “global hot spots” where markets are strong for Bibles and trade books.
LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN STORES
Vice President Mark Scott reported that store associates have found increased ministry opportunities as customers impacted by hard times have visited LifeWay Christian Stores seeking answers to life’s most pressing questions.
Scott said that despite the worst national Christmas retail season in 40 years, LifeWay Christian Stores division performed strongly in the first quarter. He cited strong sales of “ministry impact” products such as the “Fireproof” DVD, The Love Dare journal, Bibles and Beth Moore’s new study of Esther. He also noted a solid performance by the direct marketing team and increased online and music service sales, along with a growing church envelope service.
Scott also said LifeWay opened one new store and relocated another store in the first quarter, with several projects slated for later this year.
FINANCE AND BUSINESS SERVICES
Rhyne presented LifeWay’s overall operational and financial results for fiscal 2008 and the first quarter of 2009. For the company’s two conference centers, Rhyne reported that facilities upgrades and operational improvements at Ridgecrest and Glorieta are helping strengthen their results. A new operational model that takes effect Oct. 1 at Glorieta will help ensure continued year-round operation even in a challenging economic environment. Rhyne also noted that the new Johnson Spring Convention Center at Ridgecrest will be completed this spring, and the expansion and renovation of the boys’ and girls’ camps at Ridgecrest is on schedule.
Vice President Tim Vineyard told trustees his division is focused on leveraging technology to make the best use of LifeWay’s time and resources. He highlighted several collaborative efforts with other LifeWay divisions, such as SongMap, the first Web-based technology that enables users to choose specific sections of songs -– such as verses, choruses and transitions — in the keys they prefer and then download sheet music and audio files of the custom arrangements. SongMap is accessible at www.lifewayworship.com.
Other cross-divisional efforts include The Love Dare website with B&H Publishing Group (www.bhpublishinggroup.com/lovedare), which features significant ministry stories and received 100,000 page views in its first 15 days online; an 18-month major redesign of LifeWay.com; and a new e-publishing strategy with B&H.
EXECUTIVE COMMUNICATIONS AND RELATIONS
Vice President Tom Hellams said his division is focused on engaging people in ministry at home and around the world. He highlighted the work of LifeWay Research, which equips church leaders to better understand the churched and the unchurched. LifeWay Research recently released studies on challenges in small churches and Southern Baptist views on the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ channel of support for national and international missions and ministries.
Hellams also reported that nearly 100 LifeWay volunteers are preparing to engage in mission trips this year. Their work ranges from ministering to students in the world’s largest high school in the Philippines to sharing the Gospel with nearly a half-million bikers at a motorcycle rally in South Dakota.
Hellams also updated trustees on the new Chinese Standard Bible and successful efforts to distribute Bibles in several languages through Holman Bible Outreach International. In addition, he said, LifeWay is engaging likeminded charitable organizations through the employee-funded LifeWay Community Fund.
The next meeting of LifeWay’s trustees will be Sept. 14-15 at Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C.
Rob Phillips is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.