RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP) — Trustees of LifeWay Christian Resources heard reports of health and progress from divisional vice presidents during their semiannual meeting on Sept. 12-13 at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. A recommendation on the future of operations at Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico highlighted reports of new initiatives underway to strengthen the organization during a climate of challenging economic uncertainties.
The impact of LifeWay employee-led mission trips was the focus of Tom Hellams, vice president of executive relations.
“Just recently, the 100th mission trip was completed with 16 employees going to Ecuador to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Hellams noted. “We celebrate the fact that for the last 14 years, we’ve recorded more than 116,000 professions of faith. The Lord has blessed this effort in manifold ways.”
Since the first team went to Kenya in 1997, LifeWay’s mission trips have included 1,329 volunteers and started 256 churches.
FINANCE & BUSINESS SERVICES
Jerry Rhyne, vice president of the finance and business services division and LifeWay’s chief financial officer, said that a bleak economic outlook continues to impact business practices as LifeWay approaches 2012.
Rhyne brought a proposal to trustees — which was passed after open discussion — to reduce operations at Glorieta Conference Center, effective Nov. 1, 2011, to a facility offering only summer events for student groups.
Significant changes in church practices, continued rising fuel and utility costs, Glorieta’s remote location, an aging infrastructure, a volatile economy, and changes in state convention structures have combined to make financial viability increasingly difficult at Glorieta, Rhyne said.
“As a matter of fiscal stewardship, LifeWay must control costs and manage resources in order to provide biblical solutions for life to individuals and churches in the most effective way,” Rhyne said.
Rhyne asked trustees to approve a new strategy for Glorieta which would include Glorieta becoming a summer-only facility for student groups, effective Nov. 1, 2011. In 2012, Centrifuge Camps and Collegiate Week will continue as usual.
Additionally, trustees approved pursuing viable options for the disposition of the property including, but not limited to, sales to or alliances with SBC entities, state conventions and other ministries. Rhyne pointed out that LifeWay bylaws require trustee approval before any sale of all or part of campus property.
As a summer-only facility, Glorieta will reduce its staff from 23 to seven employees. During summer operations, the regular summer workforce will continue to be aided by summer staffers and volunteers. The LifeWay Christian Store on location will also cease operation, effective Nov. 1, 2011.
“Making a decision about Glorieta is difficult based on Glorieta’s rich heritage and spiritual legacy, but it’s a necessary decision for more responsible stewardship,” Rhyne said.
Above and beyond the economic environment, Rhyne reported that LifeWay also faces challenges in areas related to employee medical insurance, budgeted salary increases, consumer credit and debit card costs, cyber insurance, the increasing cost of meeting customer expectations, and changes in church practices.
“These challenges are representative of the environment in which we find ourselves,” Rhyne said. “We must continue to remind ourselves that LifeWay is a ministry funded by a business model. Therefore, as church practices and the market change, we must also be prepared to change. This may mean adjusting the way we do certain things, or stop doing some things.”
Despite the tough economy, LifeWay’s investment earnings on reserves funds and retirement fund assets surpassed every benchmark due to active management of investments.
Overall, several issues serve as potential risks to LifeWay’s performance, Rhyne said, including growing revenues in an uncertain economy, distraction of continued federal government budget negotiations/presidential election cycle, forecasting demand in the church market, uncertainty in health care cost trends, and volatility in energy costs.
On the upside, the movie “Courageous,” the new James study by Beth Moore, the growth of digital products, the inclusion of World Changers in LifeWay’s ministry operation and the growth and success of operations at the Ridgecrest Conference Center “give us great hope and encouragement for 2012,” Rhyne said.
Rhyne reported that LifeWay will wrap up 2011 slightly below budgeted expectations and has a budget for 2012 of almost $498 million.
LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN STORES
Mark Scott, vice president of the retail division, shared with trustees his optimism for LifeWay Christian Stores during a volatile economy.
“Going through a storm is always difficult,” Scott said. “But we are successfully navigating through the storm and we are very excited about the opportunities for LifeWay Christian Stores.”
Despite challenging times in the retail market area, “marketplace opportunities continue to open up for us,” Scott reported, noting that LifeWay already is positioned as a market leader in multichannel options for consumers and churches.
“We know that digital channels are growing,” he said. “But we also know our customers are very engaged in brick-and-mortar stores. We are well-positioned to engage in the multichannel options.”
Scott said the retail division is experiencing solid results in operations and seeing ministry expansion on multiple fronts in addition to deploying innovative practices to engage new audiences.
RESEARCH & MINISTRY DEVELOPMENT
Research and ministry development is a division that centers around one main theme: knowledge-based insights, said Ed Stetzer, vice president of the division. But that theme is rooted in God’s mission and to make His name known, he said.
Stetzer reported on the work of his division, which has grown to encompass four departments: research, ministry development, innovation and communications.
LifeWay Research continues to release relevant insights on the church and culture and continues to develop “bigger messages” for LifeWay, such as the Transformational Discipleship project, which will provide insight for the church in how people are making disciples.
“Through this study, we are helping LifeWay as a whole to know, which will help us know what to do,” Stetzer said.
Through the Transformational Small Communities studies, LifeWay Research is studying what successful small groups look like, Stetzer said. By doing this, “we want people to ask, ‘Where do we go to find out about church?’ and we want them to come to LifeWay.”
“We’re continuously encouraged that people are asking the question: ‘What does LifeWay think?'” said Stetzer, citing as example that day’s edition of USA Today quoting LifeWay Research.
Ministry Development leads a number of collaborative, cross-divisional teams to spearhead new initiatives, Stetzer reported.
“These initiatives have contributed to two major results,” he said. “We are becoming the knowledge leader that churches will turn to for understanding trends in culture and being informed of what God is doing in the church today. Secondly, we are working to position LifeWay as the ‘go-to’ resource provider to other denominations, the church planting culture and all of evangelicalism.”
Innovation, a new corporate strategy at LifeWay, was formed to create a culture of collaborative development of new ideas.
“We’re involving people at every level from every area of LifeWay and leveraging them to help encourage all employees to share their best ideas,” Stetzer explained. “Through this, we’re looking at how we can ingrain innovation into the very DNA of our organization through how we train and lead our people.”
Communications, recently moved into Stetzer’s division, has reached 786 media outlets (both traditional and social) and has offered public relations and media support for a number of areas within LifeWay.
“Every department in the research and ministry development division centers around a theme focused on knowledge-based insights,” Stetzer added. “We are part of a conversation. As we enter into that conversation, as we create some of the conversation, our goal is to spend a lot more time bringing attention to God’s glory and His mission.”
Louis Hanks, acting vice president of church resources, presented an overview of innovative and emerging resources under the banner Church Resources: Helping Churches Help People.
“Our curriculum helps people study and apply God’s Word,” Hanks said. “Our goal is to help churches meet the needs of people from birth to heaven. LifeWay’s strategy includes devotionals for all ages that help people to connect with God daily.” Hanks also highlighted a new curriculum line for children titled “Panoroma, The Big Picture of God’s Story,” that will be available in the fall of 2012.
Hanks said that the church resources division offers many magazines for each stage of life that help people live out their faith practically day by day. A new magazine for Boomers is slated to premier next fall.
LifeWay Men has partnered with some great friends and sports legends, he said, adding his excitement over the push to help men pursue Godly leadership in the home and marketplace.
“‘Courageous’ is a heartstopper,” Hanks said. “We have a four-week Bible study available now. Pray that churches rally around this, and pray for those who go to films.”
Hanks also reported continued growth in the LifeWay Women area. Beth Moore’s new Bible study, “James — Mercy Triumphs,” is due to hit the shelves Nov. 1.
“Beth’s new Bible study is one of most important releases this year,” Hanks said. “Join us in praying that it is received by the churches and that the message the ladies hear is what God spoke to Beth.”
Other resources also are growing in popularity, Hanks said, including one by Priscilla Shirer called “SEED” and one by a new author, Tammie Head, “Duty or delight? Knowing Where you Stand with God.”
Hanks mentioned offering churches the opportunity to participate in multiple simulcasts in upcoming months including You and Your Girl with Vicki Courtney; Living Proof Live with Beth Moore; and Secret Church with David Platt.
Hanks told trustees of his excitement about the activities and synergy among the various church resources departments “which will mean providing even greater resources and assistance to the churches we serve.”
Tim Vineyard, vice president of technology and LifeWay’s chief information officer, praised his team for their hard work in an aggressive year of building new infrastructure, launching new websites, creating new mobile applications and completing a significant acquisition.
“The acquisition of WORDsearch (WORDsearchBible.com) and QuickVerse (QuickVerse.com) is very important,” Vineyard SAID. “They bring key talent and valuable customers assets. Having been in the digital space for many years, they are well-respected among publishing leadership and authors and bring a wealth of content in a proprietary electronic format.”
Vineyard reported on the June 28 launch of a new LifeWay.com website. He shared that the world-class platform will provide LifeWay with new analytics and new capability to better meet customer needs. The new LifeWay.com includes dozens of new features, including a fresh new interface for increased usability, improved search and navigation for greater ease of use and improved account management for customers.
“Our customers have responded enthusiastically to the new site,” Vineyard said.
“Building on new infrastructure, we will be more adaptive and more agile in delivering digital solutions to the marketplace,” he said. “We want our customers to be able to purchase and use content however and whenever they like.”
Vineyard emphasized several other important strategic ventures, naming MyStudyBible.com’s content access model and the technology division’s support of live online media events such as Living Proof Live and Secret Church simulcasts.
Vineyard described continuing improvements in MyStudyBible.com, citing the availability of more Bibles, more e-books, personalization features and unique new purchase options. He also reported that the website’s collection of free Bible study content is drawing a growing number of visitors.
“The new content store with both rental and purchase options offer even more quality study resources,” Vineyard said. He also described the various personalization features, which include bookmarks, highlights and personal notes, which “are all available at no charge to registered users of MyStudyBible.com,” he said.
B&H PUBLISHING GROUP
Selma Wilson, vice president of B&H Publishing Group, opened her report to the trustees with words of gratitude and presented a confident vision for the future founded on the Bible.
“One year ago, you gave me your support [in her selection to lead the division],” she said. “I am humbled and grateful. Thank you for your prayers; that makes all the difference. B&H has had a great year, and we are grateful for the favor of God in this difficult economy.”
Wilson said B&H is “firmly committed to producing Bibles and advancing our Bible strategy. It is clearly our path to the future.” She highlighted the current “Take a Fresh Look” campaign that promotes the accuracy and readability of the HCSB and challenges pastors and influencers to reconsider this modern, readable translation.
Wilson also told trustees about B&H’s bold moves into the digital revolution with their Bible strategy.
“On Oct. 1, we launch The Life Essentials Study Bible, which has over 250 hours of video content connected by QR codes,” she said. “This strategy of merging the Bible and technology puts us firmly in the digital marketplace as we advance God’s message around the world.”
Wilson noted other upcoming B&H Bible projects including a chronological Bible endorsed by David Platt that accompanies the Read the Bible for Life curriculum, mobile development for MyStudyBible.com and the Mission of God Study Bible.
Wilson also reported that B&H is “No. 1 in the Spanish Bible market. We are adding new modern Spanish Bible translations and continuing valuable partnerships with the American Bible Society and others. Our desire is to publish God’s Word in various languages and forms including iPad, Nook, Kindle and others. We want our innovative MyStudyBible.com platform to become known as the Bible place in the digital world.
“Every book we publish now has an e-book published along with it, and we are pulling in the back list as fast as we can,” Wilson said. “We now have more than 25 branded apps in marketplace today in addition to hundreds of e-books.”
B&H won several awards this year including the 2011 ECPA Bible of the Year award for the HCSB Study Bible and several top honors at the Expolit event in Miami for their Spanish-language offerings.
With the upcoming release of the Courageous movie, B&H is poised to provide complementary resources including three trade books in both English and Spanish along with a small-group study.
The CrossBooks self-publishing arm of B&H continues to gain market momentum, Wilson reported. With more than 900 titles already in the pipeline, B&H plans to add an additional 500 new titles next year. Wilson said every self-published book undergoes a theological review.
With New York Times and Association of Christian Retail bestsellers, “B&H Women is strong and getting stronger,” Wilson said.
“What makes our 100-member team of B&H so special is that we are committed to producing content that makes a difference and advances the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world,” Wilson said.
Montia Setzler, chairman of the LifeWay board of trustees and senior pastor at Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church in Riverside, Calif., appointed a trustee task force to study the new NIV Bible.
Jon D. Wilke is media relations manager for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Russ Rankin is LifeWay’s manager of editorial services.