GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Executive leadership of LifeWay Christian Resources reported that the Southern Baptist entity is positioned for continued health and growth despite the economic downturn that has affected how churches and individuals select resources for spiritual growth and discipleship.
The leaders presented their reports during LifeWay trustees’ Sept. 13-14 semiannual meeting at LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico.
FINANCE & BUSINESS SERVICES
Vice President and CFO Jerry Rhyne reported that LifeWay continues to manage effectively the realities of the “new normal” economic climate, keeping operations on solid footing with a strong bottom line for the 2010 fiscal year. He described the finance and business services division as having experienced an overall strong year with cost-saving initiatives that will continue to benefit LifeWay in 2011 and beyond.
Financial challenges and cost increases likely will be met through real revenue growth, slight price increases of resources and reduced operational costs and expenses, Rhyne told trustees.
“We must keep in mind that LifeWay is a ministry funded by a business model,” Rhyne said. “And that means that for us to make the most of our ministry assignment we need to be productive and effective with our business operations to lead LifeWay into greater ministry impact in the days and months to come.”
LifeWay’s conference centers continue to feel the impact of a tough economy, yet they continue to attract guests with new and renovated facilities, Rhyne said. Both LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina and LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico have seen a decrease in overall event attendance, he said, which was expected as churches scaled back in response to the economic downturn.
LifeWay camps at both conference centers remain popular, with some sold out well in advance, Rhyne reported. “I am grateful to see consistent and strong participation in our camp options,” he said, noting that updates and renovations to camp facilities continue to attract attendees.
Vice President and CIO Tim Vineyard reported that the technology division is leading LifeWay into new areas of ministry, especially regarding digital resources and solutions.
“A more efficient IT operation and an environmentally responsible management of technology assets are key components for moving LifeWay forward to increased productivity and efficiency across the organization,” Vineyard told trustees.
Vineyard noted that LifeWay’s technology division is seeking to make the most of digital capabilities that create possibilities to strengthen and support both ministry and business needs.
“Almost every ministry and business activity at LifeWay is enabled by technology,” he said. “We must utilize all capabilities at our disposal for advancing our mission to be the No. 1 Christian resource provider in the world.” LifeWay currently is rated 126th out of top 500 U.S. Internet retailers as reported in the 2010 Internet Retailing Top 500 Guide, he told trustees.
LifeWay is pursuing an e-publishing strategy that provides the capability to deliver content in virtually any format customers may demand, Vineyard said, most notably via iPad and iPhone apps and also digital curriculum downloads.
“We are making significant investments with new technologies that will enable LifeWay to better serve our customers,” he said. “Our goal is to provide multiple ways for customers to search, find, select and purchase LifeWay resources to assist them in their ministry.”
Some of the new resources include recently released iPad apps such as “Breaking Free” by author/speaker Beth Moore and the new HCSB Study Bible, both available in the iTunes AppStore. LifeWay also launched MyStudyBible.com on Sept. 1 as a new online Bible study resource. Vineyard told trustees that churches also may find digital services at LifeWay.com/DigitalChurch to assist them in ministry.
EXECUTIVE COMMUNICATIONS & RELATIONS
Vice President Tom Hellams, of executive communications and relations, highlighted ways the division relays the story of LifeWay ministries through community relations, ministry ventures, Holman Bible Outreach International and news and information services.
“Our purpose is to support LifeWay employees and ministries by speaking, serving and sending,” Hellams said. “Through our communications efforts, we speak on behalf of many in our organization. Through corporate relations, we organize employee resources and serve the community on their behalf. And through ministry ventures we mobilize employees and send them out on LifeWay-sponsored mission trips.”
Hellams recalled the May 1, 2010, flooding in Nashville, Tenn., that affected thousands of people. He noted to trustees the generosity of employees in donating money and time to serve and support dozens within the LifeWay family who had suffered loss.
“It is a joy to work among people who genuinely seek to live out the Gospel in time of need,” Hellams said. “I’m extremely pleased with the concern and service in Christian love I’ve seen that LifeWay employees have for others.”
LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN STORES
Vice President Mark Scott reported solid ministry results for 2010 in a “not-so-solid marketplace” reflected in both the retail industry and economy.
“We don’t know where the economy will go,” Scott said, “but we do know that consumers and churches are concerned and careful about spending.”
Sales of Bibles, books and other key product lines continued to grow through LifeWay stores, Scott said. “We have solid strategies and sound operating plans,” he said. “We are performing well, and we have very strong relationships with our customers. We are extremely grateful for each and every one.”
The number of LifeWay Christian Stores across the nation now stands at 163.
Ed Stetzer, newly elected vice president for research and ministry development, highlighted the strategic focus of the division through a growing number of media through which LifeWay Research is sharing information, reaching churches and broadening LifeWay’s reach.
The digital media world enables users to “go straight to the content they need” and “use our content in ways we could not imagine just a few years ago,” Stetzer said. He cited recent stories on LifeWay Research data that appeared in USA Today and other secular media, as well as Christian magazines and news services, local news outlets and a variety of social media.
LifeWay Research helps people to understand their contexts and churches for more effective ministry, Stetzer told trustees. “Facts are our friends,” he said. “As we help people know, that helps them do — and as a result churches are more effective as they live on mission.” The research and ministry development division will strive to be the premier knowledge-based resource leader, he said.
B&H PUBLISING GROUP
Brad Waggoner, newly elected executive vice president and COO for LifeWay, reported positive financial closing for B&H Publishing Group at the end of fiscal year 2010, due in part to the continued strength of Bible sales, which will be further bolstered with the release of the HCSB Study Bible.
Waggoner praised the collaborative synergy among LifeWay divisions for the success of key initiatives that involve B&H, such as Transformational Church, CrossBooks, “The Love Dare” and a large collection of digital products and resources.
He noted the strong relationship LifeWay has with Sherwood Baptist Church, producers of “Fireproof” and an upcoming film on biblical fatherhood titled “Courageous.”
B&H has secured a publishing partnership with Michael Catt, pastor of Sherwood Baptist, and brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick of Sherwood Pictures to broaden the ministry reach of the movie.
“Having worked with Sherwood on The Love Dare products, we are thrilled to partner once again with them to see what God might do to honor His name through this message on fatherhood,” Waggoner said. “Our prayer is that many homes and churches are strengthened through the resources that will arise from the relationship that God has formed between us.”
Waggoner concluded his report by detailing B&H’s current digital presence and its ministry strategy to release books on the Kindle, Nook and iPad devices. B&H simultaneously releases new books across platforms, digitally and traditionally.
“I believe B&H is well-positioned for success in the digital future,” Waggoner said. “I’m excited to see what God will continue to do in this area through the leadership of B&H’s new vice president, Selma Wilson.”
John Kramp, vice president of church resources, shared with trustees the challenges the division has experienced as a result of the financial recession. For individuals, families, churches and for LifeWay, the recession changed the rules, he said, but the division has “responded when the rules changed. We must keep going forward.”
The focus of church resources remains unchanged, Kramp said, noting that LifeWay’s Transformational Church initiative provides a message of hope to churches desperate for answers in these tough times and provides a bedrock to the division’s emphasis of providing focused ministry and discipleship resources for age groups from early childhood to senior adults. The initiative (TransformationalChurch.com) is based on a comprehensive research project involving 7,000 American churches, 250 pastor and staff interviews and 20,000 church member surveys to assist churches in greater growth and impact for the Kingdom of Christ.
Kramp noted that church resources also will focus on digital emphases, the partnership with Sherwood Pictures’ upcoming “Courageous” movie and the restructuring of LifeWay.com.
Kramp described an array of products, events and services offered by the division, including plans for a new preteen resource and three simulcast events, one with Beth Moore, one with Priscilla Shirer and one with Vicki Courtney. In 2011, the division also will expand its camps for children and teenagers; help churches begin girls’ ministries; launch enhanced ministries to young adults; and connect people in groups, either through Sunday School or small-group ministry.
Kramp also noted that church resources continues its work to assist black and Hispanic churches in their ministries and continues to expand its ministry through LifeWay International.
“While the economic downturn has changed the rules for many churches,” Kramp said, “our confidence is in the One who rules and who is building His church.”
During their Sept. 13-14 business sessions, LifeWay trustees:
— Passed a proposed amendment to bylaw Article II to better reflect the purposes and functions of LifeWay’s publishing and distribution of resources.
— Filled board vacancies with the elections of Timothy Turner, senior associate pastor of Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., to replace Larry Purcell as Kentucky trustee and Steve McNeil, team leader for church health and communications at the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, to replace Joe Mays as Indiana trustee.
— Adopted the proposed 2011 operating budget.
PRAYER FOR NEW NAMB LEADER
Trustees opened their second plenary session on Tuesday with a special time of prayer for the North American Mission Board and Kevin Ezell, who was approved Tuesday morning as NAMB’s next president.
“I know as well as anyone the intensity and scrutiny that comes with leading an SBC entity,” said Thom S. Rainer, LifeWay’s president and CEO. “All of our entity leaders need to be held up in prayer constantly.”
Rainer affirmed the election of Ezell, pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.
“I am thankful for Kevin Ezell’s humble spirit, his love of people and of the nations, and his passion for reaching the lost,” said Rainer. “He and I are committed to working together to have an effective partnership for the future health of our beloved convention.
“This vote by NAMB trustees is not just about a great leader, but about a great entity poised for greater growth and health in a renewed, aggressive church planting movement.”
Rainer led trustees in prayer, asking for blessings upon NAMB, that the mission board would be used like never before to reach people in North America and for grace and protection during the time of transition.
Micah Carter is director of communications and associate to the vice president of the executive communications and relations division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Russ Rankin is editor-in-chief of LifeWay’s communications department.