RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–2009 can be an uncommonly good year in ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources, but the economic downturn will continue to challenge the organization in 2010, according to executives of the Southern Baptist entity in their reports at the Sept. 14-15 semiannual trustee meeting.
LifeWay President Thom S. Rainer told trustees that despite widespread despair across the country, the people of God have great hope and should seize this opportunity to move forward in ministry. Drawing from Jeremiah 29, in which the exiles of Judah had lost hope of returning home, Rainer said there is always hope for God’s people. “There is no such thing as no hope when your hope is in God,” he told trustees at LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C. (See accompanying BP story on Rainer’s trustee report).
Chief Financial Officer Jerry Rhyne provided a candid appraisal of the business outlook: “The economy is a mess, and 38 percent of the nation’s chief financial officers do not expect the recovery to begin until at least April of 2010.” He added that consumer confidence continues to wane and U.S. executives worry most about being able to forecast financial trends.
Despite that gloomy outlook, Rhyne said LifeWay’s financial health is good, citing a strong balance sheet, no debt, a strong and diverse customer base and other key factors.
“LifeWay is a ministry funded by a business model,” Rhyne said, “but that model needs to be adjusted from time to time.” For example, LifeWay has budgeted no salary increases for 2010 and is holding the line on prices for most literature to help struggling churches.
“It’s important for Southern Baptists to know that LifeWay has never received Cooperative Program dollars,” Rhyne said. “In addition, LifeWay is self-supporting, and we invest a significant amount in ministries at home and around the world.”
LifeWay’s executive leaders updated trustees on the following ministries:
Vice President John Kramp said his division’s ministry is to know churches, love churches by being their advocates and help people through local church ministries. In this pursuit, the division continues to develop research-based ministry strategies, such as Threads, Connect Conferences and Beach Reach for young adults.
LifeWay has continued to expand LifeWay Worship by launching WorshipMap Pro, an online tool for planning worship services that integrates with LifeWayWorship.com, the new Baptist Hymnal and other recently launched resources. Kramp also highlighted “The Seven Words of Worship,” a new study by Mike Harland, director of LifeWay Worship, to help churches develop a biblical understanding of worship.
At the same time, the church resources division continues to provide how-to instruction in Sunday School and small-group ministry through the launch of Life Truths, a new curriculum for parents, and Small Group Life, a new quarterly resource for small group ministry.
“LifeWay adds value to churches by helping them build strong families,” Kramp said, “through resources like ‘The Love Dare Bible Study’ and events such as Festivals of Marriage.”
In addition, the division is expanding its ministry to African American churches through the YOU curriculum and Be The Man conferences. Increased ministry continues with Hispanic churches as the division completes a year-long research project that has resulted in Vacation Bible School resources in Spanish and an expanded line of dated and undated resources for all age groups.
LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN STORES
“By God’s grace and the hard work of our team members, we’ve seen wonderful ministry results in 2009,” Vice President Mark Scott said. “These results were accomplished during a very difficult period in the American economy, so we know the Lord has sustained us through what’s become known as the Great Recession.”
Scott said his division has responded strategically to national economic realities. First, the stores have emphasized Christian resources that address people’s felt needs. Second, they have responded to tighter consumer and church spending with strong offers that create value for customers. Third, they have responded to retail customers by offering strong and frequent promotional events.
“LifeWay Christian Stores continue to support our partners in ministry through the Minister’s Discount,” said Scott, who reminded trustees that LifeWay Christian Stores primarily carry out an equipping ministry for believers. There are now 152 LifeWay Christian Stores across the nation.
B&H PUBLISHING GROUP
Vice President Brad Waggoner updated trustees on the phenomenal success of “The Love Dare,” the trade book featured in the movie “Fireproof.” Far exceeding expectations, The Love Dare became a runaway New York Times best-seller, spending 52 weeks at the No. 2 spot. More importantly, Waggoner said, the book has resulted in countless saved marriages.
Waggoner also highlighted the continued success of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, distinguished for its accuracy and readability. B&H is working toward a fall 2010 release of the HCSB Study Bible and is developing other HCSB resources.
In recent months, B&H has launched a new faith, family and freedom imprint called Fidelis featuring books by such prominent figures as Oliver North and Sen. Jim DeMint.
EXECUTIVE COMMUNICATIONS AND RELATIONS
Vice President Tom Hellams highlighted several “touchpoints” — ways in which the division is engaging people in ministry. “We should be greatly encouraged by ministry at LifeWay as our people go to the very ends of the earth,” Hellams said in reference to LifeWay’s employee-led mission trips — seven of them this year, including participation in the national motorcycle rally at Sturgis, N.D. Partnering with the Dakota Baptist Convention, a LifeWay team of 15 shared testimonies with bikers and led 115 to faith in Christ.
In Russia, members of a LifeWay mission team were led by an employee who doubles as an International Mission Board virtual strategy coordinator. Supporting the work of local churches in Siberia, they heard the testimony of Yelisavyeta Krukova, whose father was imprisoned three times for sharing Christ — and ultimately martyred. Krukova, now 82, continues her father’s ministry, faithfully sharing Christ and leading a weekly prayer vigil. Her faithfulness has reached across generational lines through her 10 children, 57 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren.
Holman Bible Outreach International continues to support the work of SBC entities, such as the North American Mission Board’s Evangelism Response Center, and supplies Bibles for soldiers deployed around the world, while also raising the visibility of the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
Vice President Tim Vineyard reported the successful launch of a new warehouse management system that already has resulted in faster processing and more efficient service and cost savings for LifeWay and its customers.
Vineyard outlined innovations that are leading to new opportunities and solutions for LifeWay’s ministries, among them: LifeWayWorship.com, the groundbreaking digital music site; CrossBooks Publishing, a new print-on-demand venture that combines the best of traditional and self-publishing; Next Coaching Networks, a structured coach/team approach for lead pastors to address universal strategic principles of leadership, organization and implementation; and a variety of iPhone applications such as The Love Dare eBook.
“We are making significant investments with new technology that will enable LifeWay to better serve our customers,” Vineyard said. “At the same time, we are providing LifeWay’s divisions with enabling technologies that help them achieve their ministry and business goals.”
FINANCE AND BUSINESS
Vice President Jerry Rhyne reported that the economic slowdown has impacted the conference centers. Ministry groups are still coming but are bringing fewer people, he said. Even so, major renovations and new construction at Ridgecrest and Glorieta -– most recently the new Johnson Spring Convention Center at Ridgecrest -– have created high-value venues that are attracting new ministries.
Glorieta is preparing to implement its new operational model in October. The conference center will remain open year-round but will focus on smaller ministries and events during the winter months. “We think this new operational model will help ensure the continued year-round operation of the Glorieta ministry in a challenging economic environment,” Rhyne said.
The camps at Ridgecrest have defied the economic downturn, Rhyne noted, citing record camp attendance this year, resulting in the fifth consecutive year of camp revenue growth.
Director Ed Stetzer updated trustees on the organization’s recent research efforts and future plans. “At the heart of LifeWay Research is a desire to help churches understand and engage a lost world more effectively,” Stetzer said. He highlighted four strategic emphases: 1) strengthen the perceived value of LifeWay’s name with relevant research insights; 2) broaden the reach of LifeWay’s name; 3) strengthen strategic partnerships with the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board to create research synergy; and 4) provide fee-based services, tools and customized advice to assist church leaders and laity.
Stetzer said LifeWay Research is working to integrate solutions with research. Examples include books such as “Lost and Found,” “The Parent Adventure,” “Multi-Site Churches” and “Simple Life,” as well as events such as Connect Conferences.
Stetzer also provided an update on the Transformational Church Initiative, which will help LifeWay gain research-based insights into “church health” and missional church approaches. Stetzer and Rainer are developing a major trade book titled “The Transformational Church.”
Rob Phillips is director of communications at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.