NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–LifeWay Christian Resources will maintain its biblical fidelity, but its delivery systems are changing to keep pace with the digital church, President Thom S. Rainer told trustees at their Feb. 8-9 semiannual meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
Casting a vision for the next decade, Rainer said LifeWay will be “the ministry leader in the digital world,” such that “when people think about digital Christian resources, they will look to us. A digital strategy is critical to our future.”
The type of organization that LifeWay is today must change in view of the technological advances of the global market, Rainer said. The ministry identity and biblical commitments will remain the same, he said, but business will look different as LifeWay moves forward into the digital age.
Rainer told trustees that “LifeWay’s digital strategy is to provide the right information to the right customer at the right time through the right medium at the right price.”
Technology, especially mobile devices, provides incredible opportunities and challenges for LifeWay to deliver its resources to customers in new, relevant and innovative ways, Rainer said.
More people are coming to LifeWay for digital content, he said, noting that church and ministry leaders are going online to download resources from multiple areas of LifeWay.com, such LifeWay Kids, LifeWay Women and others.
“We want to provide the best content and delivery that makes a ministry difference to our constituents and customers,” Rainer said. “With cutting-edge ministry resources and a tech-savvy business strategy, we are better positioned and aware of the opportunities that lay before us.”
LifeWay’s digital publishing and delivery has seen rapid growth in recent months, particularly through steep gains in B&H Publishing Group eBook sales as well as LifeWay-produced iPhone apps, some of which appear in the top 25 lists for their respective categories.
Rainer said LifeWay is “prayerful about what God intends to do through us as the digital age advances. We have entered this climate with aggressiveness and the sense that God is leading us here.”
Chief Financial Officer Jerry Rhyne, in his report to trustees, discussed how LifeWay is “navigating the new normal” as the economy is now in the 26th month of the recession and one-third of the nation’s chief financial officers do not expect the economy to begin recovery until at least 2011.
Citing recent survey results from LifeWay Research, Rhyne pointed out that many churches are coping with declining tithes and offerings by paring expenses, cutting staffs and delaying or cancelling construction projects — all of which affect LifeWay.
Despite these challenges, Rhyne said LifeWay is adjusting well with a dedicated workforce, a strong balance sheet, a diverse customer base and other key factors. “It’s important to remember that LifeWay is a ministry funded by a business model,” he said, “but that model needs to be adjusted from time to time.”
LifeWay’s executive leaders updated trustees on the following ministries:
LifeWay Church Resources continues its strategic focus on churches, Vice President John Kramp said. “These are times of great change in churches,” he said. “Our teams meet with thousands of pastors and church leaders each year. We hear their hearts and work hard to provide resources to meet their needs.”
Kramp highlighted initiatives the division has launched in the last five years, including Worship KidStyle; the KNOWN resources for student ministry; Threads, to help churches minister to young adults; and The Worship Project, which includes new print hymnals and LifeWayWorship.com. In addition, the division is increasingly engaging black churches and Hispanic churches and is offering two free resources in multiple languages: “Share Jesus Without Fear” and “The Call to Follow Christ.”
Kramp said the church resources division has expanded its small-group ministry with Serendipity resources and the new Small Group Life resources and launched a new women’s ministry event, Deeper Still, with Beth Moore, Kay Arthur and Priscilla Shirer. At the same time, the division has released additional resources for Sunday School built on the LifeSpan Spiritual Development strategy.
“Our ministry focus is simple,” Kramp said. “We want to know the church, love the church by being advocates for the church and to help people through churches.”
LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN STORES
Vice President Mark Scott reported solid ministry results in the first quarter of the fiscal year in spite of a challenging economic environment in which customers continue to spend cautiously.
Sales of music, Bibles and books continued to grow, and the stores are testing a number of digital initiatives that make it easy and affordable to purchase and download books and other resources. “We have solid strategies and sound operating plans,” Scott said. “We are executing well, and we have strong relationships with our customers. We are extremely grateful for each one.”
Scott reported that the stores collected more than $16,000 at the check-out counters in recent weeks to assist in relief efforts in Haiti.
The number of LifeWay Christian Stores now stands at 154, and the number of store customers continues to grow, Scott said.
B&H PUBLISHING GROUP
Vice President Brad Waggoner reported a strong first quarter due in part to the continued popularity of “The Love Dare,” the trade book featured in the movie “Fireproof”; “The Love Dare Day by Day” devotional, which provides 365 days of fresh content and deeper studies; improved cost controls; and strength in all product lines. To date, “The Love Dare” has been translated into 23 languages.
Waggoner said B&H has followed up the success of The Apologetics Study Bible with the just-released Student Apologetics Study Bible. He also highlighted the growing popularity of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, distinguished for its accuracy and readability. This fall, B&H will release its HCSB Study Bible.
CrossBooks, the new imprint that combines the best of traditional and self-publishing, already has released 100 titles, and 100 more are in the works. Looking ahead, Waggoner previewed the release of the trade book “Transformational Church” by Rainer and LifeWay Research director Ed Stetzer, along with several other resources.
Waggoner also said he is encouraged by new resources being developed from the imprints B&H Academic, B&H Women and Fidelis.
EXECUTIVE COMMUNICATIONS AND RELATIONS
Vice President Tom Hellams highlighted several ways his division carries the story of LifeWay ministries further through community relations, ministry ventures, Holman Bible Outreach International and news and information services. As an example, he traced the development of “Bible Navigator X” for Xbox 360 -– the first complete Bible available on a video game console — developed by B&H Publishing Group. The product’s wide exposure in Christian and secular media was due to careful planning and detailed execution that included traditional media, Web outlets, multimedia and social networking.
“We no longer search for the news; the news finds us,” Hellams said. “The whole world of communications has changed, and we are changing with it.”
Vice President Tim Vineyard reported that the technology division is embracing change to lead LifeWay into new areas of ministry. This involves more efficient operations and more environmentally responsible management of technology assets. He said his division has upgraded LifeWay’s warehouse management system, human resources and billing systems and e-mail and office software to increase productivity and efficiency.
Leading technology providers like Google, Apple and Microsoft are changing the process by which published goods reach their audiences, Vineyard noted. In response, LifeWay is pursuing an ePublishing strategy that delivers content in virtually any format users demand –- from iPhone apps to books on Kindle to digital curriculum downloads.
Vineyard introduced the LifeWay Digital Church in which LifeWay is bringing the best digital solutions together in one place for individuals and churches. These solutions include website hosting through LifeWayLINK, music and worship planning from LifeWayWorship.com, church management systems from Fellowship Technologies, and online giving from Service U.
“We are making significant investments with new technology that will enable LifeWay to better serve our customers,” Vineyard said. “Customer behavior is changing and incorporating a variety of computer-based and hand-held devices. LifeWay is making it easy to search for, find, select and purchase LifeWay resources.”
FINANCE AND BUSINESS SERVICES
Vice President Jerry Rhyne, LifeWay’s chief operating officer, reported that the finance and business services division experienced a strong year with continued cost saving initiatives that will benefit LifeWay in 2010 and beyond. Rhyne said LifeWay’s conference centers continue to feel the impact of a sluggish economy yet continue to attract guests with new and renovated facilities.
At Ridgecrest, the Johnson Spring Convention Center is well into its first year of operation, while Spillman Auditorium is undergoing renovations. Ridgecrest also is accommodating new groups, such as older adults, to offset an economy-driven softening of bookings by other groups and individuals. At Glorieta, the new operational model featuring reduced winter operations is complete. Renovations continue on the Chuck Wagon restaurant and New Mexico Hall conference rooms.
Rhyne also reported that LifeWay camps at Ridgecrest and Glorieta remain popular, with some sold out well in advance. “I am pleased and thankful for what we are seeing in the camps,” Rhyne said, noting that updates to camp facilities continue to attract attendees.
Director Ed Stetzer highlighted the growing number of media through which LifeWay Research is sharing information, reaching consumers and adding value to the LifeWay brand. The digital media marketplace enables users to “go straight to the content they need” and “use our content in ways we would never imagine.” He cited recent stories on LifeWay Research 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.
The ever-changing media landscape has facilitated LifeWay Research’s ability to disseminate its message to broad audiences via “new media” such as blogs and Twitter as well as traditional media. In a media environment where numerous Christian research organizations are quoted, Stetzer said LifeWay Research “wants to be in the story, and sometimes be the story” in order to inform and equip local churches in ministry.
During their business sessions, trustees:
— elected as chairman Montia Setzler, senior pastor of Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church in Riverside, Calif.; vice chairman, Michael Deahl, a Dallas attorney; and recording secretary, Mark Dance, senior pastor of Second Baptist Church in Conway, Ark.
— approved LifeWay’s response to motions referred to LifeWay at the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention. The responses will be submitted to the SBC for inclusion in the convention’s 2010 Book of Reports.
— approved the allocation of reserve funds for unbudgeted store acquisitions during the current fiscal year.
Micah Carter is associate to the vice president of the executive communications and relations division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Rob Phillips is LifeWay’s director of communications.