TRUSTEES: LifeWay leadership reports progress amid challenges

Baptist Press
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Posted: Feb 18, 2011 5:45 PM
TRUSTEES: LifeWay leadership reports progress amid challenges
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Trustees of LifeWay Christian Resources heard reports of health and progress from divisional vice presidents during the second day of their semiannual meeting on Feb. 15. Prevailing economic uncertainties and challenges facing all industries, meanwhile, topped the list of issues common to each division's reporting.

Brad Waggoner, executive vice president, told trustees that LifeWay's challenges are worth enduring for a greater reward.

"It is a privilege for me to step back and survey the ministry reach of LifeWay, especially in times of uncertainty," Waggoner said. "Reaching and serving individuals, churches and the world at large with the Gospel is a thrilling venture. LifeWay's global impact cannot be undersold."

Waggoner said his vantage point as executive vice president gives him the opportunity to observe and analyze each division's progress and allows him to function as a strategic liaison within the executive leadership team.

"Since assuming this role, we've identified several priorities for LifeWay that deserve time and attention if we, as a ministry built on a business model, are going to be poised for future health and growth," he told trustees, noting:

-- Strategic focus. Waggoner's responsibilities include bringing together the strategic plans of LifeWay's various components into one cohesive movement. "Making sure that we keep in front of us ideas and processes that are mission critical is essential to our present and future health as a company," he said.

-- Collaboration. "LifeWay can achieve much when we marshal all of our resources toward a common objective," Waggoner said. "When all of our components work together, the ministry potential is tremendous."

-- Change and alignment. Waggoner recounted to trustees business and ministry changes that LifeWay has seen over the past five years. "New leadership naturally brings some change. Aggressiveness and risk in business also implies change," he acknowledged. "But we have to work hard to sustain our legacy but also build a path to the future, for those who will come after us."

EXECUTIVE COMMUNICATIONS AND RELATIONS

Tom Hellams, vice president of executive communications and relations, took trustees on a decade-in-review in his semiannual report.

Hellams listed several dozen notable highlights, such as the release of the Holman Christian Standard Bible and the opening of the 100th LifeWay Christian Store in 2001; Fuge campers giving a $600,000 missions offering in 2003; True Love Waits observing its 10th year of ministry with an event held at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 2004; the selection of Thom S. Rainer as LifeWay's president-elect in 2005; the launch of LifeWay Research and the inauguration of Rainer in 2006; the launch of the LifeWay Worship Project, LifeWay's partnership with the Luis Palau CityFest, and LifeWay receiving a top 5 "Best Places to Work" ranking in 2007; release of the updated Baptist Hymnal in 2008; the opening of Johnson Spring Convention Center at Ridgecrest Conference Center and the release of the Chinese Standard New Testament in 2009; and the launch of Glorieta family camps the introduction of the HCSB Study Bible in 2010.

"I don't share these things to pat anyone on the back, but to show the tremendous way God has blessed LifeWay Christian Resources in the last decade," Hellams said. "We are truly clay in His hands and desire to be used for His glory alone."

FINANCE AND BUSINESS SERVICES

Jerry Rhyne, LifeWay's CFO and vice president of finance and business services division, gave an overview of the challenges LifeWay continues to face in the sustained period of economic uncertainty.

Drawing information from several research surveys, Rhyne said there "has been an uptick in optimism" regarding the economic outlook. However, he noted that based on LifeWay Research's updated findings, the economic declines experienced in the overall business community have now hit churches in a more significant way, with 79 percent of churches reporting a negative impact from the economic downturn.

"The economy is still in a deep hole," Rhyne said, quoting Ben Bernanke, but added that statistics and studies lead LifeWay leaders to be cautiously optimistic about economic challenges facing churches and individuals who purchase LifeWay products and services.

Rhyne reported that LifeWay ended 2010 with no surprises and, thus far after the first quarter of 2011, LifeWay's operations have performed about as expected, with revenues being slightly behind plan but above last year.

Although still early in the year, encouraging signs are seen at LifeWay's Ridgecrest Conference Center due to several large national events at the conference center located near Asheville, N.C. Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico continues to be a challenge in the weak economic climate, Rhyne said, but the new operational model "is now totally in place and strong registration for summer youth events and camps is also encouraging."

Rhyne also reported on LifeWay investments, pension plan, post-retirement benefit plan, medical cost trends, and other finance-related matters.

LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN STORIES

LifeWay Christian Stores reached a significant milestone of service and ministry in 2010 -- its 85th anniversary celebration. The retail ministry of LifeWay began in 1925 with the purchase of Baptist Book Concern in Louisville, Ky., and now reaches 27 states with more than 160 locations.

"Our heritage is an amazing story of providing products and services that help bring about spiritual transformation," said Mark Scott, vice president of LifeWay's retail division.

Scott indicated the stores are off to a "solid start" in the new fiscal year, despite the challenges of the economy and an unusually heavy dose of inclement winter weather.

"We continue to operate prudently and continue to grow," he said, "while at the same time maintaining an uncompromising ministry focus."

RESEARCH AND MINISTRY DEVELOPMENT

Ed Stetzer, vice president of research and ministry development, shared with trustees his division's objective of "becoming the industry and ministry leader in knowledge-based resourcing."

In addition to serving churches within the Southern Baptist Convention, Stetzer reported on top-tier initiatives that serve churches in other evangelical circles, with LifeWay Research providing customized research and assessment tools for churches and denominations.

Stetzer also updated trustees on the development of a new, theologically robust curriculum line for adults that will focus on the "grand narrative" of Scripture.

LifeWay Research continues to grow in influence, Stetzer reported, receiving major placement in religious and major mainstream news outlets around the country.

"Our desire is to help pastors, leaders and their churches through knowledge-based insights," Stetzer said.

CHURCH RESOURCES

John Kramp, vice president of church resources, highlighted the work the division is doing to help churches amid economic and social challenges.

"We help churches implement a foundational strategy for growth based on three core groups and resources for each type of group," said Kramp, using concentric circles for God & Me, Family & Me, and Other Christians & Me.

"LifeWay provides resources for each of these three types of groups so that churches can support ongoing discipleship," he said.

LifeWay's strategy includes devotionals for all ages that help people connect with God on a daily basis; magazines for each stage of life that help people live out their faith day by day; and curriculum that helps people study and apply God's Word.

"Our goal is to help churches meet the needs of people from birth to heaven through a simple, practical and cost-effective plan," Kramp said.

Kramp mentioned offering churches the opportunity to participate in multiple simulcasts in the next few months including "Life Interrupted" with Priscilla Shirer; "You and Your Girl" with Vicki Courtney; "Living Proof Live" with Beth Moore; and "Secret Church" with David Platt.

Kramp also described new resources that will be released including FLYTE (Faith, Life, Together) for preteens, Fuel Foundations for middle school students, and studies linked to "Courageous," the upcoming movie from Sherwood Pictures. In addition, Kramp noted new upcoming events such as the NOW Conference for young adults in Nashville and the DotMom Conference in Birmingham.

"In these days of change and challenge for churches, our goal is to help churches grow stronger because the gates of hell will not prevail when the church is strong and mobilized for its mission," Kramp said.

TECHNOLOGY

Tim Vineyard, vice president of technology, detailed the strategic focus for LifeWay's digital shift and resourcing. As a support element, technology touches every aspect of LifeWay's ministry and business, Vineyard told trustees.

"Since we support most of the operational functions of LifeWay, it is important to have a clear and compelling strategy that draws together what we do," he said.

Vineyard emphasized several important strategic processes, including a time of "discovery," provoking the company to find how to improve productivity through advances and upgrades in business technologies. Key information insights provided by discovery of current tools and processes add a wealth of value for LifeWay's operation, he noted.

Once new information is discovered, LifeWay must be poised to "deploy" the new capabilities, Vineyard continued. LifeWay's technology division manages more than 160 critical applications to deliver ministry and business capabilities across the organization. "Making sure that these systems are stable, enhanced and accessible to those who need them is essential for normal operations," he said.

Beyond discovery and deployment is the technology division's strategic focus to "deliver" operational functionality as a "best practice company," Vineyard said. LifeWay must "remain current and creative," he said, "but aware and forward thinking" in order to provide the best experiences for employees and customers alike.

Vineyard noted LifeWay's progress in the areas of e-publishing and mobile application options, citing developments for Apple and Android platforms and more. Bestsellers among LifeWay's apps include Beth Moore's "Praying God's Word," "Breaking Free" and the HCSB Study Bible.

Vineyard updated trustees concerning the progress of MyStudyBible.com, which he said continues to receive user affirmation in its beta version and is moving forward with new features, additional content and functionality for customers.

"These are exciting but fast-paced days in terms of advances in technology," Vineyard said. "LifeWay is well on its way and positioned well as a digital resource provider for our customers."

B&H PUBLISHING GROUP

Selma Wilson, B&H vice president, reported to trustees a strong fiscal finish to 2010 as a result of such factors as continued sales strength of "The Love Dare," sustained Bible sales and controlled expenses.

"We ended the year right on plan, on solid ground," Wilson said. "But we are planning for growth in 2011 in every channel of this publishing ministry."

B&H, like others across the publishing spectrum, saw continued challenges in the overall trade book categories, Wilson said. "Assessing this trend and reality means that all of our publishing strategies need to be reviewed to maximize our ministry effectiveness and business profitability in the marketplace," she said.

Wilson said B&H has strong strategic partnerships across LifeWay with several key initiatives including Courageous, Read the Bible for Life, the HCSB Study Bible, MyStudyBible.com and Transformational Church. "We are already seeing the results of bringing the strengths of LifeWay together for total ministry impact," Wilson said.

B&H continues to advance a vibrant e-publishing strategy across platforms with upcoming releases for Kindle, Nook and iPad devices, Wilson said, telling trustees that B&H has proven itself as a leader in digital resources, particularly through the development and launch of MyStudyBible.com.

B&H recently refreshed its operational strategy "to provide biblical solutions in all forms, engaging people where they live, transforming lives and ministries worldwide," Wilson said. Leadership moves within B&H -- particularly acquisitions and marketing -- accompanied the strategy refresh, seeking to capitalize on strengths and add support to areas of need, Wilson said.

"I'm grateful to be surrounded by industry leaders who have demonstrated consistent success," Wilson said. "Our future is strong because our team members are capable, experienced, creative and eager to make a significant presence in the publishing world. Our best days of fruitful ministry are just in reach."

MISCELLANEOUS BUSINESS

Bryant Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was present for the semiannual meeting. The SBC president serves as an ex-officio trustee of each entity within the convention. Wright expressed gratitude to trustees on behalf of the convention and solicited prayer for his leadership as he prepares for the national meeting in Phoenix in June.

Trustees participated in a screening of Courageous from Sherwood Pictures, the upcoming film about the high calling of fatherhood. The film is set to release Sept. 30. Sherwood Pictures also produced "Fireproof." LifeWay will provide resources to complement the film's message.

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.

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