By Bob Smietana
BALTIMORE — “Lifeway Christian Resources is committed to make more of a difference today than we did yesterday, and to be more effective tomorrow than we are now,” president and CEO Thom S. Rainer told messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention.
During his report to the denomination’s annual meeting, Rainer introduced an initiative to help churches start 100,000 new small groups, honored two longtime Southern Baptist leaders, and explained Lifeway’s decision to sell the Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico.
In response to a messenger’s question, Rainer relayed a report he’d received from Glorieta 2.0, the Christian camping ministry that bought the conference center from Lifeway last year. Attendance at the center is up this year, he said, and “literally tens of thousands will be reached for the gospel.”
John Yarbrough, a messenger from First Baptist Church of Carrollton, Texas, owns a cabin on land leased from the conference center. He turned down an extension of that lease and an offer from Glorieta 2.0 to buy the cabin.
He asked Rainer to provide what Yarbrough called “fair market value” for the structure. Rainer thanked Yarbrough for his question, and explained the decision to sell the center, which had lost money for years.
Lifeway offered to sell the conference center, which sits on 2,400 acres, to every national Southern Baptist entity and state Baptist convention.
When those offers were turned down, Lifeway sold the property to a Christian ministry that provides outdoor adventure experiences. At the time, the property was worth millions to developers, said Rainer, but Lifeway didn’t want to sell to a for-profit-developer.
“I would rather see the gospel continue than to see a casino go on this sacred ground,” he said.
Most of the leaseholders had a year-to-year lease at Glorieta, Rainer explained. The new owners offered to extend the leases or purchase buildings built there for up to $100,000. Those are fair offers for structures on leased land, he said, especially since the new owners had no obligation to make those offers, which all but a handful of leaseholders accepted.
“I’m always saddened when there are issues between brothers and sisters in Christ,” Rainer said. “But quite frankly, to the best of our ability…we’ve handled it in a Christ-like way, and we are grateful Glorieta is continuing to see people won to Christ.”
Small Groups Matter
LifeWay’s presentation to messengers introduced a new initiative called Groups Matter which challenges churches across the country to start 100,000 new small group Bible studies this year.
Lifeway vice-presidents Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger pointed to research that found members of small groups read their Bible more, pray more, go to church more, and say they feel closer to God.
The website GroupsMatter.com features tools to develop church leaders, start new groups, and choose Bible study materials. So far, churches have pledged online to start almost 25,000 new groups this year toward the goal of 100,000.
Geiger also explained expansion of its popular Explore the Bible curriculum. Explore the Bible, which walks believers through books of the Bible, will now be available for children’s and student ministries, along with adult groups.
“The heartbeat behind Explore the Bible is that we want people to let the Word dwell in them richly,” said Geiger.
Lifeway also honored two long-time Southern Baptist leaders. Former SBC president Dr. Jerry Vines, who pastored First Baptist Church in Jacksonville for 24 years, was given a commemorative copy of his new autobiography, Vines: My Life and Ministry.
“This pastor, statesman and father tells the story of his life in ministry, providing a rare perspective on some of our denomination’s most pivotal moments through the eyes of one of its most influential leaders,” said Rainer.
Rainer also presented former Union University president Dr. David Dockery, who served that school 18 years, with the Holman Christian Standard Bible Award. The award honors those whose life and ministry honor the Word of God in a significant way, Rainer said. Dockery, who recently became president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, is one of those people, said Rainer.
“His speaking and proclamation of the word are uncompromising, and his academic and statesman leadership is known across the country and around the world,” Rainer said.
Rainer promised messengers Lifeway will continue to find new ways to partner with churches and develop new resources to help Christians grow in their faith.
Bob Smietana is senior writer for Lifeway’s Facts & Trends magazine.