By Carol Pipes
NASHVILLE, Tenn. –Lifeway Christian Resources trustees gathered for their first meeting of 2019 with their sights set on a season of transition and hopeful prayer for the future.
Even on the heels of recent news that Lifeway will close a number of stores and shift toward a more dynamic digital strategy driven by online commerce, President and CEO Thom S. Rainer, who announced his pending retirement at the August 2018 trustee meeting, has confidence in the weeks, months and years ahead.
“The greatest days for Lifeway are yet ahead,” said Rainer in what was his final presidential address to the trustees during their Feb. 4-5 meeting.
“In a short time, there will be a new leader and a new season here. It will be a great opportunity and a great future for Lifeway.”
In his address, Rainer recalled “some of the most powerful memories” from his 13-year tenure as president. He thanked trustees and employees for the honor of serving alongside them.
He also walked trustees through the disruptions and transitions Lifeway has faced during its history and is facing today. Rainer explained that Lifeway finished 2018 squarely in the digital era.
From 2001 to 2018, said Rainer, “we began to move significantly into the era of digital growth. We began to say there are other channels and means from which we can distribute and provide resources. It was also during this time we began to see more people move from walking into a brick-and-mortar store to buying things online.”
Rainer reminded trustees that as the entity makes changes in retail that brick-and-mortar is only one channel. “Lifeway has so many channels through which our resources can be made available to churches and individuals,” Rainer said. “Lifeway will still have all of its resources and so much to offer the evangelical world, churches and individual Christians.
“Our ministry, regardless of this channel shift,” Rainer said, “will not go away.”
Trustees heard updates on the future of Lifeway’s retail channels and the presidential search, as well as a financial report on the entity during executive session.
Presidential search update
The presidential search committee met during the two-day trustee meeting as they continue their search for Lifeway’s 10th president. Chairman of the search committee Kent Dacus reported on their progress to the full board during executive session.
In a statement following the meeting, the search committee thanked everyone who has been praying for the committee and for the future leader of Lifeway.
“Throughout the process, the members of this committee have been in one accord about the type of leader Lifeway needs and have consulted the Lord’s counsel for who He wants in this position,” said search committee chairman Kent Dacus.
“It’s clear Lifeway needs a president who will carry on the organization’s 128-year legacy of providing trustworthy resources, while leading with innovation as we face a strategic point in Lifeway’s ministry. We are confident God is already preparing the person who will lead Lifeway into the future.”
The committee asked that churches and individuals “join with us as we pray for God’s guidance and clear direction as we begin the next phase of this process.”
Updates to trustees
Lifeway continues to focus on providing biblical solutions for life, leaders said. Trustees heard updates from Lifeway’s Earl Roberson and Michael Kelley regarding progress and plans for ministry.
— Global ministry through ongoing curriculum
Ongoing curriculum—Bible study tools designed for Sunday morning group experiences—is still going strong, said Earl Roberson, acting senior vice president and chief business officer, giving an update on the global reach of Lifeway curriculum.
He said Lifeway’s three primary curriculum brands—Explore the Bible, The Gospel Project and Bible Studies for Life—have shown steady growth for six consecutive years, particularly around the globe.
Ongoing curriculum, Roberson reported, presently serves people in 57 countries, with more than 50,000 churches using at least one of the brands.
“We’re trying to come alongside churches in their discipleship strategy,” said Roberson. “Ongoing curriculum is one of the primary instruments for us to serve and love the church.”
— Bible Studies for Life
One of those instruments, Bible Studies for Life, will be a key focus in 2019 for serving churches, “not just for education, but for transformation,” said Michael Kelley, Lifeway’s director of groups.
“The name itself strikes close to the heart of what we do here at Lifeway,” Kelley said. “Our aim is to equip churches in a holistic way, not to help people know the right answers, but help people think differently with a renewed mind.”
Launched 60 years ago, Bible Studies for Life has touched countless lives, according to Kelley.
He said Lifeway has a goal to see 300,000 more people using Bible Studies for Life this fall. “We have a real chance here to make a dent in the darkness, to play our part in pushing back the darkness and bringing to light the Kingdom of God.”
During the meeting, trustees heard that Lifeway received a clean audit report. Trustees also nominated three people to fill vacancies on the board. These three individuals will serve until the SBC elects directors to fill the unexpired terms.
They include Scott Hanberry, pastor of Hardy Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Miss.; Sabrina Patterson, a member of Eastgate Baptist Church in Burton, Mich.; and Judith “Judy” Sonich, a member of Bellewood Baptist Church in North Syracuse, N.Y.
The board also recognized three trustees who are ending their board service in June. They are Harry Forester of Shreveport, La.; Steve McNeil of Martinsville, Ind.; and Michael Steven of Austin, Texas.
Optimism for the future
“There is a Lifeway on the other side of this [current] disruption that is strong, vibrant, ministry-minded and that is going to make the biggest difference, I believe, of Lifeway’s entire history since 1891,” Rainer said.
Before adjourning the last plenary session trustee chairman Jimmy Scroggins led a time of corporate prayer for Lifeway’s future president, Lifeway employees and the churches Lifeway serves.
Scroggins, pastor of the Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., closed the meeting by thanking Rainer for his service to Lifeway. “I think I can speak for everyone in the room that you are loved and respected and your legacy will be honored. Thank you for serving, Thom. We are very grateful.”
Carol Pipes is director of corporate communications for Lifeway Christian Resources. Joy Allmond contributed to this story.