Bringing his first report as president of Lifeway Christian Resources, Ben Mandrell acknowledged the difficulty of the past year when the pandemic “forced this organization into a self-protection season.” Curriculum sales declined; summer camps were cancelled, and all conferences moved to an online format. By the end of the fiscal year, Lifeway had missed its revenue by $45 million.
In spite of the challenges, Mandrell said, “We experienced the good favor of God.”
Mandrell emphasized some encouraging trends through 2020, including more than 2.4 million Bibles sold, more than 100,000 women joining a Lifeway Women’s online Bible study and creative approaches to sharing the gospel with children through Vacation Bible School.
When Mandrell took the Lifeway helm in the summer of 2019, he explained that the organization was already in a “season of distress,” including an underfunded pension plan, 174 closed Lifeway store leases being renegotiated, an under-utilized new headquarters building, the need to make significant and costly improvements at Ridgecrest Baptist Conference Center in North Carolina, a low cash reserve fund and a complicated website that frustrated customers.
Lifeway, under Mandrell’s leadership, quickly pivoted to address these challenges in four ways.
- The workforce at Lifeway was reduced by 10%
- Ridgecrest Baptist Conference Center was sold to a group of individuals who would carry the ministry forward. Ridgecrest, Mandrell acknowledged, is “sacred ground,” and the sale of the property was a “painful decision.” The situation was so dire, Mandrell said, “It was either Ridgecrest or Lifeway.”
- Lifeway’s headquarters building was sold, and the organization is leasing two floors for 18 months as it determines its next “teaming space.”
- All except for two Lifeway Christian store leases were settled, with Lifeway receiving 50 cents on the dollar, which Mandrell described as “nothing short of miraculous.”
With those actions, Mandrell said that Lifeway did not “use a single dollar of cash reserves” to fund its way through the pandemic and today is in “a stronger cash position” than it has been in decades.
Lifeway is now moving forward to strengthen its pension fund, replenish its cash reserves, invest in strategic tools and resources for local churches and earmark funds for a teaming space.
“Despite what you may have heard,” Mandrell said, “Lifeway is not in a fire sale. Lifeway is getting focused.”
Lifeway’s focus is four-fold:
- “going big at what we do best”
- putting laser focus on the pastor
- refreshing its brand
- “baking” a kingdom-focus into its culture.
As he closed his report, Mandrell said, “In the words of our founding president, James Frost, “We celebrate the goodness of Him Who has brought us thus far, and giving Him our trust and devotion, we set our face to the future of larger things.”