Mandrell expresses excitement over Lifeway’s future in 2024 convention report

INDIANAPOLIS (BP) — Addressing the 2024 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Lifeway President and CEO Ben Mandrell shared the organization’s focus on serving church leaders and answered four key questions messengers may have.

Mandrell referenced leaving the pastorate five years ago to helm Lifeway and quoted from James Frost, the founding president of the organization, who also left behind local church ministry to lead what was then the Baptist Sunday School Board. “I am more excited than ever about the future of Lifeway,” Mandrell said.

His excitement derived from believing God sustained the organization through a turbulent season. Calling Lifeway’s current financial health a miracle, Mandrell spoke about previous difficulties. “In 2019, excluding the Lifeway stores and Ridgecrest, Lifeway had a revenue of $260 million and a slight loss of $1 million,” he said. Due to the impact of COVID-19 on churches and the organization in 2020, “Lifeway’s revenue dropped by $55 million in one year, and we lost $19 million.” In the three subsequent years, Lifeway has seen consecutive years of revenue growth and positive bottom-line growth. “We are grateful for your continued support, the partnership we have and the ability to resource your churches,” he told Southern Baptist messengers.

Mandrell then turned to questions about Lifeway’s future and how the organization plans to continue serving churches in the future.

Where does Lifeway hope to be in 5-10 years?

Speaking of the organization’s aim, Mandrell shared Lifeway’s vision statement: “To empower 300,000 church leaders with research and resources to reach the nations.” He said there was a healthy internal debate over the best word to use, but they chose “empower” because it sets the goal higher for Lifeway — “to build tools that add confidence and strength to the staff, members and churches.”

Mandrell said, “This is what we hope pastors, student leaders and worship leaders say about Lifeway: ‘Because of the team at Lifeway, our church grew in strength; we grew in confidence that God was using us to make a dent in the lostness of the world.’”

What is Lifeway doing to help churches minister to families with special needs?

At the 2023 Southern Baptist Convention, a messenger asked how Lifeway could come alongside churches who are trying to serve kids with special needs and their families. Mandrell said that question served as a catalyst for the organization to explore ways to better equip churches in special needs ministry. As a result, Lifeway formed an advisory committee of disability ministry specialists and advocates from across the country. “We want to equip every church no matter what size to serve the families in their communities who have children with special needs,” Mandrell said.

Recent steps include curating all the special needs resources Lifeway currently publishes on one landing page, Lifeway.com/SpecialNeeds, adding both free and for-sale resources to the page and releasing the first ever kids Bible for readers with dyslexia this fall.

What is happening to LifewayWorship.com?

After holding listening sessions with more than 200 church leaders from 10 states, Lifeway reversed course and will continue operating the website. Mandrell said the organization underestimated the value the tool brings to many churches. “Worship leaders told us this is their curriculum for discipling the people they lead in their ministries,” he said. “They rely on Lifeway Worship for music that has been vetted theologically and that encourages congregational singing.”

Mandrell also noted the listening sessions revealed other ways the organization could serve worship leaders in their ministries. “We are committed to our long history of serving worship leaders, and we want to make sure we continue to serve you for years to come,” he said.

What is something Lifeway is celebrating in 2024?

Mandrell announced this year marked 100 years of ministry through Vacation Bible School (VBS) at Lifeway. VBS began in New York City in 1898 when Virginia Hawes noticed children had nowhere safe to go in the summer. She became concerned that schools no longer taught the Bible and parents weren’t discipling their children at home. To address this issue, Hawes rented a beer parlor and launched the first “Everyday Bible School.”

The idea spread to churches across the country. In 1924, the Baptist Sunday School Board created the Vacation Bible School department and published the first manuals for VBS for Southern Baptist churches. “A hundred years later, over 25,000 churches are reaching 2.5 million kids each summer through Lifeway’s VBS resources,” Mandrell said.

Noting the impact VBS has on Southern Baptists, Mandrell said the ministry accounts for 25% of baptisms in the SBC each year, including 60,000 professions of faith last year. Additionally, since first tracking giving to the missions offering in 1999, children and churches have given $105 million to missions through VBS. Mandrell said the ministry is a “time-tested, proven successful strategy that is still engaging, appealing, strategic and effective today.”

Lifeway recently announced its 2025 VBS theme: “Magnified! Discovering the Bigness of God in the Smallest of Things.” Zooming in on the tiniest details of creation, “Magnified!” VBS will encourage kids to look closely at the details of God’s amazing world to proclaim, or magnify, the greatness of God.

Other business

During the question time, messengers asked Mandrell about how Lifeway is training the next generation, helping churches prepare young believers being called into the ministry and creating apologetics resources. He pointed to several existing resources the organization produces to help churches in these needs and offered to meet with messengers to discuss additional ideas for ways Lifeway can continue serving and equipping local church leaders.

(EDITOR”S NOTE — Aaron Earls is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.)

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