LifeWay Cutting Jobs – Bad Economy or Wrong Direction?

Posted by in Baptist Life

A recent report in The Tennessean, LifeWay Christian Resources is in the process of eliminating approximately one hundred of its employees, primarily in the Nashville area. This level of job cutbacks amounts to approximately 5% of LifeWay’s current 2000-employee workforce. In addition to cutting jobs, LifeWay will be trimming expenses in other areas. LifeWay officials reported that those whose positions have been deleted will get severance pay, some benefits and outplacement services.

Agency leaders are attributing the cutbacks to the current sluggish economy. Indeed, most Christian retailers have experienced serious loss of revenues. Fierce competition from retailers like Wal-Mart and on-line booksellers such as are also being blamed for reduced sales. Rob Phillips, a LifeWay spokesman, said: “We’re experiencing what every other Christian publisher, retailer and conference center operator is facing. That’s just the reality of lower discretionary spending by our customers.”

However, the Associated Baptist Press reports that this same Rob Phillips recently stated that the agency’s $458.7 million revenue last year was higher than expenditures. Indeed, he said income this year is ahead of last year’s pace, but below projections on which the budget is based. Furthermore, according to SBC Life (as reported by ABP), a publication of the SBC Executive Committee, LifeWay provides income over its expenses to the SBC. Last year, LifeWay contributed $790,000 to the SBC operating budget.

But in a response to the report in The Tennessean, a reader under the pseudonym Hwy70, made this very interesting observation:

It’s not just the economy that has affected this firm. I have many friends who have worked for BSSB/LifeWay over the years. A decision was taken in the early 1990’s to walk away from its distinctive Baptist identity (the renaming from Baptist Sunday School Board to LifeWay), and identify itself as a generic provider of product to the evangelical marketplace. It abandoned its core loyal following in the attempt to to chase after a market it did not know, and which did not know it after it attempted to change its identity. This approach proved unsuccessful, to state it mildly.

Several reorganizations followed, consolidations and downsizings, as it attempted to recover from this blunder. Amongst the executives fired was the guy who susequently oversaw the marketing of one of the best selling books of the past twenty years, in any market. He had attempted to place the book at Lifeway, and they would have none of it.

Economies go through cycles, and we’re definitely heading through the down cycle just now. But this firm’s woes run much deeper.

An interesting hypothesis, indeed.

So … what do you think? Is the current situation at our Southern Baptist publishing agency, at its root, an economic problem or a philosophical one?

Furthermore, should a “not for profit” agency be in a position to provide $790,000 to the funding of Southern Baptist Convention? When is the magic line of “profit” crossed?