November 8, 2019
By Margaret Colson
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist
The traditional LifeWay Christian Store, a decades-long fixture at Alabama Baptists’ annual meeting, is being transformed into LifeWay Showcase, a streamlined display of selected products for church leaders to browse and evaluate.
The products at the LifeWay Showcase are “just a few of the resources offered on lifeway.com,” explained Carol Pipes, LifeWay’s director of corporate communications. Annual meeting attendees can place orders within two weeks of the annual meeting at lifeway.com or by calling LifeWay’s Customer Service Center, she said.
“As a way to thank churches for their partnership,” a promotion code for a 30% discount on B&H Publishing books, including the Christian Standard Bible, will be provided to annual meeting attendees, Pipes explained.
The LifeWay Showcase continues a long-held partnership between publisher and state convention, said Dan Garland, LifeWay’s retired director of church partnerships.
“LifeWay and state conventions have long been partners in the work of distributing books, Bibles and discipleship resources. Our strong partnership continues as LifeWay offers showcases at annual meetings of state conventions. The showcase will display key titles from LifeWay and B&H Publishing for church leaders to browse and evaluate. Plus all showcases will also include special sale pricing on select titles and free shipping on all orders of $50 or more placed during the convention.”
The LifeWay Showcase comes on the heels of LifeWay announcing in March that it will be closing all of its 170 brick-and-mortar stores by the end of 2019. At the time of the announcement 10 LifeWay stores were located in Alabama. Today only two of those stores, one in Montgomery and one in Birmingham, remain open, but those two stores will be closed by year’s end.
Nationally, LifeWay Christian Stores date back to 1925 when the then-named Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention purchased the Baptist Book Concern in Louisville, Kentucky. The first Baptist Book Store in Alabama was opened in Birmingham on Feb. 15, 1927, after the Alabama Baptist State Convention authorized the opening of such a store in cooperation with the Sunday School Board. In the joint venture the Sunday School Board invested $1,000, and Alabama Baptists provided “Crumpton colportage books valued at $1,001.19,” according to “Baptists in Alabama: Their Organization and Witness” by Avery Hamilton Reid.
“Baptists in Alabama” reports that first store was located in the educational building of First Baptist Church, Birmingham, for 18 years before moving “closer to the center of Birmingham’s business area.” The first manager of the store was T.M. Floyd who held the position for more than 28 years.
“She was an unusually capable business woman with experience both in business and the work of Baptist churches and the denomination. She was untiring in her efforts to acquaint Alabama Baptists and the general public with the services offered by the book store,” Reid wrote.
Even with the Great Depression and the resultant reduction in household incomes the store was able to keep its doors open.
An innovative leader, Floyd regularly traveled throughout Alabama which included providing an ongoing presence at Alabama Baptists’ annual meeting with an array of books and church supplies. She “was always welcomed to speak about the services provided by the book store,” Reid wrote.
The 1932 “Annual of the Alabama Baptist State Convention” referenced a “Convention Book Room” at that year’s meeting. A “considerable reduction in the price of many of its best books” was announced with the goal of being able to “place all the best books within reach of the reduced incomes of our people.”
Three years later in 1935 the state’s executive board approved a proposal to convey the convention’s interest in the store to the Sunday School Board which would continue to operate the store and return any profits to the state convention for the promotion of its work.
Nationally the stores changed names from Baptist Book Stores to LifeWay Christian Stores in 1999 and conducted business through retail stores, online, catalog and direct sales, according to an April 20, 2001, Baptist Press article “LifeWay Christian Stores: 75 years of growth and service.”
At that time then-LifeWay Christian Stores president Mark Scott said, “Our dreams must be greater than our memories.”
On the occasion of the stores’ anniversary in 2001, Alabama Baptist Linda Jackson, then a LifeWay Christian Store regional director, spoke about her 35-year-career with the Christian store.
Jackson, who began working at age 22 in the Birmingham store, said that for every Christian there are “defining moments when you see God working and you recognize His work with such clarity.” One morning as she drove to work she reflected on whether she was following God’s call on her life. In the store that morning before others arrived, she said, “God gave me a calmness and a peace and I just knew this was where I belonged. This was my place of service.
“While we are serving our customers God is blessing our lives.”
Jackson was not alone in her passion for ministry through LifeWay Christian Stores. In November 2018, LifeWay was ranked No. 1 in customer service in brick-and-mortar bookstores, according to a Newsweek market research survey.
Such face-to-face service had been a hallmark in LifeWay Christian Stores for nearly 100 years, until LifeWay’s executive leadership team, with the full support of the trustees, decided recent financial losses of LifeWay Christian Stores could not sustain the stores’ ongoing brick-and-mortar presence and LifeWay stores would need to be shuttered.
“The decision to close our local stores is a difficult one,” said then-LifeWay acting president and CEO Brad Waggoner.
In a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) report compiled by LifeWay, through the past five years the cumulative losses of LifeWay Stores reached nearly $50 million and would have grown to more than $60 million by 2021.
“Sustaining losses at this rate is poor stewardship and compromises the overall ministry of LifeWay,” the report stated.
LifeWay Christian Stores is not the only Christian retailer to face tough financial times and decisions. Family Christian Stores went out of business in 2017.
With the closure of its 170 stores nationwide this year LifeWay is shifting primarily to a digital strategy following industry trends. LifeWay also launched on June 1 a network of “authorized dealers,” allowing independent retailers to stock LifeWay resources (see below).
In addition to the LifeWay Showcase at state convention annual meetings LifeWay Stores will be provided at regional and national events.
“The closure of our proprietary brick-and-mortar stores expands the opportunity to provide LifeWay resources globally through multiple retail channels. … The changes we are making in 2019 give us opportunities to expand our reach, better serve our customers and get the message of the gospel to the world,” according to the LifeWay FAQ report.
“LifeWay has an incredibly bright future,” said LifeWay president and CEO Ben Mandrell, and will keep the mission and the message the same while adjusting the approach.
LifeWay authorized dealers in Alabama
Do you desire the traditional shopping experience for LifeWay products? Do you like to chat with bookstore employees while making your selection of LifeWay products? Do you want to browse LifeWay products before making your selection? The Alabama LifeWay Authorized Dealers listed below provide a selection of LifeWay products for their customers:
Sanctuary Christian Book/The Amen Corner, Inc. — Alabaster
Faith-N-Hymn Christian Bookstore — Rainsville
Blessings, A Christian Store — Prattville
Tabby D’s Christian Book & Gift — Andalusia
Dove Christian Supply — Dothan
Lambert’s Bibles and Gifts — Boaz
By His Hands — Albertville
The Gathering Place — Decatur
Smith’s Christian Books and Supplies — Fayette
Southern Traditions — Jackson
Christian Book and Supply — Anniston
Yates Christian Bookstore — Cullman
One Way — Selma
Stewart Family Pool and Christian Books — Jasper
Christchurch Bookstore — Montgomery
The Carpenter’s Shop — Vestavia Hills