NASHVILLE, Tenn. – LifeWay Christian Resources, of the Southern Baptist Convention, is charting a new course in 2019, marking a strategic shift of resources to a digital strategy. As part of the transition, LifeWay will close all of its 170 brick-and-mortar stores in 2019.
LifeWay currently operates five stores in Arkansas, which are located in Little Rock, Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Jonesboro and Rogers. Carol Pipes, director of corporate communications at LifeWay, confirmed with the Arkansas Baptist News (ABN) that the Little Rock, Hot Springs and Fort Smith stores are set to close in June. A timeline for the closing of the Rogers and Jonesboro stores was unavailable at press time.
LifeWay is considering implementing “distribution hubs” at some locations across the country following the store closings to expedite the delivery of timely materials such as those used for events like VBS (vacation Bible school), according to an unconfirmed report.
“LifeWay is fortunate to have a robust publishing, events and church services business. Our retail strategy for the future will be a greater focus on digital channels, which are experiencing strong growth,” said acting President and CEO Brad Waggoner. “LifeWay is moving into a new era with a strategic digital focus that will prepare us for the future and allow us to better serve our customers.”
In January LifeWay announced it would reduce the number of its retail locations due to declining customer traffic and sales. “While we had hoped to keep some stores open, current market projections show this is no longer a viable option,”
“The decision to close our local stores is a difficult one,” Waggoner said. “LifeWay has developed close connections with the communities where our stores are located, and we have been honored to serve those communities. We will continue serving local congregations as they meet the spiritual needs of their neighbors.”
The timing of store closings will vary depending on local circumstances. LifeWay expects all brick-and-mortar stores to close by the end of the year.
In operation since 1891, LifeWay offers a comprehensive selection of Bibles, books, Scripture reference tools, Bible studies, children’s products, Christian music and movies, gifts and church supplies. Additional items, including church signs, furnishings and buses, as well as background checks, electronic giving and other services, are available through LifeWay’s OneSource program at LifeWay.com/OneSource. LifeWay also hosts a number of camps and events throughout the year for all age groups.
As part of the organization’s strategy, LifeWay has introduced a number of digital resources, including online Bible studies, worship planning, live streaming of events and online training opportunities.
“LifeWay has been serving the church for 128 years, and we will continue to grow our ministry to churches and individuals into the future,” Waggoner said. “As the market continues to change, primarily through shifts in brick-and-mortar retail, we are taking steps to meet customer demand for digital shopping experiences and to expand our reach globally.” LifeWay distributes resources in 164
nations and licenses resources in more than 60 languages.
Like other retailers, over the last decade the organization has seen commerce increasingly move online, while experiencing overall growth in digital sales.
In one month, LifeWay interacts with five times as many people through its digital environments as it does through LifeWay stores.
“Our world and our customers are increasingly online,” Waggoner said. “Investing in a dynamic digital strategy allows LifeWay to better serve the Church in its mission and only enhances our ability to
provide biblical solutions for life.”
The organization will continue to offer a broad selection of resources through LifeWay.com and the LifeWay Customer Service Center (800-458-2772). LifeWay Customer Service hours are Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. (Central). LifeWay will also continue to serve customers through its network of church partners who work directly with churches.
More information about store closings is available at LifeWay.com/StoreFAQs.
Reactions to LifeWay store closings
“Glad to see they are looking to the future in digital. It sure leaves out the little churches. I really love our LifeWay store in Jonesboro and their customer service is outstanding. Especially in a world where customer service has flown out the window. It’s a sad day.”
– Vaneissia Woods-Turner via arkansasbaptist.org
“I know the decision has been made. I buy a significant number of Bibles each month to distribute in a local ministry. We have been able to take advantage of specials and compare Bible options while shopping in your store here in Hot Springs. And I am very grateful for that. Shipping (and shopping) and convenience will be an adjustment. Also, seems like I often make an unplanned purchase when I am in your store! Thank you for the time we have had with your store here. My last concern is that so many people have Amazon Prime accounts with very favorable shipping – I really hope that many people will still choose LifeWay.”
– Michael Pounders via Facebook.com
“This saddens, but does not surprise me. The corporate mentality of decline in mission focus (Mission Board decisions and intentionally cutting back programming at Glorieta, selling the ground out from under missionaries and churches that purchased for their fellowships or built homes to retire there and then selling the property for $1) is coming back to roost. Unfortunately, everyone that needed the Baptist Bookstore and Baptist Sunday School Board leadership and resources were denied to bring in more midline and secular retail items to produce more income for the stores. That is the way of the world and the church today.”
– Nancy’s Needle Niche via arkansasbaptist.org
“I am so disappointed, shipping is so expensive and I love to go in your stores for my Bible study books.”
– Sharon McMahan via Facebook.com
“I’m very sorry to hear this. Not everyone is computer savvy!”
– Linda Chapman Wyatt via arkansasbaptist.org
Arkansas LifeWay Stores
Fort Smith Pavilion, 3855 Phoenix Ave., Fort Smith. (Opened August 2009)
Fairgrounds Crossing, 1446 Higdon Ferry Road, Hot Springs. (Opened March 2011)
Turtle Creek, 3009 East Highland Drive, Jonesboro. (Opened August 2008)
Alhambra Square, 11600 Chenal Pkwy., Little Rock. (Opened Sept. 1997)
Pinnacle Hills Promenade, 2203 Promenade Blvd., Rogers. (Opened Feb. 2007)