By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
And, I admit, I’m one of them.
I understand their reasoning. According to their news release, LifeWay Christian Stores has experienced a decline in customer traffic and sales. Business is business, but in LifeWay’s case, it also is a ministry to the thousands upon thousands of Southern Baptist churches across our convention.
Despite their best intentions of providing a “strategic digital focus,” LifeWay is going to lose a segment of its consumers. Not everyone likes to buy books or other material online. I love going into bookstores, picking up books, browsing through them and deciding if I want to purchase them. I’m not alone.
B&R reader Glenda Prichard of Riceville sent me a letter that she mailed to LifeWay after learning the bookstores will close. Several ideas she expressed tugged at my heart:
“LifeWay stores are not your typical stores. My heart has always felt a different emotion when I enter a LifeWay store. That is because items LifeWay stores sell have eternal value — whether it’s a Bible, a Bible study guide, a card filled with Scripture. …
“A few years ago my husband and I were in a LifeWay store when a mall shooting occurred in another part of our country. As news of this spread …, the LifeWay store manager drew everyone in that store together and we prayed for all involved. In no other store will you ever have such an experience.”
She went on to write, “The atmosphere in a LifeWay store is different. You will find no foul language from workers and everywhere you look, kindness is extended to everyone. Every corner and space of a LifeWay store is filled with encouragement and there are reminders that there is hope found in Jesus.”
And, finally she noted, “LifeWay has for decades been in the business of helping churches proclaim the message of Jesus. We still need hands and feet and smiles and friendly handshakes as we share the love of God. Human contact is still so important when we are trying to reach people for Jesus. Without brick and mortar LifeWay stores, we lose the opportunity to minister to that stressed-out children’s worker who is looking for the perfect ministry book to give them new ideas and ways to meet the needs of their children.”
Mrs. Prichard was on target. Her plea was for LifeWay to reconsider its decision. They may not be able to keep all 170 brick and mortar stores open, but it would be wonderful if they could keep some stores open in strategic locations.
Again, I understand business.
There’s a fine line to balance. The Baptist and Reflector is in the same predicament. We have a nearly 185-year history (since 1835) of providing a print publication for Tennessee Baptists. We also have begun and established a very strong online presence.
Just in the first three months of 2019, visitors to our website increased by 42.3 percent over the first three months of 2018 while page views jumped 24.9 percent. Both print and our website presence are needed to effectively tell the story of Tennessee Baptists.
The print edition, while it has decreased in numbers, is still a vital communications tool for Tennessee Baptists. We are reaching people who would never turn on a computer for their news and information about Tennessee Baptists.
We know we cannot take the print issue for granted. The print issue is our “brick and mortar.” Mainline Baptist papers in the South have ceased print publications or gone to a once a month publication. We are one of few state papers that print either biweekly or weekly.
Will that change at some point? Sad to say, it probably will, but we are committed to keeping the print issue for the foreseeable future. We will need your help. We have had churches recently begin print subscriptions. We need more (call Mary Nimmo at 615-371-7929).
LifeWay, too, apparently needs more customers. Flood these stores with your business in the remaining months.
Maybe, just maybe, it will make a difference.