DALLAS (ABP) — The Baptist General Convention of Texas will end its exclusive marketing agreement with the Southern Baptist Convention's publishing house, an agreement that for years has given SBC materials a priority position among the state's 5,600 churches.
The BGCT staff will continue to promote materials from Nashville-based Lifeway Christian Resources, the SBC's imprint, but also will promote materials from other publishers — including the BGCT itself — announced Lynn Eckeberger, coordinator of the BGCT's church health and growth section.
The LifeWay Ministry Investment Plan, as the agreement is called, will end Sept. 30, and it “will not be renewed,” Eckeberger told the BGCT Executive Board in Dallas March 2. Board members responded with scattered applause to Eckeberger's announcement.
The annually renewable agreements have been used by LifeWay and its predecessor, the Sunday School Board, to sell its products, such as curriculum for Sunday school, Bible study groups and vacation Bible school– representing $10 million in sales in Texas alone.
In return, the BGCT and other state conventions receive financial support from Lifeway.
But many churches no longer use LifeWay materials exclusively, Eckeberger said. “When we asked our churches, they identified a frequent use of 10 to 12 suppliers of Christian products.”
Some users say Lifeway materials, which adhere to the SBC's new doctrinal statement, have become too conservative. Other objections have surfaced in recent months regarding doctrine-study materials, as well as VBS curriculum some observers say is ethnically insensitive.
Eckeberger said he has fielded questions and comments from Texas Baptists in recent weeks about those materials. “Some have been mad, some sad,” he reported. “I think what I now report will make most glad,” he said in introducing the new materials.
By canceling the Lifeway agreement, the BGCT will better serve its churches, Eckeberger said, “unhindered by product sales fostered by an agreement to provide exclusive privilege” to one publisher.
The agreement also obligated the BCGT to participate in LifeWay conference centers and leader meetings, recognize LifeWay at convention-sponsored events, and showcase only LifeWay products during LifeWay-sponsored training events.
“I'm surprised and saddened by the decision, but I respect the BGCT's right to make it,” LifeWay president Jimmy Draper told Baptist Press. “LifeWay has enjoyed a long relationship with the convention, and I fully expect this will continue throughout the many Southern Baptist churches and associations in Texas that will keep using our resources.”
Purchases of Lifeway materials by BGCT churches have gradually declined, from $13 million in 2001 to $9.8 million in 2003, according to Lifeway records. Lifeway has made up some of that loss with increased sales to churches affiliated with the conservative Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, up from $2.5 million in 2001 to almost $3 million in 2003.
The BGCT, using its own publishing arm, BaptistWay Press, is producing an ever-widening selection of materials itself, Eckeberger said. BaptistWay already produces and sells adult Sunday school curriculum and makes youth and children's materials, as well non-English adult studies, available free online.
Officials announced March 2 they soon will provide free vacation Bible school materials on the Internet as well. And next year, BaptistWay will offer doctrine clinics, VBS training and Bible drill materials.
Eckeberger said growth in sales of the adult curriculum is making the expansion possible, “We doubled in sales between 2002 and 2003,” he said. “Our customer base has increased by one third.”
For the past three years, the BGCT has provided about $500,000 for development of BaptistWay Press.