LifeWay Christian Store, the chain known for its Christian books, gifts and Bibles, will close some of its locations due to "an accelerated rate of erosion," the company's president has announced.
In an email sent to employees, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer said the company had “prayed that our investments in and commitments to the LifeWay stores would prove fruitful,” but “that just has not been the case,” the Baptist Press first reported on Wednesday.
“To the contrary, we not only continue to see an erosion in the brick-and-mortar channel, we have seen an accelerated rate of erosion in recent months. It was our hope that greater traffic would result in greater sales, and that with our expense reductions and product cost savings, we would be able to offset sales declines. That hope has not been realized with the declines we have seen since September.”
"In simple terms, a strategic shift is required for moving more and more of our resources to a dynamic digital strategy," Rainer wrote. "We will be transitioning many of those resources from our LifeWay stores to digital channels. The good news is that we will be better prepared to meet the future. The challenging news is that some of our stores will have to close."
Carol Pipes, director of communications for LifeWay, told The Christian Post that the company is “moving into a new era with a strategic focus on a dynamic digital strategy that will prepare us for the future and allow us to better serve our customers.”
“LifeWay is taking steps to meet customer demand for digital shopping experiences and to expand our reach globally,” she said. “As LifeWay expands its digital channels, the organization anticipates a smaller footprint in brick-and-mortar stores.”
“Like other retailers, LifeWay continues to evaluate the size of its retail footprint,” she added. “We continually make adjustments to our strategy as the market changes and to meet the needs of our customers.”
LifeWay’s website says the company is “one of the world's largest providers of Christian resources,” offering Bibles, Bible studies, church music, church supplies, and digital services.
Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, and operated by the Southern Baptist Convention, LifeWay is “passionate about sharing the Gospel and providing biblically sound resources that exalt our Savior and encourage His followers," according to Rainer.
The Baptist Press notes that the last time LifeWay's sales exceeded its total operating expenses was 2009. Since then, total operating expenses exceeded sales each year, although total assets increased over the same period.
Due to the inability to compete with internet retail giants like Amazon, click ordering, and price competition, several prominent Christian bookstores have been forced to close in recent years.
In 2017, Family Christian Stores announced it was shutting its doors due to "changing consumer behavior and declining sales." The company, which employed more than 3,000 people in more than 240 stores across 36 states, had served as "the world's largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise” for more than 85 years.
A year earlier, Send The Light Distribution, a Tennessee-based distributor of Christian products, announced it would be going out of business. The company, which remained in operation for 42 years, shipped Bibles, Christian books and other Christian literature to over 10,000 stores across the United States.
In an August 2018 statement announcing his plans to retire from LifeWay, Rainer said he believed the company “is poised for a great future with a new leader.”
“To be certain, LifeWay will have its challenges,” he wrote. “LifeWay is a ministry funded by a business model. It does not receive any outside funds. It has to compete with the behemoths like Amazon and Walmart. The next president will lead an organization poised for a great future, but it will be a future with challenges. Such is the nature of how this organization lives and works.