The Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing arm, Lifeway Christian Resources, announced Tuesday that it has entered into a contract to sell the new building that houses its corporate headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, just over three years after moving in as employees embrace remote work.
“Lifeway is moving forward, building fresh vision, and getting prepared for a new season of ministry to churches,” President and CEO Ben Mandrell said in a statement. “This has led us to think strategically about selling our large building downtown, fully embracing remote work as the norm, and moving into a new era of creative and collaborative work.”
Lifeway’s announcement comes just over three years after the organization moved into its North Gulch building in November 2017 after selling its former campus in downtown Nashville for $125 million, according to the Nashville Post. At the time, about 900 employees worked from the downtown office.
Details of the sale, which comes months after a legal dispute with former Lifeway President Thom Rainer, were not disclosed in the statement from the organization.
Founded in downtown Nashville in 1891, Lifeway has been described as the largest Christian resource provider in the world. The ministry publishes tens of millions of Bible studies, books and Bibles each year. It also operated a nationwide chain of Christian stores until March 2019 when leaders announced the closure of all remaining 170 stores to focus on online sales.
In 2015, Lifeway reportedly employed more than 5,000 staff and generated half a billion dollars in revenue annually. As the coronavirus pandemic unfolded last year, however, Mandrell announced budget cuts and staff reductions due to significant losses.
“Lifeway stands to lose tens of millions of dollars of revenue that the organization would normally generate over the summer months from camps, events, VBS and ongoing curriculum sales,” Mandrell said in a statement on the cuts last April. “Lifeway is mitigating these losses as much as possible through various expense reduction plans, including staff reductions and cuts in non-employee expenses. Additionally, Lifeway will likely have to use money from its reserves to cover a portion of the lost revenue.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic forced many business operations into remote work, Mandrell, who took over as president in the summer of 2019, said he and Lifeway leaders had been looking to revise their approach to work since he came on.
“One of the first questions I asked when I took this role was, ‘What should we do with this building?’ A study completed last year showed we were using the building at only 60% occupancy on a daily basis,” Mandrell said about the headquarters.
“We’re definitely moving to a new work environment. Our new space will be designed specifically around a healthy blend of strategic meetings and team collaboration, as well as the flexibility of working from home. Like other companies are doing as a result of COVID, we’re re-imagining the corporate office for the future of work.
“We are moving away from the idea of a ‘headquarters’ to a fully mobile and agile workforce that intentionally gathers to build strong relationships, celebrate what God is doing and share ideas.”
Despite the sale of the building, Lifeway is expected to continue using a portion of its office space until a decision is made on where the site of their new permanent headquarters will be.
Connia Nelson, Lifeway’s chief human resources officer, said the organization had been shifting toward a remote work culture for some time and thus was well-prepared when the city implemented a number of restrictions due to COVID-19.
“Before Lifeway moved to Capitol View, we saw the need to support an increasingly mobile workforce,” Nelson said. “We’ve had a robust work-from-anywhere strategy for the last few years, which positioned us well for Nashville's safer at home orders put in place in March.
“Our employees have told us they have a better work-life balance and are still highly productive in this new work environment. We have a number of employees juggling work with caring for family members and helping their kids with distance learning. We want to make sure they have the flexibility to still perform at their best while juggling these responsibilities.”