Evangelical Bible teacher and bestselling author Beth Moore's announcement earlier this month that she’s quit the Southern Baptist Convention has surprised millions of fans and shaken up religion publishing.
The big winner among publishers in the field is Tyndale. Ron Beers, senior v-p for group publishing, announced today that Moore and her Living Proof Ministries organization will be “partnering” with Tyndale to bring Moore's trade book publishing "to the broader marketplace.” Their most recent Moore title with Tyndale was Chasing Vines: Finding Your Way with a More Fruitful Life, released in February 2020. The book has sold 60,000 print copies at outlets that report to NPD BookScan, which captures sales from many but not all Christian stores in addition to mainstream outlets.
Losing big was Lifeway Christian Resources. The publishing arm of the SBC was the home base, since 1995, for Moore’s in-depth Bible studies and church curriculum sold through Lifeway’s direct-to-consumer/churches channel. Communications director Carol Pipes confirms that Moore’s backlist will stay with Lifeway, but her Living Proof Ministries organization is now publishing her studies, including Moore’s latest Bible study "Now That Faith Has Come: A Study of Galatians," released online in September 2020 and as a book in January 2021. Moore tells PW,. "Publishing curricula through Living Proof is what I understand at this time to be the will of God."
Moore’s move still may have a significant impact on the struggling company. Lifeway had shuttered all 170 retail outlets in 2019. Hit with the pandemic in 2020, Lifeway lost revenue from summer camps and events and sales of ongoing curriculum to churches fell when churches were closed for months. There were layoffs and other actions announced in April to slice an estimated $25-$30 million from the operating budget.
Those reductions helped mitigate the impact on Lifeway’s bottom line, according to a financial update at their last trustee meeting. The update spelled it all out: “Lifeway’s revenue fell $45 million short of the fiscal year 2020 budget due to the impact of COVID-19. Lifeway’s funds provided from operations only missed budget by $15 million due to the significant expense reductions that were put in place in the spring." It also included one up note: “Lifeway’s cash position remains strong. Through the first quarter, Lifeway is exceeding both revenue and the bottom-line budget.”
Even so, Lifeway slid from reporting $503 million in revenue in 2018 to $206 million in 2020.
Moore was Lifeway’s best-selling author, with a reach far beyond the SBC to conservative believers of many denominations. Her books and related materials “kept the Nashville-based publisher afloat,” according to Baptist News. At her peak, she generated more than $30 million a year in revenue.
By the company’s own count, Moore’s 25 Bible studies, beginning in 1995 with A Woman's Heart: God's Dwelling Place, have reached more than 21 million women worldwide. And Lifeway has hosted “2 million women through more than 300 Living Proof Live events.”
Ben Mandrell, Lifeway president and CEO, told PW in a statement Tuesday that “Lifeway is thankful for the partnership we've had with Beth Moore for more than two decades, encouraging women to encounter God in His Word. We will continue to pray for Beth and her ministry moving forward.” The future includes one last event from her contract with Lifeway, an October cruise hosted by Moore and Living Proof Ministries.
Moore, in turn, has warm words for Lifeway, telling PW: "I love them tremendously and my sorrow over wrapping up my 30-year partnership with them has been a depth of grief I’ve rarely experienced in ministry. I will love them forever and I am honored to still be able to offer resources we have done together. There is no scandal or explosive conflict between us. No spite. I made the decision nearly 22 months ago and we have walked through it slowly together. I fulfilled my contractual obligations to them with love and joy. The remaining serving opportunity on our calendar together is indeed the cruise. We kept it because the 2020 cruise had to be canceled over the pandemic. It was the SBC that I left. I would not have stepped away from Lifeway otherwise.
Meanwhile, the company has launched a new Online Bible Study Platform with Priscilla Shirer's new "Elijah" Bible study drawing 30,000 participants. Shirer’s book, her 23rd with Lifeway, released in February and went directly to PW’s Religion Bestseller list.
Moore modestly does not consider herself critical to the company. She tells PW, "Lifeway has so many wonderful and powerful women Bible study writers now that I would not say I was a tent pole. I believe that my friends and fellow writers Priscilla Shirer, Jen Wilkin, Chris Caine, Lisa Harper, Jennifer Rothschild, Lauren Chandler, Kelly Minter, Angie Smith, and Jackie Hill Perry exceed me in holding up that tent. And, of course, all of us—as well as the Lifeway curriculum teams—would say that Jesus holds it up all by himself."