Sometimes the way forward is to look back, says Ben Mandrell, president and CEO at Lifeway Christian Resources, which is now proclaiming 2023 as a year of many successes after a run of tough times for the company, which includes the Southern Baptist Convention's publishing curriculum and Bible publishing arms. Revenue for 2023 was $277 million, up 12% from the 2022's sales of $246 million and notching the third consecutive yearly increase since the low of $206 million in 2020.

"We did it by returning to our roots," Mandrell tells PW. "The original mission of Lifeway was to serve local churches." But the path to a rebound required traversing some rocky roads. Mandrell came on board in June 2019, three months after Lifeway shuttered all of its 170 brick-and-mortar stores in the face of a declining retail market. Less than a year later, the Covid pandemic in 2020 cut off their events and hit camps and Vacation Bible School programming hard, forcing $25-$30 million in budget cuts that April. In 2021, Beth Moore, whose bestselling Bible studies generated an estimated $30 million in revenue in her decades with Lifeway, quit the SBC. Leaving her lucrative 25-title backlist behind. Moore shifted to publishing curriculum under her own company, Living Proof Ministries, and trade books with Tyndale.

Yet when it appeared Lifeway was reeling, Mandrell had his look-back-to-go-forward plan in mind. According to the Baptist Press, he told the trustees, “Church leaders will choose Lifeway when we solve a problem and make their jobs easier,” he said then. Now, this singular focus has paid off. He reported to trustees that in 2023 fiscal year revenue rose by $30 million over 2022 through growth in every area: Bible and curriculum sales, Vacation Bible School camps and programming for children and youth, and women's ministry events. The trustees responded, says Mandrell, with "manna from the sky"—a $303.2 million budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year, a 10 percent jump over the prior year.

Every new program — added podcasts, a new online Bible study curriculum, and more — has been aimed at solving a problem or filling a gap perceived by church leaders. For example, Mandrell says that churches have trouble reaching today's youth who are less biblically literate than earlier generations. "They may show up in church and have no idea what's going on." So, Lifeway is answering the need with a new children-and-teen-focused curriculum program, Hyfi, featuring "eight times more media incorporated than anything we've ever created before. It's off to a great start," he says. Launched in September, it already has 1,200 church subscribers according to the company.

Lifeway also boosted its women's ministry with more events and a super-selling roster of women's speakers and bestselling authors such as Priscilla Shirer, Lysa Terkeurst, Jackie Hill Perry, and Ruth Chou Simons. It's not that men are forgotten, Mandrell says, but, by and large, he observes, "Men don't read and they don't buy. If you see them with a book, it's because their wife gave it to them: 'Honey, you need to read this.' " And for those men, Lifeway is aiming the upcoming April release of a new men's daily devotional, The Christian Standard Bible Men’s Daily Bible. featuring numerous renowned pastors and scholars such as Ray Ortlund and Albert Mohler.

The CSB is another one of the successes Mandrell highlights. Currently, the #2 selling Bible overall according to the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, Mandrell claims it's the "fastest-growing Bible translation in the world." The original version, The Holman Christian Standard Bible (the HCSB), was revised and reissued in 2017 to be "highly readable" whereas the first HCSB version was, Mandrell notes, called by some the "Hard Core Southern Baptist."

"Lifeway is building back. The world has changed and we have, too. Momentum is the hardest for any organization to get. I'm so proud of our team. We have incredible momentum now," Mandrell says.