By Lanell Downs Smith
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist
Following the closing of all LifeWay Christian Resources brick-and-mortar stores earlier this year, customers who prefer a face-to-face experience are finding a new network of independent Christian bookstore partners ready to help.
Matt Deavers, former associate at the LifeWay Christian Store in Montgomery and now church liaison at Blessings Christian Store, said Vacation Bible School (VBS) products, communion and record keeping supplies, engraved Bibles and Bible studies were among the most popular items customers purchased directly through LifeWay stores.
Deavers said many buyers preferred to view these materials in person, asking questions and considering alternatives. As church liaison, Deavers assists those who are ordering church supplies, helps church members choose personal resources and visits churches to ensure their needs are met. The store offers a range of traditional products as well as customized printing services.
“Blessings and other independent stores are eager to serve their local churches and community in every way possible,” he said.
Jason Bachus, church planter and bivocational pastor of The Church of Pleasant Grove, Heflin, and former church connection specialist at the LifeWay Christian Store in Oxford, opened Christian Book and Supply in Anniston in July. As a pastor, Bachus desired to continue serving local churches by helping them find products that have eternal value. Smaller congregations and rural churches often favored personal service, he said, adding that volunteer church workers often sought his advice on what products other churches were using and which materials would best suit their needs.
“You build these relationships and I’ve served these people, helping them to do what God has called them to do,” he said.
Bachus’ new store offers all types of Christian books, church supplies and resources including engraved Bibles and accompaniment CDs. Bachus wants to continue serving local churches by helping them with the resources they need to reach people for Jesus.
“So that’s what I’m doing,” he said.
Independent Christian bookstores continue to offer the face-to-face experience, allowing customers to see and feel the products, which is important, Deavers said.
“The value of being able to talk to someone who knows you and your community, who will listen and discuss your church needs with you, and work to help you find the best solutions is of immeasurable value,” Deavers said.
LifeWay spokesperson Carol Pipes said LifeWay remains committed to serving customers through a network of partners and online services. The LifeWay Authorized Dealer program launched June 1, offering independent retailers the opportunity to stock LifeWay branded content including, for the first time, LifeWay imprint Bible studies. To date, 277 stores have joined the program, placing LifeWay products in 14 new states and 90 new markets.
Blessings Christian Store in Prattville and Christian Book and Supply in Oxford are among the authorized LifeWay dealers in Alabama.
The LifeWay church ordering system also allows churches to manage their curriculum and literature orders and pastors and church staff can sign up for the same discount they received in the stores through lifeway.com/churchstaffdiscount, Pipes said.
In addition, LifeWay has expanded its customer service center staff, added an enhanced live chat experience to help customers select the best resources and expanded access to its materials to include distribution through Amazon Marketplace and partnerships with retailers like Walmart, Mardel, Books-a-Million and Christianbook.com.
LifeWay has an “incredibly bright future,” said the organization’s new president and CEO Ben Mandrell, and will keep the mission and the message of the gospel the same while adjusting its approach.
“We want to celebrate the gospel of Jesus that has transformed our lives,” he said. “As long as we keep that the main thing and create resources where people in every part of the world can experience the life-changing power of the gospel, LifeWay will never be without work to do.”
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