The company will sell exclusively online.

Brad Waggoner, the CEO and acting president of LifeWay Christian Resources, an affiliate of Southern Baptist Convention, has announced plans to close all 170 stores operated by the Christian retail chain. Waggoner, who will succeed Thom Rainer, the longtime Lifeway president, has plans to shift all offerings online. It will continue to sell its products through LifeWay’s Facts & Trends website, partner network, and customer resource center.

According to Waggoner, the decision to shut down local stores was a hard one. The LifeWay stores have developed intimate connections with their respective communities and felt honored to serve one and all such addresses. He said that the company would continue to serve local congregations as they quench the spiritual thirst of their neighbors. The move towards digital from brick and mortar comes at a time when the stores have continuously suffered declining customer traffic and actual sales. The affiliate of the SBC, according to Rainer, tried its best to continue with a few of its stores while closing others. The management found out that none of the stores could be kept viable after 2019. The current president insisted they did everything possible to save as many stores as possible; LifeWay stores are sprinkled across 30 states in the U.S.

Waggoner confirmed that LifeWay’s retail strategy from now on would concentrate more on digital channels, the sole retail method enjoying robust growth. Potential customers and existing ones can buy LifeWay supplies through LifeWay.com.

LifeWay is not the only Christian retail store to close its physical locations recently. Family Christian Resources, a one-time competitor, shut down in 2017, closing all of its 240 stores due to massive debt and bankruptcy. The same was the case for Cokesbury Bookstores which closed in 2013. The Cokesbury chain operated 38 retail stores. LifeWay had purchased Berean Christian Stores, another noted Christian publishing chain, in 2013.

Such closures have sent shockwaves across the publishing industry. Wendy Lawton, the vice-president of the Books & Such Literary Management company, lamented that the closure of LifeWay is a big loss to the industry. This is as a physical store is not only a place one goes to buy books but also a destination in itself. It is a place to browse books and meet like-minded people. Bookstores, she reminded her audience, are spaces to build quality relationships with others.

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