Failing to become a major player in a growing market, LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention quietly dissolved its homeschool division last year.
Last January LifeWay’s trade book division, Broadman & Holman, sponsored an exhibitor event on homeschooling at Advance 2006, the national tradeshow of the Christian Booksellers Association.
“I can say emphatically there is a market,” Zan Tyler, homeschool resource and media consultant for Broadman & Holman Publishing, told Christian retailers attending a trade show in Nashville, Tenn. “This is a huge market.”
Last fall, however, the SBC publisher closed the division, dismissing Tyler, hired in 2003 to help B&H increase visibility in the homeschool market by signing up authors of homeschool books and serving as homeschool editor for LifeWay.com, along with others.
Questioned by EthicsDaily.com, David Shepherd, publisher of B&H Publishing Group, issued a statement in October.
“We will continue to publish books for homeschoolers,” Shepherd said. “For the foreseeable future, we will publish our B&H Educational imprint and homeschool-related projects under our B&H Books imprint. As a result of that restructuring we have reallocated resources to strengthen that opportunity and unfortunately part of that strategy included downsizing our personnel.”
LifeWay continues to maintain a homeschool message board with more than 40,000 registered members.
While presented as a financial decision, observers told EthicsDaily.com there seems to be a shift in LifeWay’s attitude toward the homeschool market. Insiders in the publishing industry were saying about a year ago LifeWay was in discussions to acquire a large homeschool curriculum publisher. Instead of making the deal, the publisher now appears to be moving further out of the market.
Elizabeth Watkins of the Southern Baptist Church and Home Education Association, called the decision to close the homeschool division disappointing. “SBCHEA hopes that we can still be of service to Dr. Thom Rainer, the new president of LifeWay, but admit to being baffled by this decision,” Watkins said an e-newsletter.
Derick Dickens, a former pastor who maintains a Web site about family and theological issues, attributed failure of the venture to a lack of understanding about homeschool families.
In general, Dickens said, homeschool families are larger, more conservative and more committed to a “biblical worldview” than members of a typical Southern Baptist church, which homeschoolers are likely to view as trite.
“The problem with the SBC approach to homeschooling is that it was trying to be friendly to the SBCer in the pew but appeal to the homeschool family,” he said. “I think it could be done, but it will be very hard.”
“The fact that the SBC is conservative is true, but are they truly as conservative as the average homeschooler?” Dickens asked. “And would the Southern Baptist Convention truly be able to appeal to this market? I doubted it after reading the first few e-newsletters the SBC sent out.”
But Watkins said she remains encouraged by other developments indicating that SBC leaders are tilting more toward the “Kingdom Education” movement.
Seeking to encourage participation of homeschool families in their annual meeting, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention offered special opportunities for homeschoolers. They included meetings with SBC leaders who have at one time or another educated their children at home: Richard Land of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Malcolm Yarnell of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Jerry Johnson of CriswellCollege.
Similar plans are underway for the SBTC evangelism conference Feb. 5-6.
Watkins also welcomed an apparent growing relationship between BoyceCollege of the Bible at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and TeenPact, a leadership program geared toward involving students in state government.
TeenPact founder Tim Echols is scheduled to participate in a Jan. 19-20 “Give Me an Answer” high school conference at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky. “The overwhelming majority of students involved with Teen Pact are homeschooled,” Watkins said. So this is a clear indication of where Boyce intends to recruit.”
In turn, Boyce Dean Jimmy Scroggins is scheduled as a featured speaker at TeenPact’s national convention May 30-June 4 in North Georgia.
Echols, who led an elective session at last year’s Give Me An Answer meeting, is a former staff member of Campus Crusade for Christ who formed TeenPact in 1993. He is a member of Prince Avenue Baptist Church in Athens, Ga., who has been featured in Baptist Press and interviewed by Richard Land on his radio show “For Faith and Family.”
“TeenPact’s mission is a great example of putting into action exactly what we promote daily here on For Faith and Family,” Land said in the March 3 broadcast. “That is our obligation and responsibility as disciples of Jesus to be salt and light in this world.”
“There’s a lot of homeschoolers that are part of our program, mostly homeschoolers,” Echols told Land. “But we are open to Christian school students or public school students as long as they can articulate a testimony, as long as they know Christ in a personal way.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.