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February 17, 2012 - 

Facing large deficits and lower than expected sales of its new curriculum, Faith Alive Christian Resources, the publishing ministry of the Christian Reformed Church, is making changes in an effort to remain financially sustainable.

For years, Sunday school curriculum has been at the core of Faith Alive, which serves 30 different denominations—the top two of which are the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America.

But a struggling U.S. economy, increased competition, and a decline in loyalties to Sunday school education have created a difficult marketplace.

Mark Rice, director of Faith Alive, said that curriculum revenue from July through January was slightly more than 50 percent behind budget. It is a trend he has seen ever since coming on board at Faith Alive three years ago.

“The challenges of denominational publishing have been going on for some time,” Rice said, “specifically for publishers who primarily produce Sunday school curriculum. . . . We have to realize a new normal, and that’s why Faith Alive has been making a number of adaptive changes in the way it publishes and its publishing portfolio.”

Those changes include expanding its global publishing efforts, expanding its digital offerings, and increasing the number of products available on Amazon.

Efforts to increase curriculum sales include offering churches up to 20 percent off some purchases, including the new Dwell curriculum, and hiring a sales representative who will talk with churches about Faith Alive’s products.

Faith Alive will also seek an increase in ministry share funding. Ministry shares are offerings received from local churches that support denomination-wide ministries.

“We are going to be asking for some increased ministry share funding,” said John Bolt, the denomination’s director of finance and administration, “to get Faith Alive further down the road so the initiatives they determine are appropriate can be implemented and hopefully successful in turning around the financial concern.”

Curriculum today has a much shorter life than it did even a decade ago. In that same period, the importance churches place on curriculum from a Reformed perspective has decreased, Rice said. But that is not to say it is unimportant.

“There will always be a need and a place for a publishing entity in a denomination like the CRC,” Rice said. “The areas of discipleship and faith formation are critical; the unique value of Faith Alive is that it is a catalyst for conversation and transformation. A denomination should be leading the way in creating places and materials that will engage people in talking and learning and growing.”

That need extends even beyond the CRC, Rice said, noting the importance of the Reformed voice in wider evangelical circles.

“We’re confident at this point that the plans we have in place, with God’s help, will lead us into a bright future,” Rice said.

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