Faith Alive Experiences Financial Crunch

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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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Melissa Holtrop

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Comments

My church (along with several other CRCs that I'm aware of has chosen to go with the Orange Curriculum. It's hard to compete with a "big box" curriculum developer like this. Orange puts out videos and smartphone apps that Faith Alive simply can't match on limited resources.

It surprises me that FA just recently decided to hire a sales representative. How were sales accomplished without sales people? I receive weekly emails and monthly calls from our curriculum developer asking if there's anything they can do for us and to make sure I was aware of all the latest materials. I appreciate the customer service!

Perhaps in the future, I'll receive calls and emails explaining why FA's product is superior for my church.

Requesting and receiving an increase in ministry shares does not solve the problem. It might keep FA afloat for a short period of time, but FA need to change to meet today's changing world. Certainly digital media needs to be exploited, and if requirements for "Sunday School" material is drying up, then look for additional opportunities outside of "Sunday School".... there are certainly lots of needs to Christian Education material outside of the traditional Sunday School. It seems that FA has already taken some of these steps... but more drastic steps need to be taken to keep this a viable ministry.

Unlike other CRC agencies, Faith Alive generates an income through sales of materials. FA should be the most financially sustainable agency, yet we are giving FA ministry shares while feeding hungry families via CRWRC receives zero ministry shares. Something is wrong with this picture.

Actually, a strong case can be made as to why Faith Alive should have strong ministry share support. Do we want FA to be a servant of the CRCNA or a slave of the market place? Publishers today are only interested in potential best sellers that will turn a profit. That's not what we need from our denominational publisher. We want materials that are Reformed and in tune with the needs our churches. Those will not always be "best sellers" in the market place. We need to be careful about letting our churches be taken in by the enormous advertising budgets of the big box publishers. I for one am glad to see FA brought in from out of the cold and back under the umbrella of an in-part church funded ministry so that it can produce what we need!

It is important that people are putting their heads together to make sure that FAITH ALIVE can continue its work in producing curriculums and especially ones on the caliber of DWELL. The challenges that face children today are too varied and intense to spoon feed or force feed with a curriculum keeping them entertained or busy. The backgrounds on the passages that come with each lesson in DWELL give the leader solid footing when preparing for teaching. Each teacher is a dwarf standing on the shoulder of a giant when he or she has reflected on the background introducing the Bible story. This metaphor comes from Bernard of Chartres and it applies to us even more. We enjoy the gifts of preceding ages including Calvin and each theological editor of FAITH ALIVE. Sometimes a child’s struggle in life pops up during a Sunday school lesson and more than once I’ve been blessed with an answer that has arisen out of my preparatory time reading the scripture and the background study. With DWELL we also have the Reformed tips that help me and the children understand the richness of our faith. There isn’t a price to be put on that.

What Gary Pipping said.

It reminds me of the auto industry--"too big to fail"? Are we sure about that?

Wonder whether we cannot come up with better creative options to address financial crunch than hit the "denominational bottle." How long will we survive if any denominational agency facing tough stretches were to count on "ministry shares" to help out?
Henry Wildeboer

We use Faith Alive because it's gospel centered curriculum. So much of curriculum out there teaches kids to be good--and simply uses bible verses to back it up. You could teach that kind of curriculum in a public school if only you removed the bible references. We don't think the gospel is about being good. I hope there is a market for gospel centered curriculum such as produced by faith alive.

I know very little about marketing (as will likely become clear very quickly!), but I was surprised when Faith Alive announced "Dwell." I thought "Walk with Me" was doing well – We use it and certainly like it here. Perhaps it would have been better to keep the focus on that "brand" and perhaps enhance it in some "Dwell"-like ways without creating a whole new product to divide peoples' interest? Just my two cents. (No refunds.)

I'm an RCA-ordained/PCUSA-installed pastor in a small but vibrant Presbyterian church in Minnesota. We've used Walk With Me curriculum for Sunday school (and some other uses) for over five years. The teachers--including 3 high school students teaching preschool and kindergarten--love the materials. We appreciate the Reformed focus, flexibility of ordering options, flexibility in lesson plans, and great customer service. We've ordered other materials from Faith Alive, too, such as the Psalter Hymnal and Sing! A New Creation for our choir, and Sing With Me songbooks for our children's choir. And we will be giving serious consideration to Lift Up Your Hearts. I, for one, am glad Faith Alive exists!

To Aaron and other laissez-faire advocates:
The ministry share argument made by Aaron does not seem to be a fair comparison. I would presume that many or most churches have CRWRC included in their budgets; and certainly many individuals contribute directly to CRWRC too--even non-CRC individuals. Faith Alive isn't going to receive a donation line-item on any church budget, but it's an important mission, too. Come on, CRC people know the importance of Christian Education, right?! ;)

Final rhetorical question: Isn't faith formation which is decidedly Reformed an investment in the foundational theology of the young people who, we pray, will work for the systemic change necessary to reduce or alleviate world hunger?

Hi Everyone. I'm the Faith Alive director. I really appreciate the comments and the discussion and I want to thank you all for weighing in. Since there have been some comments about the ministry share Faith Alive receives I thought I'd provide some detail on that.

Faith Alive (FA) does receive ministry share dollars. What many don't realize is how what FA receives is allocated per past synodical or agency decisions. The majority of ministry shares Faith Alive receives (about 70%) fund the publication of the Banner after it moved from being subscription-based to an every household publication. Another 20% goes to World Literature Ministries, supporting the translation, publication, and distribution of Spanish books in Central and South America. The remaining 10% Faith Alive receives to support its core publishing. And, of course, Faith Alive is grateful for everything the churches do to support their CRC publishing ministry.

Faith Alive’s Reformed materials have been used to educate the children, teens and adults in the Christian Reformed Church for many years. These materials, written from a reformed perspective, shape who we are and how we view our world. Many of the big box curriculums emphasize morals and good behavior. In contrast, Faith Alive ‘s materials help us know about who God is and what our relationship is to him. This helps us to build a faith that focuses on God’s work, not what we do. Supporting Faith Alive as they continue to bring us reformed materials is an important part of being a reformed denomination.

Unfortunately, many churches want something “new” just to have a change of pace and they are swayed by some curriculums with fancy and flashy conferences that pump people up but do not teach in a way that is in line with our theology. Other denominations are beginning to see the value of Faith Alive’s materials but until more of them jump on board or until more CRC churches realize what has been lost by using theologically weak materials we can support Faith Alive with ministry shares.

Denominations exist because Christians hold different interpretations of Biblical truth as it affects doctrine and practice - differences which we believe to be significant enough to warrant our strong seminaries and colleges. The existence of these institutions gives evidence to the Reformed community's ongoing passion for and commitment to the life of the mind as it shapes daily life and practice.

The DWELL curriculum, for example, focuses on the truth that the Bible is our sovereign God's great story of salvation which requires us - from high chair to wheel chair - to lead daily lives of praise, obedience and service.

Indeed, our Christian seminaries and colleges are costly, but necessary. Teaching our children and grandchildren these truths - priceless!

Education from a Reformed perspective is important. But if many CRC churches are using other curricula and not supporting the ministry of Faith Alive, Faith Alive is not able to stay financially stable. So either more CRC churches need to support Faith Alive by buying and using Faith Alive's materials or Faith Alive needs think innovatively about how to be a publishing ministry that doesn't rely on this revenue. If this was an issue three years ago, how has the issue been addressed over the last three years?

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