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Publishing House ends year with revenue loss

 


Publishing House ends year with revenue loss

Oct. 11, 2004

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)-The United Methodist Publishing House ended its 2004 fiscal year with a net operating revenue loss of more than $700,000 due to a "sales miss" of more than $6 million.

"We are deeply disappointed in the results, but we are not despondent," said Neil Alexander, publisher and president. He discussed the agency’s performance in remarks to the newly constituted board of directors at its Oct. 6-8 meeting.

Sales of big-ticket items, such as sanctuary appointments, apparel/vestments and signs, were down $1.6 million, continuing a trend that has seen sales drop $2 million since 2002, Alexander said.

Other sales items that came in under budget were Hero Quest, 2004’s Vacation Bible School curriculum, Exploring Faith and PowerXpress-both children’s curriculum-and Cokesbury specialty imprint.

"We use research and testing, but sometimes we just get it wrong," Alexander said. "But we are convicted to pursue our mission because what we have to offer is too important-we can contribute to changing the world."

The Publishing House did have many successes in the past year, he pointed out, including $114 million in sales. Adjustments in planned spending and stewardship of financial reserves helped offset the sales miss, he said. In the past 20 years, the agency has only had five years with a negative net operating revenue.

Ed Kowalski, senior vice president in sales and marketing, said an economy in flux and changing worship styles contributed to the decline in the congregational resources line. Challenges facing curriculum are centered on a decline in the number of people participating in classes at all age levels, he said.

"A second factor in this arena, particularly in vacation Bible school, is the aggressive competitive environment," he said. "As we have seen this year, one misstep in product development and/or execution can cause a significant sales miss."

Board members heard about two new campaigns to address those trends: Worship Connection and Sunday School: It’s for Life.

Worship Connection is a one-stop place to find worship-related resources. It includes a Web site, www.worshipconnection.cokesbury.com, specialty catalogs and teaching conferences.

The Publishing House developed the program after a 2003 survey found that one in three clergy cite major changes in their worship services in the last five years, while half of the pastors at large churches (more than 500 members) cite major changes, said Susan Salley, a Publishing House executive and one of the developers of Worship Connection.

Sunday School: It’s for Life is a campaign to address the significant decline in Sunday school attendance, said Harriett Olson, senior vice president of publishing.

"Wonderful things happen in Sunday school," she said. "Children hear the love of God; youth ask questions and build relationships with God and each other; adults build relationships and learn to hear God’s call and learn to love God in their daily lives."

Olson pointed out reasons why Sunday school attendance is declining:

  • Quality is not consistent from place to place.
  • Teachers need help.
  • Congregations need more teachers.
  • Plans for learning may be haphazard.
  • Participants may not make the connection to their daily lives.

"Sunday school won’t maintain itself," she said. "There must be a connection between faith and daily life." The Publishing House is working with others, including the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, United Methodist Communications, bishops, General Conference delegates, new district superintendents, directors of connectional ministry and the Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s Course of Study program.

"There are not two more essential things to our mission than Worship Connection and Sunday School: It’s for Life," Alexander said.

He told board members the name "United Methodist Publishing House" was "misleading, limiting and distorting."

"We should really be called the United Methodist Resource Delivery Network or, better yet, the Resource Connection for Making and Nurturing Christian Disciples. What we are trying to do is not just produce a narrow list of preferred products and assume that can satisfy the needs for nurture and guidance."

The Publishing House’s mission is to connect people with the resources that can help them do what God is calling them to do, he said.

"The need for change is obvious, it is the pace of change that takes your breath away," he said.

Alexander assured the board the United Methodist Publishing House is ready for 2005.

"2004 is a year to be learned from, but it does not define us."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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