A few days ago, Lifeway Worship announced they would be permanently closing their service on September 30, 2023, with the last day to purchase content being on August 31, 2023. Lifeway Worship was launched in 2008 alongside the Baptist Hymnal 2008 as a way to have a hymnal “with no back cover.” With over 3,000 songs and the ability to add instrumental parts for a variety of instruments, Lifeway Worship has been used by Southern Baptist worship pastors for years as a one-stop resource for worship planning and musician development.
The reasons for this decision were not disclosed by Lifeway other than to describe their “goal of best stewarding our resources to serve Christ’s church even as some needs of the church may change over time.” All Southern Baptists are aware of Lifeway’s challenging financial path the last several years, including Glorietta and Ridgecrest Conference centers being sold and brick and mortar stores being discontinued. It is important to remember that Lifeway is not supported by the Cooperative Program; they make their money through the sale of their products. So, I am certainly not in a position to question Lifeway’s financial evaluation that led to this decision, and I’m certain that Lifeway is sincere in its desire to best serve the needs of the church in a way that is beneficial to Southern Baptists and healthy for their bottom line.
With that being said, this is sad, sad news. Worship is central to the Southern Baptist Convention. We are a group of churches who partner together for Great Commission cooperation so that the spiritually lost of this world will be saved and enter a life of worship to our Creator God. From our preaching to our music to our prayers to our Scripture reading, the worship of the local church defines who we are and what we are about. The entities of the Southern Baptist Convention exist for the cooperative purpose of making disciples who worship in healthy churches. For that reason, it is disheartening to see an SBC service devoted to the practical implementation of weekly worship come to an end.
Even more confusing is the timing of this announcement. Worship leaders were given a small window of time to study, experience, and move to a different platform for worship planning. The Annual Meeting of the SBC was just a few weeks ago – would it have been possible to provide a Q&A at the meeting as a precursor to this announcement? Are there any future plans for an online worship service to aid SBC churches in their worship planning?
For my church, this is a significant hit. Graefenburg Baptist Church’s worship pastor, Dr. Jay Padgett, is a lifelong Southern Baptist. He has been faithfully serving at GBC for over 20 years as our Pastor for Worship. In 2008, he ordered the Baptist Hymnal 2008 and started using Lifeway Worship for his planning needs. That has been his trusted source for 15 years.
When the news broke, Pastor Jay wrote a gracious email to Lifeway. I asked his permission to publish that email here since I think it is helpful to see how this decision is impacting worship pastors. As is customary for Pastor Jay, the email is beautifully written and kind in its tone. I sure hope Lifeway seeks another path to come alongside pastors and lay leaders as they desire to prepare well for our worship of the Lord.
Pastor Jay’s Letter to Lifeway:
“The difficult decision to discontinue Lifeway Worship” is horrible news!
The announcement was made with sufficient vagueness concerning the “why” (stewarding resources) of the discontinuation. Additionally, nothing was said of “how” Lifeway’s future plans will faithfully focus resources to Southern Baptist church musicians (other than PraiseCharts and SongSelect).
Before LifewayWorship.Com and Baptist Hymnal 2008, I was using six different resources for worship planning and music selection. But LifewayWorship, with a single resource, made my professional life as worship pastor much easier and enjoyable. LifewayWorship has helped my worship band to continue to grow from keyboards, guitars, and drums with the publication of additional instrumental parts, including charts for the faithful musicians that play alto sax, flutes, clarinet, violin, and cello in worship.
Mike Harland’s introduction to Baptist Hymnal 2008 echoes in my mind: [Baptist Hymnal 2008 is] “the first hymnal of its kind to have a corresponding digital and web-based version. lifewayworhip.com has been developed concurrently with this print edition and includes even more songs and visual resources to complement this volume. And, we are committed to updating this material on the Web so that, in effect, we are creating a hymnal with ‘no back cover.'” Mike, if you are reading or listening, I hope in some fashion your words come true – again.
Man alive, I hate this. Here’s hoping and praying for a plan to resource SBC church musicians on 1 October 2023.