The publishing ministry of the United Methodist Church (UMC) ended its 2004 fiscal year with a net operating revenue loss of more than $700,000. According to the report, released during the board of directors meeting in Oct. 6-8, much of the loss was suffered because of 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
According to Alexander, big-ticket items, such as sanctuary appointments, apparel/vestments and signs, were down $1.6 million. Additionally, other sales items such as Hero Quest, 2004’s Vacation Bible School curriculum, Exploring Faith and PowerXpress, and Cokesbury specialty imprint, were undersold.
"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."
Nonetheless, Alexander explained that the ministry had numerous successes in the past year as well; the gross sales amounted to $114 million. Also, the planned spending and stewardship of financial reserves helped offset the “sales miss.”
According to Ed Kowalski, senior vice president in sales and marketing, the decline in number of people participating in bible classes in all levels led to the general decline in the sales of the congregational resources line.
"A second factor in this arena, particularly in vacation Bible school, is the aggressive competitive environment," said Kowalski. "As we have seen this year, one misstep in product development and/or execution can cause a significant sales miss."
For the next year, the publishing ministry announced that it will launch two new campaigns to buck the downward trend.
The first campaign, entitled Worship Connection, will address the needs of clergy and pastors to keep up to date with the modern worship styles. Worship Connection will provide a one-stop place to find worship-related resources, and will include a website: www.worshipconnection.cokesbury.com
The second campaign, entitled “Sunday School: It’s for Life” will address the significant decline in Sunday school attendance.
"Wonderful things happen in Sunday school," said Harriet Olson, senior vice president of publishing. "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."
"Sunday school won’t maintain itself," she said. "There must be a connection between faith and daily life."
"There are not two more essential things to our mission than Worship Connection and Sunday School: It’s for Life," Alexander agreed. "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."