Former LifeWay CEO received secret $1,000,000+ severance after 8 years of multi-million dollar losses

Secret Severance Agreement included gift of a car

REPORT: Trustee Chairman who authorized secret package published multiple books with LifeWay

In another case of church ministries following after the culture, the former LifeWay CEO Thom Rainer received a secret, $1,000,000-plus severance package after running eight straight years of multi-million dollar losses at the Southern Baptist Convention publisher.

According to Will Hall of the Baptist Message, “During his tenure at Lifeway, the $500 million publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention experienced eight consecutive years of multi-million dollar losses prior to Rainer announcing in 2017 his intention to resign in 2018. He stayed in leadership through February 2019, the month before the announced closing of all 170 LifeWay bookstores. A Baptist Press analysis of LifeWay’s 2010-2017 audits showed ‘total operating expenses exceeded sales,’ growing in deficit each year from $2.3 million to $35.5 million.”

And as we reported in our stories on the leaked memo and leaked audio, LifeWay trustees were not informed about this secret, sweetheart severance package. And the package was approved by then LifeWay trustee chairman and current trustee Jimmy Scroggins.

Will Hall explains the interesting links between Scroggins and LifeWay.

“Lifeway has published materials by Scroggins in 2016 and 2020 and a book is slated for release in 2021, according to advertising on lifeway.com and amazon.com,” Hall reported. “The leaked memo explained that Scroggins had agreed to retain Rainer as ‘an employee of LifeWay and provided him with full salary and benefits until Oct. 31, 2020 and gifted him a new car.’”

You should read the rest of Will Hall’s reporting on this. It is important. It even includes details about LifeWay’s interesting real estate decisions and how it paid a premium for the hip location of its present headquarters.

All of that while LifeWay was bleeding money.

LifeWay’s losses forced the organization to close its retail stores. In March of 2019, LifeWay announced it would shutter all 170 of its brick and mortar stores.

Cost cutting continued in 2020 as the COVID-19 Pandemic required LifeWay to find additional savings.

But, until this dispute over the non-compete agreement, Rainer was receiving his severance pay. In fact, that caused new LifeWay CEO Ben Mandrell some problems as he was forced to tighten the belt during the Pandemic.

In the leaked audio, Mandrell said, “So, I picked up the phone and called Dr. Rainer and I said, I had to have a hard conversation with him that my conscience would not let me rest and I asked him to give back a portion of the money he had been receiving from LifeWay so that we could save some jobs.”

Rainer rejected returning his golden parachute. And it would have remained secret were it not for the public dispute over the non-compete.

Which prompts us to wonder: What else is secret in the SBC?

We need a forensic audit of all our SBC entities and we need it now.