LifeWay Christian Resources’ board of trustees authorized a recommendation for the organization’s executive team to pursue viable options for the disposition of Ridgecrest Conference Center and Summer Camps including, but not limited to, transfer or sale to SBC entities, state conventions or other external parties.
The trustee executive committee presented the recommendation to the full board of trustees during a meeting held via Zoom on April 23. The board unanimously supported LifeWay scheduling exploratory site visits with potential buyers.
“This was a painful decision,” said LifeWay CEO Ben Mandrell. “LifeWay’s leaders have prayed over this decision and looked at multiple options to keep Ridgecrest. The more than 100-year-old conference center has a rich heritage and spiritual legacy for Southern Baptists. However, the decision is a necessary one.”
Mandrell said he appreciated the trustees’ support in making this decision. In 2013 LifeWay trustees authorized the sale of Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico.
Ridgecrest Conference Center and Summer Camps hosts 70,000 guests annually for various events involving churches, Christian associations, other ministries, families, and individuals. Among these are several offered by LifeWay, including Centrifuge, CentriKid and Student Life Camps, Black Church Leadership and Family Conference, and others. In addition, Camp Ridgecrest for Boys and Camp Crestridge for Girls operate at near capacity during the summer months.
Mandrell cited changes in organizational strategy, rising costs, and uncertainty due to COVID-19 as reasons for the transfer of the property.
In mid-March, Buncombe County, N.C., authorities ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Ridgecrest has temporarily ceased hosting groups until local authorities lift restrictions on groups physically gathering.
“As a matter of fiscal stewardship during such an uncertain season, LifeWay must control costs and manage resources in order to continue serving local churches in the most effective way,” he said.
“Owning a conference center and the adjoining girls and boys camps requires significant operational and increasing financial investment,” Mandrell said.
“As we’ve been clarifying the focus of LifeWay’s strategic mission, we’ve been asking whether or not owning and maintaining a conference center is the wisest way forward in terms of stewardship,” Mandrell said. “While LifeWay will continue to host camps and events, we realize we don’t need to own a hospitality facility to provide those experiences.”
Mandrell said in order for Ridgecrest to thrive in the future, “it will require a significant increase in financial investment over the next 10 years. We believe our focus must be on the overall sustainability and extension of LifeWay’s core ministry. Owning a conference center will require more financial investment than we can bear.”
He said LifeWay’s preference would be to find a buyer that would continue to offer a Christian conference center environment and the operations of the boys and girls camps. “Due to significant LifeWay investments over the past six years, Ridgecrest is well-positioned for future success under new ownership,” Mandrell said. “Finding a buyer who can make the ongoing investments necessary to maintain Ridgecrest’s current high standards of hospitality and service is the right thing to do for the future of Ridgecrest and LifeWay.”