Thomas Nelson Publishers is buying 60 percent of New Life Treatment Centers, the chain that runs Women of Faith conferences.

Women of Faith gatherings drew more than 450,000 people in 25 cities last year—a tenfold increase since they started in 1996. They also attract a key segment of Thomas Nelson's customers.

A number of speakers at the events, including humorist Barbara Johnson and singer Sheila Walsh, are published by the Nashville-based firm. The deal, worth about $13 million, also gives Thomas Nelson (which made $262 million in net revenues last year) a chance to expand into a new marketing area.

Women of Faith conferences, which celebrate God's grace and focus on the emotional and spiritual needs of women, "fit within the vision of the company," says Joe Powers, chief financial officer for Thomas Nelson.

Women at the conferences "are our primary customers," Powers says. "We want to create awareness of our authors and products."

Stephen Arterburn, founder and chairman of New Life, also supports the deal. Thomas Nelson's investment will help support the conferences, which cost roughly $30 million annually, and will help New Life pursue new projects.

The organization is developing a series of new events with Miss Pattycake, a children's ministry leader who is a "female version of Mr. Rogers" featured in the Women of Faith conferences AND videos. New Life is also creating line of books for girls 8-12 called "Young Women of Faith."

New Life also has created a traveling event for children called "The Land of Gnoo," which depicts everyday struggles using animal characters.

Thomas Nelson will not be directly involved in producing Women of Faith conferences. Arterburn and his team do "a great job," Powers says. "We were impressed with the mission of the company and the people managing the company."

Zondervan, another major Christian publishing house, will continue publishing the Women of Faith book series. But as majority owner of New Life, Thomas Nelson will receive royalties from the Zondervan-published books.

The deal doesn't include New Life's non-profit radio programs and 100 mental health clinics. Arterburn says these operations will remain a central part of New Life, which is based in both Dallas and Laguna Beach, California, and that the agreement with Thomas Nelson does not change the organization's focus.

The fate of New Life's Remuda Ranch, a residential therapeutic center in Arizona for women with eating disorders, is not yet clear, Powers says. Arterburn expects the ranch will be sold be cause it does not fit with Thomas Nelson's business strategy.

Arterburn has a long-standing relationship with Thomas Nelson, which published his first book, Hooked on Life, in 1984. Since then, the firm has published more than 20 books by Arterburn. "These are people that I like and know," he says. More publishers may build closer ties with conference operators in the future, says Lynn Garrett, religion editor for Publishers Weekly.

"Authors with seminars or workshops are attractive to publishers because they're out in the public eye," she says. Publishers get "exposure at such events, where they can sell or at the very least promote their books."

Related Elsewhere

See related articles in the Nashville Business Journal and Thomas Nelson's official press release.

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