Thom Schultz, president and founder of the Loveland-based company, Group Publishing, poses for a portrait with his wife, Joani, who’s the company’s chief creative officer, in the resource library on Aug. 9, 2019. Joel Blocker / for BizWest

Faith fuels Group Publishing founders

LOVELAND — Forty-five years ago, Thom Schultz of Loveland wanted some ideas for his youth group but didn’t find the resources, so he started a ministry magazine called “GROUP.”

Thom, who initially worked at a card table in the spare bedroom, turned what he produced on a typewriter into a multi-platform Christian publishing company with the well-known household name of Group Publishing Inc.

“It was very humble and small,” said Thom, president and chief executive officer of Group Publishing, about the tabloid-sized magazine in its first couple of years. “In fact it was printed on newsprint.”

Thom started Group Publishing in October 1974 with a budget of $500 and over the years never took out a loan or got an investment. He saw the company through many office moves before it settled about 20 years ago at the current site at 1515 Cascade Ave. The moves accommodated the company’s multiple expansions as it added products and services from vacation Bible schools to Christian music videos.

Initially, Thom worked as a television reporter after graduating in 1973 from the University of Colorado with a degree in journalism  — he also freelanced while in college, spending a total of 10 years in the field. He worked by day covering news for Channel 9 and also served as a youth group leader in his church, finding it difficult to come up with good ideas every week for the group. He searched for resources but in the 1970s found there was little out there for youth ministry, so he got the idea that others might need the same help.

Thom started with his magazine solely, then three years into operations added weeklong service projects. He brought in youth groups to help with rebuilding efforts following the Big Thompson Flood, announcing the need through his magazine. More than 300 youth helped while triage on flood victims was conducted in a horse pasture where the company now makes its home. In a way, the company now provides triage for the church.

When the company was about 10 years old, Joani Schultz, now Thom’s wife, joined the company as an editor and later became chief creative officer, overseeing the company’s creation of resources, training and services for ministry and church leadership.

Joani, who earned a degree in social work but worked in youth ministry settings, met Thom at a conference in 1982. A year later, Thom was searching for an editor, and two of his friends mentioned Joani’s name. Thom recalled meeting her at the conference, where she had led a youth ministry workshop.

“Then over time, we got to know each other and found out we have a lot in common,” Thom said, adding that they fell for each other and married in 1984; they are celebrating their 35th anniversary this year and have a son and granddaughter.

Joining Group was a perfect fit for Joani, she said.

“It’s who I am. It’s who we are,” Joani said. “It’s a way we can express our gifts and abilities. And why we’re passionate is because what we do is life transforming for people who experience it.”

Over the years, the company expanded into many areas of ministry, including service projects, mission trips and other types of publishing, such as Christian books, Bibles and curriculums. The company broadened beyond youth ministry to all age groups and provides a full line of resources for churches of all denominations across different Christian perspectives. Those include children’s ministry, adult ministry and church leadership.

The company grew in other ways, too, such as adding conferences for youth groups and youth leaders, day camps and materials for Sunday school curriculums and vacation Bible schools. The company’s VBS, in its 25th year this year, is its largest service reaching millions of children nationwide. It is offered in three different lines every year and also is field tested.

“In the big scheme of things, we tried to be a resource to churches with training events, books and curriculum,” Joani said. “We serve churches all over this country and all over the world.”

Other additions include the Group You institute, which provides online training for group leaders to get certified in ministry, a Youtube channel with Christian music videos, and documentary films and video components for curriculums and online resources. The company, which has camera crews, a studio, audio bay and post-production facilities, has made hundreds of short films for Lifetree Café, a national network of community discussion forums on issues affecting society, plus full-length films across the U.S. and abroad.

Thom and Joani also coauthored numerous books, including “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore” and “The 1 Thing.” Thom directed the documentary film, “When God Left the Building,” founded Group Serves, which organizes volunteer mission trips to help disadvantaged families worldwide, and created a blog and podcast, HolySoup.com, to challenge the status quo.

To have room for the various additions, the company moved to the Cascade Avenue property — there is a 3-story, 90,000-square-foot office building with extras like a café called Lifetree Café, which Thom founded, and an exercise room. There’s also a separate 35,000-square-foot distribution center. The staff peaked 15 years ago at 350, but with the contraction of traditional publishing, Thom cut staff to 170. In March, he consolidated the team to one side of the office building, leaving 40,000 square feet up for lease.

“We have excess space we’re not using for Group,” Thom said. “We’re looking to find a compatible organization to rent the space.”

Group Publishing publishes a fraction of the number of books it used to because people are finding much of their information online and in many cases for free, Thom said. At one time there were 5,000 Christian bookstores and now there is a fraction of that, he said, adding that church membership and participation also is declining.

“Over the years, we’ve had a lot of changing business conditions to cause us to need fewer staff, including some things like the digital influence affecting publishing, both in terms of physical space and how customers get the information they need today,” Thom said. “Demand, especially for how-to books, changed dramatically over the years. We have only a fraction of the number of people working in that category.”

However, the company’s online presence is active, such as at its main domain, group.com, and its other domains of childrensministry.com and youthministry.com, Joani said.

“What’s amazing is how we’ve had to change with the times and grow and learn,” Joani said. “I feel like we’re constant learners of what we need to be doing.”

Thom attributes the company’s success to its desire to listen to customers, finding out their needs and figuring out ways to meet those needs. The company also provides a sound educational methodology in the materials it produces, he said.

“Almost all publishers have the same model of working with authors and packaging and distributing their voice and their messages. That’s a typical publishing model,” Thom said. “We do that, too, but what’s different about us is we have an underlying premise, filters and philosophy that permeates everything we do.”

Another part of the company’s success comes from the culture inside of the building, Joani said. It starts with entering the front door and hearing a moose hanging above the fireplace say things in Thom’s voice, she said.

“You can walk in and feel the vibe,” Joani said. “We have all kinds of things that can engage our staff.”

Tiffany Rogers, staff services director, finds that the culture makes Group Publishing a “special and unique” company, she said

“It’s made up of how we work together as an organization and our innovative practices in terms of our curriculum,” Rogers said, adding that the average staff turnover is 10 years. “They are here because they believe in the mission. Our work has a greater purpose beyond just making a physical product.”

The books, videos and other products Group Publishing produces create life-changing experiences for the users, which impact their lives, Rogers said.

“Even though we’re a business, we’re a business with a mission that has a great impact on the community and all over the world,” Rogers said.

The staff is motivated by knowing they can make that difference, Thom said.

“The number one thing staff would tell you that turns their cranks is the mission going back to making a difference,” Thom said. “(It’s) the idea that what they do day in and day out makes a real difference in people’s lives.”

From the archives

Read Thom Schultz’s profile when he was honored with the 1998 Bravo! Entrepreneur – Loveland

LOVELAND — Forty-five years ago, Thom Schultz of Loveland wanted some ideas for his youth group but didn’t find the resources, so he started a ministry magazine called “GROUP.”

Thom, who initially worked at a card table in the spare bedroom, turned what he produced on a typewriter into a multi-platform Christian publishing company with the well-known household name of Group Publishing Inc.

“It was very humble and small,” said Thom, president and chief executive officer of Group Publishing, about the tabloid-sized magazine in its first couple of years. “In fact it was printed on newsprint.”

Thom started Group Publishing in October 1974 with a budget of $500 and over the years never took out a loan or got an investment. He saw the company through many office moves before it settled about 20 years ago at the current site at 1515 Cascade Ave. The moves accommodated the company’s multiple expansions as it added products and services from vacation Bible schools to Christian music videos.

Initially, Thom worked as a television reporter after graduating in 1973 from the University of Colorado with a degree in journalism  — he also freelanced while in college, spending a total of 10 years in the field. He worked by day covering news for Channel 9 and also served as a youth group leader in his church, finding it difficult to come up with good ideas every week for the group. He searched for resources but…