Christian Retailing

By the Book: Publishers expand reach of small group studies Print Email
Written by Ken Walker   
Monday, 08 July 2013 03:16 PM America/New_York

Abingdon-ThisIKnowForSureParticipants benefit from accountability and accessibility with today’s study offerings

While daily Bible reading may be trending down, interest in small group book and Bible studies remains intense—a fact that one editor believes signals that this market is alive and well.

Recent research, including a survey released last fall by LifeWay Research, has identified a long-term decline in Bible reading. Only 19% of Protestant churchgoers reported reading their Bible daily. However, NavPress Senior Editor Jeremy Maxfield pointed out that weekly (59%) and monthly (82%) Bible readership is still high.

“Even if an actual decrease in market does exist, what other business would not try to serve and grow a potential market share of 40% of the nation’s adults engaged in a niche interest at least once a week?” asked Maxfield, editorial director of the company’s church resources division.

Nancy Guthrie, author of the Crossway series “Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament,” attributes this fervent participation to the accountability that helps participants stay on track with their Bible reading.

“We also need the wisdom of those who have studied more than we have and the insights of others to help us to understand and apply what we read to our lives,” said Guthrie, whose fifth title in the series releases next May.

The benefits of this interaction are fueling interest in small groups as well as congregation-wide emphases, said an executive with Abingdon Press.

“With Adam Hamilton’s recently released The Way, a church can launch a fall kick-off with all ages involved,” said Susan Salley, associate publisher for ministry resources. “From a group study and video to worship downloads for sermon preparation to a kids’ app, there are many tools to choose from.”

As church growth through small groups has accelerated—particularly via multi-site megachurches—P&R Publishing has targeted more titles to meet those needs, said Ian Thompson, vice president of sales and marketing.

“If it is possible for a book to be used by a small group, we make it so,” said Thompson, whose company annually publishes 40 new releases, about a third designed for small groups.  

DavidCCook-The30DayPraiseChallengeACCESS AND APPS

Publishers see other trends in small-group studies, most notably DVDs accompanying printed materials.

That is the case with such titles as a forthcoming participant guide and DVD for Joanna Weaver’s classic, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World (WaterBrook Press, Nov. 19); Hamilton’s Love to Stay (Abingdon, August); gospel singer Babbie Mason’s This I Know For Sure (Abingdon, Sept. 1); and the DVD linked to Liz Curtis Higgs’ new edition of Bad Girls of the Bible (WaterBrook, July).

Salley said participation improves with easily accessed material, prompting the Nashville publisher—and many others—to mesh print and video via apps and facilitate online communities.

Still, books can extend the teaching period beyond group time, said P&R’s Thompson, whose company often produces printed studies in partnership with video producers. 

In addition, over-reliance on DVDs can dull group interchange, cautioned Amy Nappa, executive editor for adult and church leadership at Group Publishing.

“While the DVD study is popular with some, there are many others—especially younger adults—who are not interested in someone talking at them,” Nappa said. “They want to participate in the conversation. People never get tired of sharing their stories.”

Not surprisingly, the three latest titles in Group’s “E-412” series this summer are solely comprised of 80-page, six-lesson paperbacks: Better Together, Leading Out and This Means Love.

Likewise-FreeWOMEN AND MEN

Women represent the leading audience for small-group materials, said Jim Stropnik, marketing manager with Concordia Publishing. 

Among the titles releasing this month appealing to women are a pair by author Margaret Feinberg for the “Women of Faith Study Guide Series,” God’s Living Word and In His Eyes (Thomas Nelson).

Harvest House Publishers releases two this month from Stonecroft Ministries, Discovering the Joy of Jesus: A Guide to Philippians and Growing in the Christian Life: A Guide to James, while David C Cook offers The 30 Day Praise Challenge, with Becky Harling challenging women to praise God 20 minutes a day for a month. Questions are online for Harling’s study.

Other studies for women include Becoming Myself (David C Cook, Aug. 1) by best-selling author Stasi Eldredge and The Women of Christmas by Higgs (WaterBrook Press, Sept. 17), which originated with the author’s Bible study blog. 

Studies for men and women include a pair from InterVarsity Press that look at putting God first in one’s life: A Guide to the Blessing Life by Gerrit Dawson (IVP Books, September), a companion to The Blessing Life trade book, and Free by Mark Scandrette (Likewise, August), which includes a group study guide in the book. InterVarsity is also creating eight downloadable Free videos that are accessible by code to those who purchase the book.

Pastor Greg Laurie follows up spring’s Essentials (NavPress) study with Following Jesus in September, and Brett McCracken looks at interacting with popular culture in Gray Matters (Baker Books/Baker Publishing Group, August).

WaterBrook-HavingAMaryHeartParticipantGuideBRAND AND BUTTER

Industry figures see a number of ways to promote these studies, with Maxfield suggesting retailers publicize group discounts. He said the goal is building a trusting relationship, not just a sale.

“When people see (the NavPress) brand, our desire is they know what they are getting, regardless of the author or topic,” Maxfield said.

Before promoting, Abingdon’s Salley said a retailer must understand the particular church’s goals, such as starting home groups, reaching young mothers or reinvigorating Sunday school.

With some programs including a dozen components, Salley said retailers can help leaders see the possibilities.

“One way is to offer review copies so a leader can watch the video and have time to lay out all the resources,” she said. “Another is to direct customers to online reviewing. Many publishers have extensive clips and samples available.”

Nappa thinks retailers should host small-group meetings. 

“Think of it like a book club,” said the Group editor. “Offer a discussion group that uses content from a discussion-based study and see what happens, or post information from local churches to let customers know what churches are offering different Bible studies.”

Enthusiastic responses can fuel repeat business for stores. Many Bible study veterans have contacted Guthrie to relate how her Old Testament series helped them see the “big picture.” 

“They tell me every week they have ‘I never saw that before!’ experiences,” Guthrie said. “These are books that they thought they knew and understood so well.”