Christian Retailing

INDUSTRY INSIGHTS: Our greatest challenge, our greatest opportunity Print Email
Written by Staff   
Tuesday, 09 June 2009 10:43 AM America/New_York

Since college, my personal and vocational passion has been to help people discover the power of great Christian content in their lives. I became a Christian at the end of my freshman year and immediately began reading the Bible my roommate gave to me.

Not long after, I visited our local Christian store and met the new owner, Steve Potratz. During our conversation he recommended that I read The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. Every time I visited

the store Steve would recommend another book.

Soon, I discovered that I was learning and growing more from the books I read than I did by attending church. I realized the Holy Spirit was applying the truth of the words on the printed page to my life in a significant way, and I wanted my friends and brothers and sisters in the Church to have the same experience.

Recently, I shared my passion for this literary discipleship with a friend from church. Doug leads the Faith at Work program for believers at the local offices of a large international conglomerate where he is a top executive. He also leads a small group at our church-and he loves to read.

I mentioned to Doug that I see myself as the primary audience for Christian content, and yet I rarely receive any information about what is being published outside of that I receive as part of my work life.

Like him, I would be considered an "active Christian." I attend church regularly and have served as an elder and a small group leader. I read the Bible, pray regularly and freely and enthusiastically share my faith with non-believers.

I asked Doug how he would normally hear about Christian books. He chuckled and said, "I would ask my friend, Mark". (In fact, I just sent him a list of books to consider for his small group, last night!) Doug said he hadn't really thought about it before, but realized he too rarely hears about Christian resources.

I have been asking this question of committed, non-vocational Christians for the last 25 years and the vast majority have the same response. We are blessed with a plethora of resources, and the freedom to disseminate them widely, but there are still so many people who don't even know they exist.

It appears that a lot of us don't use the media where Christian suppliers' marketing messages are typically sent out. I don't listen to Christian radio, watch Christian TV or read Christian magazines. With few exceptions, I only hear about Christian conferences and events through my work. At home, my wife and I occasionally receive a mailer from our local Christian store, but it's easily lost in the deluge of catalogs, circulars and junk mail we receive.

I believe the market for Christian books is far larger than the core audience we usually talk to. We have had some examples of this through mega-sellers like The Purpose-Driven Life, which has now sold well in excess of 30 million copies. Much of the initial messaging for this book came through the unique 40 Days of Purpose Church program. Regardless, there were over 30 million people interested and willing to buy a book heavily laden with scripture. I wonder how many of these people ever received another message about a Christian book?

According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, 76% of the U.S. population identify themselves as Christian and 50.9% claim to be Protestant. A 2007 AP/Ipsos study showed 75% of the population reads books. Two-thirds of these readers say they read the Bible and other religious works. Yet, according to data from Pubtrack Consumer, Christian books command just 4.7% of the average book consumer's wallet. The potential for ministry, discipleship and growth is staggering.

Going through difficult times encourages us to innovate. Publishers and retailers all over our industry are rethinking how to do their work. Now is the time to actively and creatively develop new ideas and strategies to reach beyond our current customer base, to communicate with people like Doug and me and countless others who would be interested in, and whose lives would be changed for the better by, our content.

- Mark Kuyper, President/CEO, Evangelical Christian Publishers Association

ECPA, Web site,