Christian Retailing

Zondervan readies Christian retailers for ‘Believe’ line Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 03:52 PM America/New_York

New product campaign grew out of success of ‘The Story’ Bible as churches warmed to longer studies

Believe-Merchandise-Endcap mockupChristian retail chains that saw success with Zondervan’s The Story products are now preparing for a similar campaign with the publisher’s forthcoming Believe line.

The all-church Believe program was created by Shelley Leith, director of church relations for HarperCollins Christian Publishing, of which Zondervan is a part. Trained as a systems analyst, Leith also forged similar campaigns, including The Story and 40 Days of Purpose, which was tied to Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life.

She and Beth Murphy, director of marketing at HarperCollins Publishers, recently worked with senior management at the Mardel chain’s sales conference “to try to leverage bookstore sales to take advantage of the church market to a greater degree,” Leith told Christian Retailing.

Zondervan is challenging Mardel and other stores to build on their church connections. If pastors get the Believe kit, which has all of the curriculum, Leith thinks it will lead to many more book purchases than if individuals just came into the stores.

The Believe campaign is a 30-week program, something that churches are accustomed to now, having gone through the 31-week program for The Story.

“As more and more churches began to do the program the way that it was laid out, they ended their ministry year saying, ‘We want to keep doing church this way. This is creating a hunger in our people for having every member of their family aligned with each other, for doing something for a prolonged period of time—there are many great benefits to that—but coming out of The Story, churches overall were saying we want more.”

The idea for Believe was borne out of talks between pastor Randy Frazee and Zondervan because “there was nothing else out there” like The Story, and churches wanted more of the same.

The Story saw age groups within congregations engaging with the same study as well as cooperation across denominations. Such can be seen in Frankenmuth, Michigan, where churches across town used The Story products and then held a rally together with Frazee as their keynote speaker.

Usually, however, Zondervan holds a day of training for churches in a certain area, walking them through how to use the study for different age groups. Churches from Lutheran to Baptist to Catholic all have engaged with The Story curriculum, and are expected to do the same with Believe.

“There are 10 beliefs, 10 practices and 10 virtues that are explored through the lens of scripture by putting together a complete story from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament along with other ancillary scriptures that describe and explain each one of these beliefs, practices and virtues,” Leith said of Believe. “So the idea is that churches would preach through these 30 beliefs, they would teach though the 30 beliefs at every age level in the church and then an individual could read through in these individual books.”

There is freedom for each church to teach the basics that they would have in common with all Christians, but to expound on doctrines according to their specific beliefs.

“With The Story, they were worried that we were messing with their Bibles, and I think with Believe, they’re going to be worried that we are messing with their theology,” Leith said.

To head off such controversy, Zondervan has filmed a panel discussion  with Larry Hart, a professor from Oral Roberts University; Leonard Sweet, a professor from the Wesleyan tradition; and Don Sweeting, president of Reformed Theological Seminary. The publisher will encourage stores to use it as a promotional piece and churches to view it to answer theological concerns.

Zondervan is recommending that stores keep on hand a loaner kit for churches to let their leaders take home and use.

Stores then need to “be prepared to offer discounts on bulk purchases to encourage the churches to send their people to your store or the church could buy them from your store and then offer that discounted price to their people.” Leith said.

Zondervan is planning a lengthy product rollout. In December, books for each age group will be available and then in 2015, the curriculum comes out in May and the church kits in September.

Believe can be run in three 10-week segments. The publisher has been marketing to pastors since April and started testing the campaign with a group of 30 churches in September.

Leith noted that they are “all reporting incredible enthusiasm, can’t keep the books in stock, record attendance.” —Johnson