LifeWay Christian Stores sees pastor as ‘unique communicator’ who is ‘perfect for our vision and mission’
Kyle Idleman remembers frequent visits to the bookstore at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Mo., where his dad was president. While he admits to mostly purchasing candy and gum, Idleman will never forget walking those aisles filled with books and Bibles.
Now Idleman’s own books are on the shelves of Christian retail stores around the country, and he’s come to understand the important link between the stores, customers and his message.
“It’s opened my eyes to the many Christian bookstore owners and managers who see their work as a ministry,” Idleman said. “The bookstore isn’t just a job for them, but a calling to get the right resources into the hands of people who need them.”
Idleman is teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., and author of the March release AHA: The God Moment That Changes Everything (David C Cook). Idleman is also author of the Zondervan best-sellers Not a Fan and Gods at War.
“AHA came from about 15 years of listening to people’s stories of spiritual transformation,” he said. “The book is a journey through the story of the Prodigal Son, with stories I’ve been privileged to hear and those from my own life.”
AHA gets its name from the three steps needed in any true spiritual awakening, Idleman said. First is the “awakening” moment, when someone sees something they hadn’t seen before; second comes “honesty,” when that person speaks truth to themselves; third is “action,” when a person begins to take steps toward change and transformation.
But Idleman’s work goes far beyond a book. He partners with City on a Hill Productions to produce curriculum products that include DVDs, journals, small group study guides and pastor’s kits. City on a Hill Studio markets and distributes those products via its website and through Christian retail stores.
City on a Hill released the DVD series for Idleman’s Not a Fan about seven months before the book came out. His Gods at War study materials came out four months before the book did. Sales were good for Not a Fan: nearly 25,000 study guides, 170,000 journals and 19,000 DVDs sold via Christian stores from 2011 to 2013.
This time, however, City on a Hill and book publisher David C Cook are releasing the book and study materials at the same time.
“Now that we’ve learned a little more, we’re launching the products at the same time,” said Tim Byron, general manager of City on a Hill Studio. “We’re hoping to get momentum behind the series, leveraging the marketing from the publisher and our marketing, cross-promoting the products and getting them in Christian bookstores.”
Mike Salisbury, marketing director for trade books at David C Cook, is delighted with early response from bookstores and readers.
“We see the way people are reacting,” Salisbury said. “We see the consumer getting excited, so we are very happy with early promotions.”
The publisher is planning a book launch March 5 at Southeast Christian, an event that will be broadcast live through the Hub Network, and is working with CBA to give retailers an opportunity to also broadcast the event live. David C Cook is offering bookstores a sampler booklet of Idleman’s work, is making him available to stores via Skype during scheduled events, and is offering signed bookplates for the books. Additionally, Idleman may offer a short devotional via Skype for store employees.
“These are the people he knows are supporting him,” Salisbury said. “Kyle’s heart is in the CBA. We’re trying to be good stewards of his time, trying to group opportunities together, but we’re looking for opportunities to put him in front of people.”
City on a Hill is just as eager for these opportunities. They want to reach retail customers who might see the book first, then make the jump into the curriculum for either their churches or their families.
“We want to tell retailers that our product is unique, but they really have to see it,” Byron said. “This is a whole suite of products that works together, though they can also stand alone. One thing we know is that when people buy one City on a Hill product, they come back. We’ve built a reputation on quality products that make an impact.”
City on a Hill’s AHA products will include the DVD —20 minutes of drama and about 10 minutes of teaching for each segment—to be used in small group or individual settings. There also will be a leader’s guide, journal for individual participants and a pastor’s kit for those who would like to preach through the series.
“This creates a church-wide experience around the product,” Byron said. “We help create an integrated campaign for churches.”
Idleman, too, sees the benefit of Christian retailers understanding that these products have possibility for both small group and family use.
“I would love for Christian bookstores to know that we had both kinds of users in mind when we created the AHA products,” he said. “There is such a strong story element to this material, which engages many different kinds of users.”
Nashville-based LifeWay Christian Resources, which owns and operates 186 LifeWay Christian Stores across the country, recognized Idleman’s appeal when his book Not a Fan took off with customers. LifeWay stores plans to stock all of the AHA products, including curriculum.
“Kyle is a unique communicator, speaker and teacher,” said Donnie Baldwin, LifeWay’s buyer for curriculum and programs. “He really became popular with the 18-35 age group, but the older age groups like him as well. Not a Fan did extremely well, and so did Gods at War. We think AHA is going to do even better.”
LifeWay stores will stock all AHA products from City on a Hill, along with the book, calling the products “permanent fixtures in our stores—books, curriculum, DVDs, pastor’s kits, journals and study guides,” Baldwin said.
“Kyle is perfect for our vision and mission. He’s everything that we would like to see, and every bit of what we’d like to see our customers reading, studying and thinking about,” he said.
The stores will devote prime promotional space for the book and curriculum, positioning them together whenever possible.
“Not a Fan went way beyond our projections, and we feel AHA is on that same level. We’re excited about the potential,” Baldwin said.
Byron of City on a Hill feels the same way.
“Christian retailers are a huge piece of what we want to do because they are closest to the customer,” he said. “We’re so excited about our products. It’s all about connecting the product to the customers.”
Idleman is quick to thank Christian retailers for their work.
“I hear stories about how a book got into the hands of a person who needed it, and often a retailer is the one who made that happen,” he said. “I so appreciate the ministry partnership that takes place between the church and bookstores.”