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Written by Dave Almack   
Tuesday, 05 May 2015 03:08 PM America/New_York

Dave-AlmackEvery Christian retailer serves the community as a missionary

Being a Christian book retailer is a missionary endeavor and always has been. When I first started working in Christian retail nearly 20 years ago, I thought I was a strange creature. I was a “real” missionary raising my own personal support to work in a Christian retail store and working for an organization that had bookstores all over the world.

But I quickly discovered that I wasn’t the only one. Many of my Christian retail colleagues were making great personal sacrifices to work in their stores too. Some were working two jobs, and many had spouses who supported them to make it financially possible for them to keep the doors of the store open. More importantly, we all saw our jobs as expanding God’s kingdom and making it possible for people to experience the truth of the gospel through Christian literature.

A good missionary works hard to understand the new culture they find themselves in and to make the gospel relevant to the people. Great Christian retailers understand this too and work hard to have a highly curated selection of books that are meaningful to their local community. This necessitates understanding what is going on around us. As the world cowers in fear because of ISIS and Ebola, we know that we serve a God who provides comfort and hope, and we have great books in stock that reveal this truth. As people become more and more disconnected from each other, our stores provide a place for them to meet, share their concerns and be reminded what true community is all about.

Far too often Christian retail stores have been accused of being a part of a Christian subculture and immune to trends occurring in the world around them. While some stores can seem insular in their approach to the wider world, most Christian retail stores serve as a vital place of connection in their local community.

Christian retail stores provide a gateway for the gospel and a safe place for people to ask tough questions. More often than not, unbelievers are far more comfortable in a commercial retail establishment as their first place to encounter a Christian than a church. New converts as well as longtime Christians can look for answers to any nagging doubts they have about faith by reading high-quality books from their local Christian retailer—without being made to feel guilty.

The world is changing rapidly. Many Christian retail stores opened decades ago, at a time when America was much more accepting of Christian values. Today, operating a store with the word “Christian” in the name is counter-cultural. We do not share the same worldview as the culture around us, and this is becoming more and more obvious by the day. Despite this, our world cries out for the resources we have on our shelves. Just as in Jesus’ time, people are “harassed and helpless.” Our lives are busier and more distracted than ever, and people need the peace and contentment that only God can provide.

There has never been a more important time to be a Christian retailer. We have a vital part to play in accomplishing the Great Commission in our generation. We are called to make disciples of all nations, and now the nations are coming to our shores in greater numbers than ever before.

At the same time, evidence shows that “Christian” young people who were raised in the church are walking away from their faith in alarming numbers. Our stores can be a place of welcome for the stranger and immigrant and a home base for young adults to wrestle with their doubts.    

What could be more surprising or delightful for the average American consumer than to stumble into a local Christian bookstore and discover so much more than the books on the shelf? We can no longer assume that our customer will primarily be Christian or that those who call themselves Christians actually share our worldviews. This should not be a scary proposition for us, but an exciting opportunity. Every time we open our doors, we welcome in people whom Jesus loves and for whom He died.

If you have ever wondered why you are doing what you are doing, listen to the still, small voice of the Lord. He is calling you to do some of the most vital work He wants to accomplish at this time in history. Your store is on the front line of spiritual warfare every day, and you have a critical role to play. You are not just a Christian business person. You are a missionary.

Dave Almack is the U.S. director for CLC International. He has served as a missionary with CLC for 19 years, and his responsibilities include oversight of the organization’s three U.S. bookstores, three church bookstores, publishing house and mission-sending base. He is also a regular blogger, frequent speaker at the International Christian Retail Show and contributor to trade magazines in the Christian products industry.