Christian Retailing

Vital Signs: Church sales Print Email
Written by By Jim Seybert   
Monday, 07 December 2009 03:44 PM America/New_York
Connecting with congregational consumers

VitalSigns-leadgraphThe emergence of church-based retail stores remains something of an enigma to many traditional retailers in the Christian products industry. Our latest Vital Signs survey looked at the relationship between church and non-church stores and their customer bases, and some of the opportunities that are available.

Here is what we found:



Two-thirds of non-church retailers recognized church stores as having "untapped potential," and three-fourths said that church stores "introduce new shoppers to Christian products."

At the same time, a majority (58%) of non-church retailers regarded church stores as competition for shoppers, with 54% seeing them as a "siphon" of good customers because parishioners would "rather support their local church."

More than half (57%) of traditional retailers have identified at least one church in their general trading area that hosts a retail outlet on the church campus. Of these, 30% were described by traditional retailers as being "full service" and open to the public on a regular basis, while 51% were seen as having a limited selection serving only the immediate "church community."

While most traditional retailers described selection at local church stores as being more limited than their own, two-thirds acknowledged that the church stores stocked denominational and self-published items they typically would not carry.



Despite their on-site convenience, many church retailers reported that they did not function as the "go to" order desk for curriculum and staff needs.

Less than one-fourth of church stores (23%) placed orders for Vacation Bible School material for their church, and only two in five (39%) handled their congregation's youth Sunday school material purchases.

On the other hand, nearly two-thirds of church stores said that they were a resource for their pastors' reading needs, and a whopping 85% of church stores identified themselves as the purchase point for their church's small group material.



A majority of non-church retailers admitted that they did not pursue active relations with local churches. In retail markets where there were no identified church-based stores, 65% of retailers said they seldom or never supplied local pastors with product samples, while three-fourths did not host any clergy appreciation event.

Among stores that did report reaching out and marketing themselves to local congregations, 55% sponsored regular book tables at churches, provided meeting space for church groups and sought announcements in church bulletins, worship guides and newsletters.

One retailer described a systematic approach, with a church relations team visiting local churches to promote the store. Staff also put on events, forums and training for local churches and offered a church program that promised to beat Amazon prices by 2% in return for a yearlong commitment to buy church resources through the store.

What does the future look like? A significant number of vendors, consumers and other non-retailers participating in the survey suggested that the future should involve fewer volunteer workers in church stores and closer ties between church stores and established local

Many also agreed that church stores are and will continue to be as diverse as the congregations they serve.



Vital Signs is designed to generate meaningful conversation among industry participants. Next time you have a chance, talk to your colleagues about this report, and ask for their thoughts on connecting with more people by pursuing a church-based retail opportunity.

  • Suppliers: Do you have a specific strategy for meeting the needs of people who shop in church stores?
  • Traditional Christian retailers: Where do your goals and the goals of the local church store intersect?
  • Traditional Christian retailers: If the church store in your area is strong, what do or can you offer that they don't?
  • Church stores: What are you doing to raise the professionalism of your volunteer staff?


Jim Seybert is an author and consultant living in Arroyo Grande, Calif. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..