Growth and Attrition in Christian Retailing

The cover of next week’s BusinessWeek is on the business of Christian ministry. “Earthly Empires: How evangelical churches are borrowing from the business playbook” delves into megachurches and high-profile ministries, both sound and unsound. If you have not heard the message of Joel Osteen, pastor of America’s largest congregation Lakewood Church of Houston, TX, then let me offer my brief opinion: It isn’t the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (see “Who is Joel Osteen?”)

The magazine has several online parallels, one on the Christian media market. Left Behind, which was rejected by several publishers before Tyndale House accepted it, The Purpose-Driven Life and it’s precursor The Purpose-Driven Church, The Prayer of Jabez, and a number of other strong sellers in religious non-fiction have convinced corporations to wade or jump into the Christian publishing pool. Left Behind alone “brought in more than $650 million and helped establish Christian fiction as a huge market.” Now if only we could publish something truly worth reading.

Thomas Nelson has styled New Testaments as fashion magazines, spinning the timeless Scriptures as modern advice, and found the market they wanted. Now they have several versions of “Bible zines.” I shouldn’t complain when things like this are published for willing buyers. I probably should hope they do someone some good. But I’m not encouraged by a Christian retail industry which seems to pursue trinkets over gold, elementary Sunday School over seminary, local bluff view over Grand Canyon. I want to hope for the best, but this paragraph captures my impression of the majority of the industry.

“I write for the people who don’t like to read,” says inspirational author Max Lucado, who also pastors a megachurch [and] has sold more than 40 million books.

BusinessWeek reports that Christian books and music are now a good percentage of media sales in large discount stores, like Walmart and Target. That’s good for the publishers, but has led to the closing of almost 1000 Christian bookstores over the past few years.

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