December 14, 2006
Spending for Jesus
Have you bought your loved one some witness wear for the holidays?
Nearly 12% of Americans spend more than $50 a month on religious products, and another 11% spend $25 to $29, according to a national survey of 1,721 adults by Baylor University, out in September.
One in three Americans surveyed made at least one purchase in a Christian bookstore in 2005, says Baylor sociologist Jerry Park. They’re buying books, music, DVDs, toys, gifts, home décor and “witness wear” such as jewelry, T-shirts and more.
“People feel called to live out a Christian lifestyle beyond going to church on Sunday,” says Cliff Bartow, president of Grand Rapids-based Family Christian Stores. “They want to live it in their work, their ethics, their home and the way they treat everyone in their life.”
With 304 stores nationwide, Family Christian is already the world’s largest Christian chain and is adding more stores in 2007, says Bartow. It competes with big-box stores and Internet sites in breadth of selection (25,000 items) and a presentation “focused on people’s needs,” says Bartow.
… “We don’t want anything in the store that fails to point to Scripture,” Bartow says.
Family Christian is housed in the same Grand Rapids complex as its original parent company, Zondervan. The world’s largest Bible publisher, Zondervan holds the copyright on the most popular Bible translation in America, the New International Version, and provided its modernized language translation as text for a fast-selling audio version voiced entirely by African-American celebrities, The Bible Experience.
Zondervan launched California mega-church pastor the Rev. Rick Warren to publishing superstardom: 19% of Americans, including 25% of women, say they’ve read Warren’s Christian living handbook, The Purpose-Driven Life, according to the Baylor survey.
Ah, lies, damn lies and small-sample, Baptist-university statistics. The Purpose-Driven Life has, according to Warren’s Web site, sold 25 million copies—which could in theory support Baylor’s claim. However, that total includes international sales—so unless this is the most borrowed book in U.S. history, Baylor’s 19% looks very shaky.
Zondervan has a vast stable of popular spiritual and devotional authors such as Philip Yancey (Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?), Ann Spangler (Praying the Names of Jesus) and novelist Karen Kingsbury, whose newest title, Ever After, will be released this winter with a best-seller-sized 200,000-book initial press run.
While the baseline is still traditional books, “We are looking out for the next big voices and multimedia opportunities to engage believers,” says Zondervan president Doug Lockhart, citing videos, downloads and graphic novels.
Not sure I need to read a book to find an answer to Yancey’s question.
Zondervan and Family Christian anchor a western Michigan center of Christian business and philanthropy with influence across the country and worldwide.
“There’s a critical mass of institutions here that emphasize, in the reform tradition, both mind and heart,” says Corwin Smidt, a political science professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids.
There is a thread that ties the region’s businesses and services together, says Lockhart.
“We see a desire out there for a simple, personal Christian, living and engaging the wider culture from a Christian view.”
Which probably brings us back to this.
UPDATE: This week's New Yorker has a nice piece about the bible business.
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