Jonathan Merritt: The rise and fall of the Christian bookstore

Jonathan Merritt: The rise and fall of the Christian bookstore

The Culture
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Back in the 1990s, it often seemed that every city and town in America had a strip mall with a Christian bookstore where you could purchase WWJD bracelets and enough devotional books to fill up the Ark of the Covenant. But today, these Christian bookstores are a dying breed. Indeed, it seems we are fast approaching an America where this particular brand of religious retailer will be no more than a memory.

Over the last decade, Christian bookstores across the nation have been shuttering. In some cases, consumers are just less interested in the stores’ God-blessed inventory. But plenty of others are just opting to purchase religious items from online retailers, with Christian bookstores humbled before the same digital market forces that felled secular mom-and-pop bookstores.

The flailing Christian bookstore industry reached code red status earlier this year when Family Christian Stores, touted as “the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise,” declared it would shutter all of its 240 stores across America and lay off 3,000 employees. The 85-year-old chain said that “changing consumer behavior and declining sales” left it no choice.

Given the state of the industry and larger retailing trends, Family Christian Stores’ closure is seen by many as a harbinger of things to come. If trends persist, Christian bookstores may well be destined for the history books.

But Christian consumers should not let their hearts go troubled. This trend may turn out to be good news for the faithful.

Christian publishing has long been a presence in American life. But it was a renewed desire to evangelize the world following World War II that fueled the modern rise of Christian publishing, which focused mostly on Bibles and gospel tracts at the time. In 1950, the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) formed in response to the growing need to connect and equip Christian product providers in the marketplace.

As time passed, religious retailers slowly spread across America and expanded their offerings. Then the industry truly exploded during the 1970s, and the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) was formed in 1974 to help give these new religious storeowners a chance to network and strategize.

This article continues at [] The rise and fall of the Christian bookstore

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