As I begin this post, I have a confession to make: I love Christian bookstores and always have. Maybe it’s because my first job as a thirteen-year-old was in one, or maybe it’s because I just love to read Christian books. In any case, I’ve been dismayed of late at the rampant media attention to the apparently imminent demise of the local Christian bookstore. In response, I want to share ten reasons why I still love the local Christian bookstore and probably always will.
1. It is a place of Christian ministry in the midst of a secular retail landscape. What other retailer do you know that makes its primary purpose “to make evangelical Christian literature available so that people may come to faith and maturity in the Lord Jesus Christ”? This distinctive makes sharing the good news of the gospel a primary job function for everyone who works in a Christian bookstore.
2. It is a place of refuge in a hostile world. Having worked in and around Christian bookstores for the last thirteen years, I cannot count the number of times I have heard a customer say, “I love to come here because it is so peaceful.” It may not be exactly the same atmosphere as Panera Bread or Starbucks, but in a real way it is a “third place” for tired and harrased people to find a moment of respite in the midst of their day.
3. It is a place of knowledge that can lead to personal growth. People will spend hours in a Christian bookstore exploring the resources available to them. I have seen people actually sitting on the floor in the aisles in our stores, not because there are no seats, but because they want to spend time in that particular book section. There are also pastors wh0 could not afford to go to seminary who have gotten much of their theological education in and through Christian bookstores.
4. It is a connecting point for the Christian community. Very often in the hustle and bustle of our lives we do not make enough time to connect intentionally with others. I have been amazed at the number of times that people have “found” each other in our stores. Even people and pastors from various denominations who would not normally ever interact find the Christian bookstore to be a neutral place to connect. Somehow this has always seemed to me a small picture of what heaven will be like when all the labels are gone.
5. It is an information clearinghouse. New employees in our Christian bookstore are overwhelmed by the expectations of customers at what they are supposed to know. They are asked to find a CD based on a few hummed bars of a song or to find a book based on one word in the title or even the first name of an author. Most of the time, our employees smile and find what people are looking for or do their best to research it. The local Christian bookstore is also expected to be the hub of the local Christian community and therefore aware of all the local Christian events and activities going on at any given time. What an incredible responsibility.
6. It is a house of prayer. Our store employees begin every day in prayer and find that prayer is the key ingredient in the life of the store on a daily basis. It is not unusual to walk into a local Christian bookstore and see staff praying “out in the open” with customers. What other retail store offers prayer on the spot as an option for the consumer? This hallmark of the local Christian store can lead to extensive ministry opportunities in the community as people open up about their problems and concerns.
7. It is a resource and solutions provider. It is quite a normal occurrence for someone to come into a local Christian bookstore with one idea of what they want and to leave with a completely different set of products and resources. As team members in the store assess the needs of the customer, these conversations can lead to effective solutions to the problems expressed that would never have occurred to the customer themselves—e.g., a person who attends a “King James only” church may leave with a parallel KJV/NIV Bible rather than the latest KJV they were told they “had to have.”
8. All that great Christian stuff is available in one place right now. I am always amazed at the number of customers who come in on Saturday needing a product for that Sunday. They seem to expect that we will have it in stock, and very often we do, or we are able to suggest a better alternative. How satisfying to meet a need from our wide selection of products which are not available at the local Barnes and Noble or available quickly enough from Amazon.com.
9. It is a great place for bookstore team members of all ages to grow in their Christian walk. Helping other people find Christian resources is one way to grow spiritually. I already loved books before I joined CLC, but after working in our stores for a while, I learned to love Christian books in a whole new way. Customers ask lots of challenging questions about Christianity, and this provides a great oportunity for learning and personal growth.
10. It is a place of positive influence in the local community. I will never forget the date of September 11, 2001, as the day that we were able to show our faith in a more public way than I had ever experienced. Our entire team and many customers formed a prayer circle in the parking lot of our local Christian bookstore and prayed for half an hour, many strangers “breaking” the prayer circle as we prayed to make the circle even bigger. When I closed my eyes to pray, we had maybe twenty people in the circle. By the time I opened my eyes, we had over fifty.
I pray that even with the current economic struggles we are all facing, the importance and special place of the local Christian bookstore will not be overlooked. I intend to visit my local Christian bookstore (or perhaps I should call it a resource center) for years to come.