How the Closing of a Christian Bookstore Chain Can Challenge the Church…
There was hardly a gasp in Christendom when Family Christian Stores decided to close all 240 sets of doors. After battling with solvency for years, the 85-year-old chain filed for bankruptcy in 2015. Citing “changing consumer behavior and declining sales,”1 their investors saw no way for the company to survive and finally closed the books — no pun intended.
While I agree with the initial autopsy that their death was suicidal, it certainly did not come without warning. The last time I visited one of Family Christian’s stores, I waded through racks of “Christian merchandise”, wandered through shelf after shelf of books on mysticism, spiritualism, Christian socialism, contemplative prayers and self-actualization, alongside huge pictures of the celebrity pastors and conference speakers who wrote them, before finally finding the Bibles in the back of the store. Could it be their sales declined because they were more interested in dollars than doctrine, and in trivia than truth?
The same week the news was released about Family Christian Stores closing, two other announcements confirmed my view regarding their demise. First, a Pew Research Center survey2 revealed millennials are more likely to read a book than their parents or grandparents. And, much to this writer’s surprise, they prefer print books to e-books or digital material. While some cited their academic studies as the reason for their love of books, others said they read books for research, to enhance their career, or to help them understand the current events of the day. One bookstore said millennials were buying books of substance, depth and historical reference rather than contemporary relevance.
The second confirmation came in an article on Christianity Today’s website entitled, “Why We’re Still Reading ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ 80 Years Later.” Second only to the Bible, My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers, has had more influence on my spiritual journey than any other book. The daily retracing of these essential issues of the Christian faith helped deepen my devotion to the Lord, solidifying the absolute necessity of daily “nourishing the life of God in me” so He can use my life to nourish others. The reading and re-reading of those lines, year after year, have helped develop convictions I will not compromise, and continue to help in perfecting my walk with the Lord.
My first copy of My Utmost for His Highest was a Christmas present received in 1981. I used it for several years. Even though I use newer copies today, I still return to that old orange, hardback copy to read the many personal notes I made each day. Over the years, I have also given hundreds of copies to new Christians, students, deacons, fellow pastors, and to anyone who expressed a desire to become a devoted disciple of Christ, always enclosing a personal challenge.
In the foreword of My Utmost for His Highest, Robert Murray McCheyne is quoted: “Men return again and again to the few who have mastered the spiritual secret; whose life has been hidden with Christ in God”3 (emphasis, mine).
Hmm…Did a light turn on in your mind? Did bells begin ringing in your ears? For years I have said our youth want nothing less than the unvarnished truth of the Word of God. Contrary to modern thought, writers, speakers, teachers, and preachers don’t have to dumb it down to get them to read it.
Are we more interested in promoting logos and programs than we are in proclaiming truth? It’s worth taking inventory to find out.
Maybe if Family Christian Stores had listened to the wisdom of McCheyne rather than the advice of their marketing agents, 3000 people would not be losing their jobs. If their investors had been serious about distributing the truth of the gospel rather than profiting off the latest so-called Christian celebrity, perhaps lesser-known authors would have been able to offer their books to the larger Body of Christ. If Family Christian’s leaders had committed to advance the Kingdom of God rather than their own, perhaps thousands of millennials would be lined up at their stores in search of those great books to help guide them in their quest for truth.
The same warning needs to be heard and heeded by the local church. According to 2 Peter 1:3 (KJV), God has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him, that hath called us to glory and virtue. If God’s people are to stand firm in their faith against evil and we are serious about keeping our doors open, the church must help plant the roots of faith deep in the revealed knowledge of God and not in the latest futile fads of the faith.
So, let’s conclude by asking ourselves a couple of questions: If a spiritually thirsty millennial visited our church this Sunday, how much program promotion and ministry merchandising would he or she have to wade through, listen to, or view before finally hearing the Word of Truth?
Wayne J. Edwards is a pastor and a writer. He attended Columbia International University and has served as Senior Pastor at Heritage Baptist Church in Perry, Georgia since 2010.
1Zylstra, Sarah Eekhoff, “All 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing”, Christianity Today, February 23, 2017. http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2017/february/allfamily-christian-stores-closing-fcs-liquidation.html, March 18, 2017
2Lafrance, Adrienne, “Millennials Are Out-Reading Older Generations”, The Atlantic, September 10, 2014. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/09/millennialsare-out-reading-older-generations/379934/, March 18, 2017
3Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1935. Print.