Help Your People Read
Not long ago there were a number of Christian bookstores in our area. There were two huge stores within a 45 minute drive, and a half dozen smaller stores nearby, including one in our mall. All but one of those stores has closed.
Yet people are reading. Barnes and Noble has a large “Christian” section, and Amazon certainly does a brisk book business. In addition, we are blessed with Westminster Seminary’s bookstore, Christianbook.com, and probably a number of others tied to colleges and seminaries. Publishers sell online, as do a number of Christian organizations. And then we still have the occasional “Mom and Pop” Christian book and gift store.
If your people are reading, do you know what they are reading? I just scanned a list of Christian bestsellers and while some might have value, there are quite a few I’d want my people to stay away from. Far, far away.
So how do we help our people read, and how do we help them read the right books? In order to help your congregation become better readers, let me challenge you to open a literature table in 2020.
One of the first concerns people raise is cost. Books are not cheap. But you would be surprised at how much you can accomplish with a $300-$500 budget and two tables in your foyer or welcome center. And you need to remember that books bought are a return of what you spent, so a good deal of the money invested is going to come back to you.
Let me suggest that you approach this in two ways. First, as I have written before, print out copies of good articles for your people to take. In the “Tools of the Trade” blogs I do on Mondays, I try to include articles of practical help for people in your church. Print out 5-10 copies and have a dozen solid articles in a rack on your book table. Change them out periodically to keep it fresh. If you call attention to an article during a sermon or during announcements, you will find that people will take them. If an article is especially helpful, make sure that you do talk about it, explain why it is helpful, and have enough copies for your people to take. When I did this, I found that over half of our adults would pick up the article I talked about.
What’s the cost there? Paper and copier costs. Hardly anything, and you’ll be giving your people some helpful resources. In addition, if they are not readers, you’ll be easing them into a good habit.
The most significant part of the literature table is a small collection of good books. This is not a place for heavy theological books that interest you. It’s a place for books that are concise and attention-getting.
Spend some time looking through Westminster’s bookstore or Crossway’s list of books and you’ll find a host of great resources that can be obtained rather inexpensively. We stocked our table with books like What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert, books on practical life issues, and the superb booklets offered by CCEF. Devotionals like Paul Tripp’s New Morning Mercies are worthy additions as well. We also generally had two or three ESV Bibles on display.
Gradually you can add other books that might be more challenging. But to start, keep a focus on practical helps, biographies, a book or two on Christian history, and such.
You then need people to man the table each week after church and make change. Once you replenish the money you initially spent you can replenish the table. You will probably not sell everything, but you can give away what you don’t sell. If your people begin to read good books, it is worth the couple of hundred dollars you may not recoup in sales.
Speaking of sales, if you buy a book from a discount source and mark it up to list price, you may be obligated to charge and pay sales tax. You don’t want to mess with that. I recommend you sell the books for close to what you paid for them so that you are not making a profit.
Sometime next week I’ll put together a list of my top 20 titles for a book table. But for now, begin to talk to your leaders about helping your people be better readers. You are making an investment in them, but if the money is not there right now for actual books, you can still provide great reading material through helpful articles.
Have a great weekend with your people. May God bless you as you serve him!