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Bookstore Community as Christian Family

I have always said that of the eight Evangelical churches in our store’s immediate area, I could walk into six of them on Sunday morning, go up and down the aisles, and get 50% of the names correct.

I have yet to be tested on this, and it’s probably a little bit of hyperbole on my part, but it makes the point that through our connection in the store and our penchant to visit these churches every 2 years or so, we have become acquaintances of a very large number of people. (On the flip side, when we do visit, I often see people I’m sure have yet to visit our store for the first time, but that’s another discussion.)

Twice I have attended the funeral service for one of my customers who wasn’t directly connected to my own church. The one which stands out was a gentleman whose interpretation of Genesis really challenged my own, but he was able to do this in such as a way as to not undermine what I had heretofore believed, and without displacing the core of my Christian faith.

With so many of our customers now “church dropouts” or “nones” I keep playing in my mind with the idea of starting some events just for them. I did this once before with a church plant — we operated for 18 months before I felt the need to put it on hold — and we encourage those people strongly to attend multi-church or interdenominational events as they happen. I also try to steer them back to a church or fellowship of some type that will offer them

  1. Fellowship with other Christians
  2. An opportunity for corporate worship
  3. A place to corporately “hear” the God’s word preached
  4. An opportunity to give to concerns local and worldwide
  5. The ability to join in prayer with others for needs local and worldwide
  6. A place where people can pray for them as need arises
  7. Communion / Lord’s Supper / Eucharist

just to name a few benefits. At the same time I recognize that this is not going to be the desire of everyone I come into contact with. Many had very negative church experiences which placed them in their current situation. Our store may be the only source of Christian community they have right now.

We also encourage people in that 20% to consider starting a backyard/living room/kitchen table Bible study. We have a section of study guides which we purchased in larger quantities that we call “Ready to Go.” The idea is that they don’t have to wait to place an order. If they get an idea at 9:00 AM to do a Bible study with some friends, and by 12:00 Noon they’ve got five or six willing people, they can come into the store at 2:00 PM and purchase five or six copies of something. and start the next day. Call it striking while the iron’s hot…

…There have a few coffee shop meetups, several of my (preferred) hikes or walkabouts, an invitation to a swimming pool (where was that this year when I really needed it?) and many, many times when I was able to introduce one customer to another and those relationships have lasted.

One in particular was a woman who came in the store and the characteristics of her voice and the particular lexical set (word choices) she was using to describe her Christian experience reminded me so very much of another customer. I couldn’t not make the connection. “Do you know __________?” I asked her. She didn’t. I introduced them and they’ve become close friends.

Another time a woman was in the store talking about Beth Moore Bible studies and complaining about the price. (A subject with which I agreed with her wholeheartedly.) Another customer overheard her and said she owns a rather vast library of the DVDs and told her she could borrow them anytime. That resulted in at least three study series being done at the former woman’s church. (And some workbook sales for my store!)

There are the people who need help moving. The person looking for an electrician or a plumber. The guy looking to speak with someone who was an expert on cults. (We’re fortunate enough to have one.) People new to town looking for a church. Families wanting my opinion about the Christian school options. Individuals looking for projects which can become the object of their philanthropic giving. (Not enough of those, though.)

I count these people as my family.

For bookstore neutrality, we’re not members of the various churches in the area we have attended. I’m not sure that helps much, since in a smaller town everybody knows what church you attend anyway. (We’re currently listed in two church directories, closing in a third.) But on paper, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The fact is, we’re members of all of them. (Romans 12:5, Ephesians 4:25b) You in your small corner and I in mine are extended spiritual family for the people in the communities where we serve.

They’re our brothers and sisters.

Tomorrow marks ten years since I first started Christian Book Shop Talk, so this week I’ve been dealing with broader topics. I want to thank Lynda for her kind comments yesterday at the Canadian Christian Retail Insights page on Facebook, and all the others who offer us encouragement both on and off the blog.



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