Christian Bookstores-part 1

25 Apr

I worked in the Christian bookstore industry from 1988 until late 2010.  22 years of my life spent selling, promoting, and consuming the latest in Christian books, music, and movies.  If there’s one thing I know to be true, Christian bookstores are an incredibly unique part of the Christian experience.  You have everything from $250 leather bound Bibles, talking vegetable videos, and plastic wind up trucks with a decal that says “Jesus Loves You”.

But the most interesting part of the Christian Bookstore Industry are the people. The people that work at these stores and the customers who haunt their aisles are some the most colorful characters I’ve ever encountered.  So sit back, relax, and I’ll introduce you to some them.

The Customers

Most of your Christian Bookstore customers, are just your average church goers who stopped in to grab a greeting card or the newest book for their Bible study on Wednesday morning.  Very nice folks that strike you as the average family man/woman.

Then there’s prophecy man.

Every Christian Bookstore has one.  Prophecy man buys lots of books, well, on prophecy.  And not just any old prophecy…END TIMES PROPHECY (cue Vincent Price’s evil laugh).  Yes, the End Times and it’s nearing fulfillment is all this guy (and yes-it’s always a guy) can think and speak of, nothing else can hold his attention.  Often times, Prophecy man will greet you with a question.  Not the “How are you doing?” type of question, no…it’s usually a question like “Did you see what they are doing in China and this whole trade deal?” or “Did you know that the master decoder number for all Social Security Numbers is 666?”…and if warfare is breaking out, you can be sure he’ll detail every last word of Ezekiel 38 to prove to you that this event was foretold and that Jesus would be returning any day.

Yep, prophecy man will spend a lot of time and money in your store.  Which is a mixed blessing for your store.  Nice that he’s a regular customer that will spend most of his money on the books you sell on the topic.  But a mixed blessing, because he will often linger and corner an unsuspecting customer or employee into a drawn out discussion on prophecy.  This poor person is usually too polite to interrupt and will endure Prophecy Man’s latest take on the co-conspirators of the Anti Christ, who is about to emerge.  And the list of co-conspirators is always impressive.  The President, The CIA, Trilateral Commission, and the favorite of all-the United Nations.  According to prophecy man, they are all working for the Beast and are about to unleash the End Times on us all.  The most redeeming quality of Prophecy Man is that he’s willing to pay top dollar for any book on the subject.  Which is unlike one of my other favorite Christian Bookstore standouts….the Missionary customer.

Missionary Customer, unlike Prophecy Man is NOT willing to pay top dollar for anything.  In fact, they barely hide their disdain for moneymaking enterprises and are quick to tell you so.  After insulting you and your means of livelihood, they will spend an hour in your store picking out books, music, and toys they can not purchase on the mission field.  Once they’ve finished, they will march up to the counter, remind you again that they are a missionary.  And proceed to demand for a discount for their newly chosen worldly goods.

The irony in all this, is that Christian bookstores are not highly profitable and that most of your employees at an average store make about half of what an average missionary makes.  But that detail is lost on Missionary Customer.  Probably because they’ve been on the mission field, supported by other working peoples money.  To them money is something that other people have, and we should give it to them.  At least that’s the impression I always got from these arrogant representatives of the Gospel.  Unfortunately for me, the store I worked at did NOT give these very special people discounts.  At this point, Missionary Customer gets pissed and throws the equivalent of a preschool temper tantrum.  Speaking loudly so that everyone can in the store can hear how they are “shocked” or “dismayed” that a “Christian bookstore does not offer a discount to those on the front lines of ministry”.  Whatever…no wonder most missions are not very successful.  It seems most churches have paid good money to send people out as missionaries, so that they only have to deal with this person once every two years.

Last but not least, are your Pastors.  Pastors hate Christian bookstores.  They hate them for a variety of reasons.  Some hate them because it competes with their congregations attention to their golden tongued sermons.  Others hate them because they have other authors and church perspectives that they believe to be false.  And most Pastors hate them because they compete with their church’s book table or in some cases, their own bookstore on the church campus.  But make no mistake, most Pastors hate your store.  As one of my other managers would say after dealing with a pastor (usually her own)  “There goes another arrogant Man of God!”.  She would then turn away and go for the back room so should could decompress with having to deal with one of God’s prim a donas.

The only reason Pastors come to your store, is because you were their last resort.  Which is fine, because the amount of work and insults you endure from Pastor Customer is almost to the point of telling them to shove it-which of course, would mean an extra helping of Pastoral disdain and a pink slip from the owner.  The best you can do with Pastor customer, is smile, and keep telling yourself how glad you are that you will never, ever go to their church.

Anyway, I see that I have much more to say about Christian Bookstores than one post can hold.  I’ll be sure to re-visit the topic and introduce you to the owners and employees of your local Christian Bookstore on our next field trip!

19 Responses to “Christian Bookstores-part 1”

  1. Donald Miller April 26, 2012 at 7:20 am #

    Excellent post. Well-written and very entertaining. I’m looking forward to the next installment. If you ever decide to write a novel, you’ve got a wealth of material.

    • christianagnostic April 26, 2012 at 7:37 am #

      Thanks Donald…I’ll let you know if I ever get around to writing that novel!

  2. Freedom April 26, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    Great post! I worked at a Christian bookstore for a summer between High School and College. What you wrote about the customers is pretty accurate. I remember that during that time the local Christian radio station would play Honestly by Stryper, but would say it was Honestly by Michael Sweet (Singer/Guitarist/Primary songwriter for Stryper) and we would have these little old church ladies come in and ask if we had the Michael Sweet album with Honestly. They got quite a shock when they found out that Honestly was a ballad by a Heavy Metal band…….

    It’s too bad the whole Christian Bookstore industry took offense to the original album art work and forced the band and the band’s label to change it to something boring…….. Luckily I still have a copy of it with the original art work.

    • christianagnostic April 26, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

      To Hell With The Devil…..Yes…..very cool artwork! I remember that we were one of the few Christian Stores that actually kept Stryper on the shelf. Some stores I talked to, kept copies under the counter and would only sell it if someone requested it….like it was contraband.

      • Freedom April 26, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

        Keeping it under the counter – LOL!!!!! I guess they didn’t want the anti-rock crowd boycotting their store. I remember reading and see those guys on TV and quickly realizing they had no idea what they were talking about, labeling everyone as “devil worshipers” and loud, distorted guitars as “music of the devil” even bringing back the old “the tri tone (it was called diablos in musicia) is evil and can not be played” from the middle ages.

  3. thebiblereader April 26, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    It’s funny you right a post about the christian bookstore, cause my wife has saying to me that we should open a christian bookstore, She really likes going to the Christian bookstore. In fact when I got home from where, she went to the christian bookstore, and bought four new bible versions reaction: thanks for buying me a new bible. my HCSB was getting raggedy anyway/
    …What I wanted to say: What the heck do need with another bible, we have like 20 in the back room.

  4. thebiblereader April 26, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    Did you ever have confrontations with KJV-onlyist?

    • christianagnostic April 26, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

      O my gosh , YES….hadn’t thought about our KJV only crowd….that is so going in my next post!

      • thebiblereader April 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

        looking forward to it….What about the different denominations, like the calvinist or armenist.

  5. christianagnostic April 26, 2012 at 4:06 pm #


    It’s hard to imagine now the controversy that surrounded Christian rock back then, considering that so many churches now have rock bands for the worship team.

    I remember we had strict guidelines as to the type of music we could play overhead…nothing rocky. Even Rich Mullins or Amy Grant would draw angry complaints when we dared to play them in the store…

    One way we got around this was to have after hour music parties for our die hard music customers. Usually happened 2 or 3 times a year. Again it’s hard to imagine today (with the likes of the internet and youtube), but you couldn’t even hear good new Christian rock because most Christian radio stations wouldn’t go beyond ballads/soft rock and we couldn’t play it overhead. The music parties helped bridge that gap. We’d have a live DJ, sound system and crank up the latest, greatest Christian rock and all CD’s and cassettes were deeply discounted for a few hours. They were always a lot of fun and good for business.

    • Freedom April 26, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

      CA – Yep, when I worked at the bookstore, there was specific rules about what could be played. That’s really awesome that you all had after hours parties – probably a great way to drive up sales of Christian music. There is some great Christian Rock/Metal out there, unfortunately there’s a ton of crap as well.

      The whole “controversy” back then was just crazy. In reality, it came down to the fact that some people didn’t like that kind of music so they looked for ways to label it as “sin” (which is something the church as a whole has done since Jesus died – don’t like it, label it “sin”)

  6. christianagnostic April 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm #


    “What about the different denominations, like the calvinist or armenist.”

    These came up occasionally, usually more on the Calvinist side….meaning someone very into Calvinism would have a turned up nose attitude towards authors that weren’t Calvinistic. The bookstore owner was Reformed (as was I-to some extent), so the issue wasn’t as pronounced as other stores that seldom stocked Puritan classics or the non-best sellers published by P&R publishing.

    • thebiblereader April 26, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

      I remember at one christian bookstore, I used to go to, they had something called the Calvinist Corner. It’s actually comical when I reflect back and think about it.

  7. Dee Parsons April 30, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    I am having so much fun reading this Christian Bookstore series. Thank you for your incisive look at people who inhabit these venues. I like the comments about versions of the bible. I think people spend more time shopping for them then reading them. Oooooh,look Fred, there is Ed Young jr’s new Bible-The Sex Bible which red letters all verses dealing with sex- we must have it-see here’s a picture of Ed and Lisa in bed on the roof of their church).

    • christianagnostic April 30, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

      Thanks Dee…I’m glad you’re enjoying my musings on Christian Bookstores.

      Ok, too funny about the Ed Young Jr. Study Bible….we used to joke a ton about all the different study Bibles that we’re hitting the market.

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