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.
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!