Every church should have a well-stocked bookstall for at least two reasons. The first is that God uses good books to change lives. Thousands of Christians can testify to that. Perhaps you’re one of them. The second reason is that the church is full of busy people. Too busy, sometimes, to drive into town and spend thirty minutes browsing through the hundreds of books in their local Christian bookshop, trying to find a book they hope will be helpful. But not too busy to spend five minutes after the morning service glancing through the carefully selected books on their church bookstall.
Do you think your church would benefit from a bookstall? Is an existing bookstall a neglected area in your church? Here are some ideas on how a successful bookstall might be run.
Get support from your elders
If the elders are not behind you, your bookstall will never get off the ground. Like you, the elders will want to get good Christian books into the hands of their members, so ask for their support. Ask them if they have read this articl. Don’t continue until you have their backing.
Get support from your local Christian bookshop
Every good Christian bookshop should allow you to take a small number of books on ‘sale or return’—as long as you take good care of them—and give you a discount on every book you sell. It is important to treat the bookshop manager well by paying your bills on time, returning your unsold books in good condition, and not holding on to your stock for too long. Don’t be tempted to overstock your bookstall. In a small church, fifteen books will probably be enough. Larger churches may need up to forty. Too many books, people will be spoilt for choice.
Get good books
Sadly there’s a lot of rubbish in what passes for Christian books, so be careful in your choice. You won’t be able to vet every book before you sell it. There may be some authors and publishers you know you can trust. Read reviews in good evangelical magazines. Ask your pastor to recommend books. Don’t believe everything you read on the book cover! If you’re not sure a book will be helpful, leave it on the shelf. You can always do a bit more research and get it next time.
Make your books accessible
If your bookstall is halfway down the narrow corridor that leads to the toilets, you’re not going to sell many books. Find a position that is easy to access for all in the congregation, and where people can stand and browse without getting in everyone’s way. Get some shelves put up, or buy a bookcase. There won’t be many areas like this in most churches, so this is another reason why you need your elders’ support.
Keep books in everyone’s mind
Most people will quickly forget about the bookstall. Don’t let them. Ask the elders for permission to do a regular two or three one minute book reviews during a service. Encourage your pastor to recommend books during his sermons. If you have a notice sheet, recommend a ‘Book of the Week’ and write three sentences why you think the book is worth reading. Perhaps your best customers will be willing to contribute a mini-review.
Make sure your books are relevant
You may think that John Owen’s sixteen volumes are a must-read for every Christian, but the newly-converted mum with four young children would probably be better advised to start with something else. Make sure your bookstall stocks it. Have you got children in your congregation? Have books for them. Are there adults who find reading difficult? Some short, easily-accessible books will be just what they need. Do you have a self-confessed bookworm? A 600 page hardback may be right up his street. Jane is looking for a commentary to study in her quiet time. Bill is after a biography to read on the bus. Sarah wants a theology book to chew over. Jim needs something really practical to help him become more like Christ. Ted wants an evangelistic book to give away to his friend. Your bookstall must have something for all of them.
Remember, every little helps
Do all that you can to make it easy to use your bookstall. Keep the shelves tidy. Be willing to answer questions and listen to suggestions. Make sure books are priced clearly. Provide book order forms for people to request specific books (you can phone the bookshop to place your order, and collect the book when you change your stock). Provide a box where people can put their money. Provide IOU slips for folk who don’t have any money with them. Provide a pen so that people can fill in the forms, and tie it to the bookshelf so no-one runs off with it!
Keep the bookstall fresh
No-one will visit a bookstall where most of the books have been around for months, so change all your stock regularly—every four to six weeks is usually best. Get this changeover announced in advance. You may have a flurry of last-minute sales, and create some expectation for the new books.
Use your bookstall to support your church’s wider work
Is your church looking to encourage personal evangelism? Then give a half-price subsidy on evangelistic books that are given away to friends. Is there an approaching church mission? Order a dozen copies of a good book on mission, and negotiate a better discount. Is your pastor starting a new series in his preaching? Ask him to recommend one commentary he’d like the congregation to read. Is there a particular issue the church is looking to address? Ask the elders to recommend a book that would help. Are there problems that your pastor knows many are struggling with—assurance, marriage, or prayer? Make sure something helpful is available. Keep looking out for opportunities.
Pray for the work of your bookstall
Like other ministries in the church, running a bookstall needs prayer. How will you know that next week a non-Christian will come into your church and be really helped by a book about how to get to heaven? How will you know that one of the church-members is struggling to stay on course, and the book you almost didn’t get is just the one God will use to rescue them from backsliding? You can’t know these things, but when people pray, it’s just the kind of thing that seems to happen. And, if your church doesn’t have a bookstall, pray that the elders will be given a vision for one. And pray too that someone in the church would be given the burden to run one. And don’t forget to pray, ‘Lord, I’m willing for it to be me.’