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Efficient church bookstores function as outreach ministry

Churches can effectively manage their bookstores using integrated retail management software.

By Lauren Hunter

Bookstores have long since been a tool for churches to use in order to further their members’ spiritual education and encourage outreach. Other types of media such as DVDs are popular forms of entertainment and education. And while the Internet is steadily becoming the most common source of information, books continue to be purchased and read in all age categories.

The 2003 Barna Research Group study on Christian books shows that “half of all U.S. adults and teenagers reported reading at least one Christian book in the past year, other than the Bible. Moreover, one-third of all U.S. adults and teenagers purchased at least one Christian book (not including the Bible) in that same time period.”

Many churches view their bookstores as a way to reach out to visitors and provide ongoing spiritual sustenance to regular attendees. Many pastors promote books from the pulpit that are tied into their message, aiming to make a serious effort to help people go deeper in their study of their faith.

Reaching people

For Granger Community Church (GCC) in Granger, IN, books are an important component of their ministry. “Everything we do is to reach people who don’t know Christ,” says Susan Chipman, director of retail services for GCC. With five services each week that reach 6,000 people on average, GCC is no small operation. “Although our bookstore is only 600-square-feet, we do a large amount of volume and provide many resources.”

During a recent sermon series called, “Get in the Game,” senior pastor Mark Beeson highlighted the book, The Essential Bible Guide (Shaw Books 2003) by Whitney Kuniholm, at the end of his sermon and encouraged people to take a deeper look into the Bible through this resourceful book. “This text exposes people to the Bible who might otherwise never pick up and read the Bible itself,” adds Chipman. That weekend GCC sold more than 600 copies of the book, a record for the church.

In addition to sales at the bookstore GCC also puts several stacks of the featured title at the café counter, which allows people to purchase titles even if they don’t make their way to the bookstore.

“We put a stack of the books at the café for people to easily purchase,” Chipman says. “Also, we use a point-of-sale (POS) Bookstore Manager Software RMS system that allows us to sell books and food items at the same register. The POS system is reconciled at the end of all the services and all the data ends up at the same place.”

Retail management solution

While stocking the shelves and making sure the store is merchandised to appeal to visitors and members alike, the real brains behind running a successful church bookstore is the retail management solution that combines point-of-sale technology with inventory management and ordering software.

“We use an inventory management system that enables us to pull reports weekly to make sure we have enough copies of the promoted book on hand,” Chipman says. “And once you’ve been up and running for awhile, this software will look at trends for you, which is great. You don’t have to manually manage this all the time.”

At her previous position Chipman used a different software system that kept track of sales well enough but didn’t have the ability to project out what to order and wasn’t built to handle the special requirements of a church bookstore.

In terms of outreach, GCC has strategically chosen several introductory books to keep on hand at all times to make sure that resources are available to people new to church and Christianity. Chipman uses her software to pull reports and make sure she always has copies of Messy Spirituality (Zondervan 2007), by Mike Yaconelli, and The Life You’ve Always Wanted (Zondervan, 2002), by John Orteberg.

“Basically, we try to stock titles that are easy to read and not overly complicated,” notes Chipman. “We see people from many different denominations and they’ve only had access to the King James Version of the Bible, which isn’t written in today’s language. For this reason, we try to keep the New International Version and The Message (NavPress 2005) by

Eugene H. Peterson, in stock at all times.”

Accurate on-hand count

Chipman’s staff volunteers have no problem using the Bookstore Manager POS system to complete sales transactions.

Additionally, four times a year she and her staff conduct inventory cycle counts wherein they scan books on the shelves with a portable scanning device and rectify the counts with their inventory database. “We adjust our inventory as we go so we always have an accurate on-hand count. It’s simple — scan, upload, have accurate information in the system at all times.”

GCC is getting ready to launch three satellite theater campuses in the fall and aims to have books available for sale at each campus. A member and regional director of the Church Bookstore Network, Chipman feels that networking with like-minded booksellers helps her run her store and approach bookselling in terms of outreach. “Christian bookselling is so different than other kinds of retail — I felt so alone out there before joining the network,” says Chipman. “The group has been very helpful and encouraging.”

The Church Bookstore Network’s goal is to encourage and support church bookstores across the country and provide tools and training for successful bookstore management. It was instituted because there wasn’t a place where church bookstores could go to get training. “[Some of the] challenges are that church bookstores are independent and not a part of a bookstore chain. The training that we do is to educate about these challenges,” says Geni Hulsey, president of the Church Bookstore Network.

Church bookstore training

“To me the primary goal of the church bookstore is to be supportive of the staff and the members of their particular church,” Hulsey adds. “We teach them how to market the church bookstore to the members, encouraging them to shop in the store; we also certainly talk about marketing to the broader community, wanting to bring visitors and new members into the church. In our training, we specifically address marketing the store to our church members.”

Hulsey also expressed the group’s desire to reach those churches that have yet to set up their bookstores: “If we can get to the pastors and executive administrators before they start the process of starting a church bookstore, we can save them so much grief. They come to it from a ministerial point-of-view and it’s difficult for them to incorporate a retail point-of-view. Our goal is one of education, information and encouragement.”

Lauren Hunter is a freelance writer and owner of Lauren Hunter Public Relations, Roseville, CA. [laurenhunter.net]

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