Offering gospel merchandise to the local community is a unique outreach ministry, according to Norman Leve Jr., the senior pastor at New Life Christian Church Newtown, Pa., a congregation he founded in 1993. A graduate of Asbury Seminary and Drew University, Leve pastored a Methodist church for 17 years. He originally wrote the article below for The Church Bookstore magazine.
During my early years in the ministry, I had visions of where I wanted my church to go. I wanted to minister to the community by offering a Christian preschool and also a K-12 academy, if possible. Everyone seemed to like that idea.
However, I had another vision—one that wasn't as popular. I wanted a Christian bookstore in our church. Not a book table—a bookstore.
I believed that a bookstore would be a dynamic ministry in the church and a unique outreach to the community.
Not everyone agreed. They questioned whether going into the retail business was a biblical choice.
What about Jesus overthrowing the moneychangers' tables in the temple courtyard and proclaiming, "My house will be called a house of prayer...but you have made it a den of robbers" (Matt. 21:13b, NIV)? Clearly, the church is no place to be selling things.
A small book table in the lobby with some devotional booklets might be okay. Maybe a few inexpensive Bibles or crosses could be offered, but no more.
Ministry Motive. Examining the morality of a Christian bookstore in the church has some merit, I agree. Jesus would be against canceling Sunday School for the January Bible Sale. He wouldn't support postponing Vacation Bible School for the annual Bookstore Summer Sale, either.
But is it worth considering having a Christian bookstore in the church? Yes. When we interpret the Scriptures, we must understand and apply the context. Cheating and defrauding people is one thing. Offering ministry resources that will enrich people's lives while increasing the financial resources needed to further the gospel is vastly different.
One of my first reasons for wanting a bookstore was admittedly a selfish one. As a Christian and a pastor, I loved going to Christian bookstores. But the closest bookstore of any worth was a 50-minute drive from my church. Consequently, we would take a staff "trip" twice a year to get our books.
Sure, I could find some nice Christian merchandise in "normal" stores. However, I wanted a local Christian bookstore where I could find everything I needed under one roof.
I knew having a bookstore in our church would bring it life and vitality. Our bookstore is directly off the main lobby of the church. It's open anytime the church is open, except during worship services. People come to church early or linger after the service to shop; or they shop when they are just killing time while waiting for a meeting or to pick someone up.
Effective Outreach. The store generates excitement—you should see it when we have a sale. Christians love sales. Our members love shopping at their own church store for books, Christian music, cards and gifts. It's a wonderful gathering place, as well.
A church bookstore not only puts "gospel merchandise" in the local community and ministers to the local church body, but it also brings the secular world into the church. Every week our bookstore draws outsiders into the church.
A church bookstore, operating with class and integrity, is an effective outreach ministry.
Some of my ideas have flopped over the years. However, in this case, an idea that seemed "out there" at first has proven to be God's plan for our church.
If God says to open a church bookstore, His kingdom will flourish because of your obedience.