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Getting Christian books into people’s hands

15 September 2010


From the Revd Brian Cranwell

Sir, — It was encouraging to read the article by the Bishop of Oxford, Dr John Pritchard, addressing the problem of getting Christians to read more (Comment, 10 Septem­ber). While he rightly points to the closure of bookshops and the advance­ment of the effects of online purchasing, he is also right in de­spair­ing at the reluctance of Chris­tians to read.

Not only did a Bible Society sur­vey show that 40 per cent of Evan­gelicals do not read their Bibles regu­larly: such reading was in de­cline before the introduction of the internet. I recall a marketing dir­ector of SPCK telling me in the early 1980s that he estimated that only one in three of the clergy bought a new book each year.

The opening of more sales points will help those keen enough to go to town centres to look for Christian books, but, if people are not in­clined to read, this alone will not suffice.

Over the past 15 years, while a parish incumbent, and since retire­ment, I have found that if fresh titles are put in front of people, they are at least inclined to look at them, and more likely to buy them, than they are to go to look for them.

Similarly, if you take a display around to parent/toddler groups dur­ing the three months before Christmas, parents who would not have thought of buying a book or Bible respond to the idea of a Christ­mas present that tells the Christ­mas or other Bible stories.

When encouraging such pur­chases, I point out that such gifts are usually not redundant by Boxing Day in the way more ephemeral gifts so frequently are. When a child hears a story, he or she frequently wants it retold; and such books can stay around for a long time.

In addition, books that deal with topics of interest to the parents, such as problems faced by teenagers, young adults, or couples, over ad­dictions or relationships, are also browsed and bought.

In recent years, making visits to church halls, and taking a selection with me to a service when standing in during a vacancy, I have sold £3-400 worth each Christmas. As they are on “sale or return”, the ten-per-cent discount barely covers the tra­vel costs; but since most of the sales are not to regular churchgoers, I see this as a form of evangelism. Dis­cus­sing the suitability of a book with a parent frequently leads to a discussion about faith, and, as with supermarket sweets, it is frequently a child’s grabbing of a book that attracts his or her attention which leads to a sale.

A group in Sheffield is currently looking at ways of exploiting this more widely. Possibilities include deanery book fairs, a mobile book­shop, par­ish “book weekends”, the possibility of renting an empty city-centre shop for the weeks before Christmas, or a combination of all of these.

It is encouraging to learn that others have a concern about this, something I regard as one of the most neglected forms of evangelism.

9 West View Close, Sheffield S17 3LT

From Mr Mark Stubbs

Sir, — In response to the Bishop of Oxford’s piece about Christian books, perhaps I could add, as a librarian, that public libraries can be an excel­lent source of Christian books. At the library at which I work, we have a large range of Christian titles, as well as books on other religions, and will always get books in on request.

Although book budgets are tight these days, generally we will buy in-print books to meet requests, pro­vided that they are not too expens­ive. Once they are in stock, then, of course, they are available for anyone to borrow free of charge.

Dr Pritchard can rest assured that his new book, Living Jesus, is already on our library shelves.

48 Whitehaven
Luton LU3 4BY

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