Religious awakening generating interest in Christian literature

The young man wandered almost aimlessly through the aisles of Bibles and other literature.

“He just wanted to look,” recalled Jeannette Cox, manager of 7th & Glory Christian Bookstore in Charleston. “He didn’t know what he was looking for.”

Finally, he found it: A necklace made of nails. The youth admitted had been inspired by the film “The Passion of the Christ,” which recounts the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ’s life and his crucifixion.

The young man certainly wasn’t the first to take his newfound fervor on a shopping excursion. According to local Christian book sellers, as well as their national counterparts, interest in their wares has increased dramatically since the film’s release on the first day of Lent.

And with Easter approaching, the curiosity hasn’t relented. However, it remains to be seen whether that attention will translate directly into additional sales.

Regardless, the Christian book industry has been booming lately, according to Doug Ross, president of the Arizona-based Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. It reported that retail outlets nationwide made $15.6 million last February, 27.4 percent more than in February 2003.

“Traffic in Christian book stores is definitely up,” Ross said Thursday. “Some stores are recording a significant increase. There’s significant interest in all aspects of Christian publishing.”

And it’s not just the influence of “The Passion” that’s nourishing what is rapidly becoming less of a niche industry and more mainstream, said Ross. A number of book titles have found broad appeal, which presents another possibility, he added.

“It’s a ‘chicken or the egg’ question,” said Ross. “I would say (book authors and publishers) are responding to something. They recognized there was a ‘seeker’ mentality in this nation.”

He’s referring to a new concept in Evangelical circles called the “Seeker Generation,” which Ross said is “looking at a variety of things to satisfy their quest for a satisfactory spiritual experience.”

In other words, the seekers may be finding something in book stores. And movie theaters.

According to an on-line survey conducted by Zondervan, a division of HarperCollins Publishers and the world’s largest Bible publisher, 62 percent of more than 1,200 respondents are delving into the Scriptures more as a result of Mel Gibson’s controversial film.

However, Zondervan has not recorded a “huge spike” in Bible sales, said Cameron Conant, public relations manager for Bibles. “People are reading the Bible more, but it doesn’t look like they’re buying more Bibles, at least at this point,” he said.

That makes sense to Jeannette Cox. At 7th & Glory, Bible sales always go up before Easter, and it’s no different this year, she said.

But even though many book store patrons talk about “The Passion,” it appears as though Bible sales aren’t increasing any more than in years past, noted Cox. That’s certainly not a bad thing, she hastened to add.

“You couldn’t give a better gift than the word of God,” she said.

Cox did predict higher attendance in churches on Easter Sunday.

It’s difficult to tell if some combination of “The Passion,” popular new books and a religious revival are spurring sales at Cornerstone Christian Bookstore in Mattoon, because the store has been under new ownership for only a month, according to store officials.

Linda Baker, sales representative, said there has been a lot of interest in books about the movie itself.

The Living Word Christian Bookstore in Mattoon has only been open for two weeks, so it’s also hard to guage if the recent phenomena have brought about higher sales, according to owner Renee Spitz.

“But it’s been a good two weeks,” she said.

Customers include not only individuals, but also church bible study groups. And many people are still talking about “The Passion.”

“It seems to bring more people in,” said Spitz.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Journal Gazette, USA
Apr. 12, 2004
Nathaniel West

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday April 13, 2004.
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