candles keep books company in Christian stores
By John W.
Kennedy (December 21, 2003)
Those who haven’t
visited a Christian bookstore in a while might be surprised
at some of the merchandise lining the shelves. Along with
the customary Bibles, theologically sound books and inspirational
music, shoppers are apt to find scented soaps, sports-themed
clocks, gourmet tea and ceramic ducks.
Such gift products
now account for 19.2 percent of the sales volume in CBA
(formerly Christian Booksellers Association) stores, compared
to 14 percent a decade ago. Apparel and other products,
such as greeting cards and stationery, that don’t
fall under book or music categories comprise another 9.1
percent of CBA sales.
for selling goods besides literature and music is self-preservation,
according to Rhonda Sholar, a gift industry consultant
in Orange City, Fla. “If a customer is looking for
a candle and sees no candle in the Christian store, she’ll
go to Wal-Mart,” she says. “Why give Wal-Mart
a sale you could have had?”
have expanded their merchandise because secular competitors
horned in on their main product: books. Wal-Mart, Barnes
& Noble and other national chains began stocking such
titles as the Left Behind
series and The Prayer of Jabez,
often at a discount price, when they hit the top of national
best-seller lists. Last year, $1.1 billion of the $4.2
billion worth of Christian product sales happened through
general retailers, according to CBA, which represents
spokesperson for the Colorado Springs-based CBA, says
the push to broaden product lines began about a decade
ago. Because of the increased variety, CBA began using
just the acronym in 1996 and dropped its former title.
ma and pa store has pushed lines of gift products because
they’ve had to diversify to generate sufficient
revenue,” says Arlyn R. Pember, national director
of Gospel Publishing House, which sells books, curriculum
and Today’s Pentecostal Evangel to churches.
say gifts are popular because they fill a niche. “Christian
stores are about meeting the needs of their customers,”
says Guthrie, 41.
like things besides products that have a Bible verse,
cross or a dove on them,” Sholar says.
companies are manufacturing Scripture-laden wares from
packaged mints to golf balls, many secular companies selling
novelty items routinely mix the profound with the profane
in an effort to earn profits. En route, it’s a short
trip crossing the line from humorous to blasphemous.
such as Pamela Anderson and Ben Affleck wear “Jesus
is my Homeboy” T-shirts. A company called Blue Q
sells “Wash Away Your Sins” soap for “liars,
cheaters and wrongdoers.” It claims to be a “miraculous
product proven to wash away sin after sin, reducing guilt
by 98.9 percent or more.” One irreverent online
sales site has a nail-throwing “Ninja Messiah”
action figure of Jesus Christ sold alongside a host of
other religious leaders ranging from the Dalai Lama to
Buddha. A company that produces bobble heads of Anna Nicole
Smith and Ozzy Osbourne also has a line of Jesus bobble
heads, including one playing football.
In a culture
increasingly hostile to religion, such merchandise doesn’t
advance the cause of biblical truth.
have been products in the Christian market that really
have no business being there,” Sholar says. Still,
she believes Bible-themed merchandise, along with crosses
and angel pins, provides needed encouragement in today’s
is important, according to Bob Siemon, who started his
own design company 34 years ago after accepting Jesus
as Savior in a jewelry counter discussion with a Christian
bookstore owner. After his conversion, Siemon carved the
words “Jesus saves” on a sterling silver ring
as a conversation starter.
asked him to make similar jewelry. Today, his Santa Ana,
Calif., firm occupies an 80,000-square-foot facility and
has 125 employees. He keeps up with cultural flashpoints,
as evidenced by the latest craze, a Ten Commandments bracelet.
This year Siemon
also has sold hundreds of thousands of “shield of
faith” chains inscribed with Joshua 1:9. He originally
intended the jewelry with the admonition about being strong
and courageous for soldiers going to Iraq, but it also
caught on with families of military personnel, those going
through medical crises and people in the throes of spiritual
a piece of jewelry can do in communicating a message is
unbelievable,” Siemon says. “It can actually
change a person’s behavior.”
ago Siemon found success by producing 4 million pieces
of pewter “What Would Jesus Do?” products.
In response, cheaper WWJD jewelry from Asia flooded U.S.
stores. However, Wal-Mart and Kmart pulled the knockoffs
after a 2-year-old Tennessee boy contracted lead poisoning
by putting one of the necklaces in his mouth.
merchandise, if done right, helps people share and express
their faith,” Siemon says. “It gives them
hope and reassurance.”
of Brigantine, N.J., wants to be the next Phil Vischer,
became the nation’s best-selling children’s
videos thanks in large part to sales at secular discount
chains. Rather than Bob the Tomato, Stolfo sells Pray
with Me Mantis. The foot-tall plush green insect sings
and prays when pushed in the heart or squeezed in the
sneakers. She believes children should learn about God’s
love from their toys.
toys are needed because we live in a negative world,”
says Stolfo, 35. “This toy provokes questions about
who God is and what He’s about.”
After an initial
run of Moses, Samson and Noah, Isaac Bros. Bible Bobbleheads
now is producing Queen Esther, Daniel in the Lions’
Den and John the Baptist.
Dan Foote, 43, of Allen, Texas, got the idea when he attended
a professional baseball game in which fans received a
free bobble head of a star player. A friend suggested
that Foote, who is a cartoonist and children’s book
author, could create bobble heads of long-gone biblical
heroes without worrying about paying royalties or making
the likeness match the real person, both concerns with
the figures can help both children and adults renew their
faith. He notes, for instance, that business leaders have
found the Moses bobble head to be inspirational because
the Old Testament patriarch knew what it was like to lead
people through tough times.
people who like to have fun, but who take our faith seriously,”
Foote says. “Our intent is to create an even greater
hunger and desire to go to God’s Word and learn
more about these imperfect people used by a perfect God.”
who began working for GPH in 1968, hopes that customers
buying Scripture-embossed products, from coffee mugs to
neckties, are able to fully understand and defend the
verses. “People need to understand the value of
learning to support their faith, otherwise there’s
no real foundation on which to build,” says Pember,
61. “Learning needs to go much deeper than something
still comprise 35.4 percent of CBA stores sales and Bibles
make up another 21.2 percent, if trends continue there
could be a shrinking availability of ministry tools. Small
privately owned stores with limited shelf space are likelier
to carry the higher profit stuffed animal toy or Precious
Moments figurine than a biography of William Tyndale or
compromise what we’re all about in the process,
then there’s an erosion of our intended purpose,”