The Church Bookstore Incongruity by M.N. Jackson

Many churches have bookstores. They believe that they are serving the congregation by providing books “at cost”. However, there are several serious problems with this business model.

Selling “at cost” in reality is selling at a loss. There are a number of expenses involved in selling books (or anything else for that matter) beyond the price of the book itself. For instance, someone has to defray the cost of the inventory until it is sold. Even at only simple interest, that investment represents lost income. This loss is somewhat unquantifiable because it is generally born by the congregation as opposed to a single investor; but it is a real loss all the same. Another unremunerated expense of a not-for-profit bookstore is the labor cost. The books must be sought, purchased, inventoried, secured, and distributed. All that takes time, and even though it is done by volunteers, time is still money.

Further evidence that books are sold for a loss is the fact that the total proceeds from the current inventory will not be sufficient to replace it. The church collects an offering to seed the bookstore, buys 100 books, sells them “for cost” and then only has enough to buy 90 books–this is called inflation. After a series of buy and sell cycles, the bookstore is out of business, unless the church continues to seed it with capital. That is the very definition of a loss.

Which leads us to another issue: Because it is a loss, it is also a subsidy. Churches reason that bookstores charge too much for books and that they can provide them cheaper. But once the total cost is figured, I doubt there is much total difference between them. The real difference is that the bookstore consolidates the total cost in one purchase price, whereas the church subsidizes a portion of the cost to give the illusion of low cost. Best case scenario is that people give offerings to fund the bookstore so that they can then buy the books that their offerings bought. This is inane. What advantage is there to buying a book at 40% discount, if you have to buy it twice. That means you pay 120% the bookstore price. However, the most likely scenario is that those that finance the bookstore are not the ones who buy the lion’s share of the books. I think that subsidization is bad policy, both politically and ecclesiastically. If you want to give books to those that can’t afford it, then give them books, don’t demean them with subsidies.

This in turn leads us to a third issue, that of supplanting real bookstores. It is ludicrous for Christians to bemoan the decline of good Christian bookstores and their conversion into trinket markets when they have played a part in their demise. It is also absurd for conservative Christians to criticize socialism in society when Christian bookstores are a rejection of capitalism. Every business makes a profit, that is the purpose of business, that is the reward for investment and risk. Why is it wrong for Christian bookstores to turn a profit. Many Christians object to the level of profit a bookstore makes on the books (40% markup is standard), but they invest a lot of money to run that bookstore, and they don’t make a profit on all those books; namely the books that sit on the shelf for years, and then are sold at half price. If nothing else, if a church believes it their ministry to support a bookstore, then support your local bookstore; consider the 40% markup an… offering?!

I Pencil

I am a lead pencil—the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write.
Writing is both my vocation and my avocation; that’s all I do.
You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery—more so than a tree or a sunset or even a flash of lightning. But, sadly, I am taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril. For, the wise G. K. Chesterton observed, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”
Continue reading

A Tale of Two Churches

In a technical aspect, a church is the result and a reflection of the spirit, mindset, goals, priorities, and methods of those who build it. For the average church this is a simple fact with straightforward results. For the outlier churches it is more complicated. These outliers suffer from multiple personality disorder. They are torn between who they are–determined by their spiritual and cultural heritage–and who they want to be–based on their unique spiritual understanding and convictions. The result is a church within a church, or perhaps more accurately, a church amongst a church. Continue reading

Man: The greatest AI ever designed

There is a story about the IBM AI (Artificial Intelligence) machine, named Watson, challenging the top all-time Jeopardy winners, and beating them. Never mind that Watson only defeated the humans by ‘finessing’ the buzzer; and pay no attention to the fact that in the end Watson is the culmination of human design and knowledge–without them Watson would still be a puddle of petroleum buried under a pile of iron ore and silica. Consider the following instead. Continue reading

Freedom of Free Speech for Free

Free Speech is a fundamental right of democratic society. It is also an horribly abused right. Every imaginable depravity is cloaked with the defense of free speech. This abuse is tolerated for fear of the proverbial “slippery slope”. Although we approvingly chuckle at the famous quote by a supreme court justice: that he knew obscenity when he saw it; it does expose the problem with any encroachment on free speech. We might agree with that particular judge as to his view on obscenity, but what about the next one? And when they decide that condemning homosexuality is obscene, what then? And yet our society is awash in depravity and its effects are monumental and disastrous. Something must be done, but we fear that the medicine might become worse than the disease. Perhaps an answer lies in apprehending the full meaning of FREE speech. Continue reading

The Case for Public Preaching

Public preaching is the purest and plainest definition of the word “preach” in the commandment “preach the gospel”. It is almost comical to watch those that wish to break loose of its shackles attempt to say that preaching means anything other than preaching. I see little problem with classifying door-knocking, or personal evangelism, or even friendship evangelism as preaching the gospel, but for heaven’s sake (literally) do not declassify preaching as preaching the gospel. Continue reading

Thoughts on Ordaining Elders

I believe that it is wrong to leave a church without established elders. I believe that it is wrong to consider a newly ordained elder as established. And, I think it is wrong to ordain more than one elder at a time. Allow me to expound briefly on each of these individually. (Update: I wrote that a while back and have since seen it desirable to tweak these points a bit.) Continue reading

Illogical Nobility

I read a quote in coffee table book: “Don’t you hate that… a plastic surgeon makes more money than a pediatrician.” This is classic coffee table book drivel. Sadly it is not limited to coffee table books; it is pervasive in our society that emphasizes nobility over objective logic. Continue reading