the road ahead

Bestsellers: What is missing?
January 29, 2009, 11:22 am
Filed under: business, ministry, spirituality


The ECPA 2008 bestseller list features a very interesting collection of books. Studying this list can be very helpful in understanding the reading preferences of those individuals who purchase Christian books in Christian retail stores.

But what I want to discuss for a moment is what is missing from this bestseller list. I am not criticizing anyone or other publishers for their work–I just think it is important to pause and reflect on the kind of resources that didn’t make the list.

The 2008 top ten does not include any spiritual biographies of significant leaders from the Christian world. Nor do we find any books that focus on Christianity and cultural issues, such as social injustice, poverty, and other important issues related to living in our world.

What is also significant is that only one of the top ten is a devotional guide to the study of the scriptures.

So do these books replace Bible study or enhance it?

These are some of my thoughts. What do you think is missing from the top ten list?


6 Comments so far
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what’s missing is anything worth reading! for my demographic (gen-x and younger) there’s nothing on that list that is remotely interesting. nothing about social issues, culture (art, music, film), how to do church differently, etc. i’ll tell you now that no one younger than 45 bought any of those “bestsellers”!

Comment by caleb j seeling

I think Caleb has a valuable point and the sorts of books he mentioned are the ones I read most often. But I bought THE SHACK when I was 43. 🙂

Comment by Sharon Fawcett

I have mixed feelings about the list and what it says. I agree with Caleb for the most part. Many of these authors also have conferences and other networks which they use to promote their books, so I wonder if that helps push a book over the top. In addition, I agree with the analysis I’ve read about many of these books meeting felt needs.

However, I think this list is also a wake up call to writers to get creative and think about their craft in new ways. If I may, I’ll pick on a book that I generally like. unChristian addresses a great need among Christians today. It’s a first-rate research project. The writing isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s boring. On top of that, it left me feeling dispirited about all of the things we need to do to right the Christian ship. In short, it reads like many other prescriptive theology books on Christianity.

In the grand scheme of things, most Christians know the core solution is a Spirit-filled life that is animated by the love of the Father and redeeming work of the Son. Therefore, I think we need to be better story tellers in both fiction and nonfiction (I’m Don Miller disciple in that respect I suppose, see the CT interview). We need to find fresh ways to drive home the Gospel.

Jesus for President is one example of authors using narrative and art to create a picture. In fact, the book itself embodied the message. While Jesus for President isn’t at the top of that bestseller chart, it’s the “kind” of book that I believe we need to be writing. If we can get better at that, we may see some shifts on that list.

Tempting as it is, I need to pass on my desire to do some hand-wringing about that list because many of the books with great messages are languishing behind dull prose. That’s the challenge I face as a writer. We’ll see how meeting that challenge goes! 🙂

Comment by Ed Cyzewski

The problem, Caleb, is that most publishers try to produce what sells–to the demographic that buys (middle-aged women mostly). Very few publishers have the courage or commitment to produce something purely because it is needed (many things that the Church needs, believers will not buy). Another issue in trying to provide relevant books for your generation is how do we find you to sell to you? Our marketing experience and limited dollars make it hard to find you! I head up a small publishing house (PrayerShop Publishing) and we are trying to figure out how to market a book (Stark Raving Obedience) to your generation. Any ideas?

Comment by Jon Graf

This list does not surprise me. Even as a 24 year old I have read several of these books (I do agree they are not focused on my generation). When thinking about why they appeal to me, and I think others, is the desire to change my life quickly. Many of these books speak to specific issues. However I think we gravitate to these books over Scripture because it is easier. Scripture speaks to the issues listed in each of these books, but that means work for us to read it, be open to the Spirit teaching us and then following His lead in how to apply it. By reading a book we can almost skip the learning process and proceed directly to the application (from someone else’s perspective). Don’t get me wrong, many of these books have impacted my life, but I wonder if I turn to them over Scripture more often than I should.

Comment by Tom Carpenter

Most Christian bookstore owners and managers would tell you that biographies and books on cultural issues don’t sell. As a result it only makes sense for store owners to not order product they know will sit on the shelf.
At a ministry conference I attended several years ago general stats showed that the 20’s-30’s preferred life lessons learned through fiction and movies as opposed to intense Biblical study. So while the books on the top-ten list may enhance Bible study for older adults, they may actually replace more indepth study of God’s word for the younger generation. However, my son’s men’s group, ages 20’s-40’s, did read through Wild at Heart in conjunction with Scripture

Comment by Kathleen Kohler

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