Gospel Shoes, Scripture Candy and Christian fiction are just a few ways Christians are spreading their faith and making a profit at the same time.
Christian retail is a $4 billion industry, and it’s not just books and music. That figure is up about a half-billion dollars from the previous year, according to the Associated Press.
Gone are the days of “Jesus Junk.” Christian products are “classier” than before, Les Dietzman, president of Family Christian Bookstores, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Christian consumers and producers are embracing, not rejecting, the market forces of popular culture,” said Cliff Vaughn, associate director of the Baptist Center for Ethics. “And this phenomenon isn’t tidily categorized. On the one hand, you have appeals to consumerism and materialism. On the other hand, the appeal comes wrapped in the rhetoric of personal evangelism and witness.”
“The deluge of so-called Christian products seems to illustrate the old adage, ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,'” he said. “And from a financial standpoint, you can’t beat popular culture.”
At the annual CBA trade show of Christian publishers and retailers in Atlanta this summer, consumers found a wide array of products tailored to their faith.
CBA used to be known as the Christian Booksellers Association, but according to the Journal-Constitution, members voted to drop the name and keep the initials because of the “magnitude of the market for other religious products.”
Bibles represent only a small part of what the Christian market has to offer. And if you thought one Bible would work for all, think again. Even Bibles are tailored to appeal to every niche imaginable.
“There is a paradox of one Bible fits all, but at different times in a person’s life, a different Bible can help,” said John Sawyer, vice president of Bible marketing for Zondervan, in the Journal-Constitution article. “Think about athletic shoes. At first there were generic ‘tennis shoes.’ Then there were shoes for runners and shoes for walkers and shoes for basketball players …”
Speaking of shoes … At this year’s trade show, one might have come across the Gospel Shoes. The shoes carry the message “Jesus Saves,” or “Jesus (heart) Me,” with pink accents for girls, and blue and black accents for boys.
Christian merchandise isn’t just for believers anymore. Christian books, music and movies are elbowing their way into the broader market and seem to be holding their own.
Attractively packaged Christian novels are standing strong next to the latest Michael Crichton or Tom Clancy novel, and AP reported that a secular audience is giving “a second look to topics once restricted to mom-and-pop Christian bookstores.”
Industry experts at the CBA trade show said Christian authors are writing more compelling books–fiction and nonfiction.
According to CNN.com, The Desecration, the ninth book in the Left Behind Series, is not due until the end of October but is already in Amazon.com’s top 100.
And who could forget the hottest spiritual “self-help” book on the racks–The Prayer of Jabez. The Jabez craze has infiltrated the business world and even some political establishments. An article in The New Republic noted that the entire Idaho Senate received gift copies from the state chaplain.
Christian artists are also finding that they can succeed in the secular music world as well.
MTV frequently features Christian acts. P.O.D. had a No. 1-requested video on the “hormonal ‘Total Request Live'” MTV show last year, according to MSNBC.com.
Some are afraid that tailoring books, music and other products to a secular market will amount to “watering down the gospel.”
Others argue that less overtly religious products can be the most evangelical of all.
Frank Breedan, president of the Gospel Music Association, told MSNBC.com, “Our artists tend not to be very political. They do not want to label themselves in any way that would disinvite anybody from considering their art.”
And for those who wish to substitute their less holy treats with a more “Christian” alternative, the CBA trade show featured an array of scriptural sweets, according to the Journal-Constitution.
Testamints, a New York company, offered mints, fruit sours and hard candies wrapped in Scripture verses. The Sweet Messages booth featured chocolates wrapped in Scripture verses and Bible Quiz Pops, with trivia questions on the outside of the wrapper and answers on the inside.
Scripture Candy, based in Birmingham, hopes to reach the world “one piece at a time.” One way may be through a tin of their fish-shaped mints.
Even Hollywood is no longer “hostile territory” for Christians. In 1999, “The Omega Code” earned more than $12 million, making it the highest-grossing independent film of the year, MSNBC.com reported. And that was with minimal advertising, lousy reviews from mainstream critics and no major distributor.
The sequel to “Omega,” “Megiddo: Omega Code 2,” hits theaters in September and Matthew Crouch, the film’s creator, is hoping preachers will help market the $20-million project.
There are also bath salts, tea sets, stuffed animals, baby pillows, board games, golf balls, hats, computer games and an endless list of products deemed “Christian.”
It seems the only thing missing from this myriad of Christian products and entertainment is a Christian Wrestling Federation. Or is it?
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.