I visited an unusual bookstore the other day. It was located inside the campus of Vineyard Columbus, located at 6000 Cooper Road in Westerville. Roughly 8,000 people attend services at this church each weekend and The Bookstore is located just inside one of the main entrances off of the south side of the building.
Jeff Baker, the Bookstore Ministry Coordinator sat down with me and explained the mission of this bookstore and some of the strategies they pursue to encourage reading as part of the efforts of this church to disciple people toward Christian maturity. Very early in the church’s life, in the late 1980’s, they established a booktable to sell books to equip their congregation. This morphed into The Bookstore when they moved into their current location and Jeff has served as Coordinator since 1998,
Jeff described his passion as one for using books to help equip believers for growth and transformation. One of strategies he, and bookstore clerk, Meg Kuta (who formerly worked with a major bookstore chain) work on is finding “entry level” books that they can sell at prices as low as $5.00 a copy that are easy reads but have quality content that appeal to the non-reader, which he estimates might make up 80 percent of the congregation (pretty much what is true of the general adult population). He gave shout-outs to Zondervan/Harper-Collins and Tyndale who are publishing a number of titles in this vein.
At the same time, as I looked around the store, I was impressed with the quality content available and the amount of the store given over to books as opposed to gift items, stationary, cards, and other non-book items. You can find meaty Bible study tools, theology texts. serious biographies, like the new one on Tom Oden. There is also a delightful children’s section. The store stocks resources for small group leaders, the diverse ministries of Vineyard Columbus, and books related to current sermon themes. All Vineyard leaders are able to purchase books at a 20% discount and Jeff works with ministry leaders to find resources to enhance the efforts of each ministry.
We talked about how Jeff works with the pastors to order books that they will be mentioning in sermons. He observed that the way books are recommended in a sermon have a big effect. Recently, for example, a speaker talked about the devotional guide Search the Scriptures and wove the impact of using this guide throughout his sermon. As a result, the store sold 150 copies! More offhand recommendations may sell five or ten copies to the really interested.
Like many bookstores, The Bookstore will host author events with local authors as well as national authors visiting to speak at services or conferences hosted by the church. This coming year, they are planning to host a series of author events with local seminary professors. According to their website, they also host a writers group and a C.S. Lewis discussion group.
I asked Jeff what he most and least likes in Christian publishing. Vineyard Columbus is an ethnically diverse congregation and one pet peeve which he has engaged publishers on are books with only white people on the covers. He also has problems with the “end times prophecy” books which he feels nurtures idle speculation rather than serious discipleship.
Positively, once again he spoke warmly of the deeply discounted “entry level” books that Zondervan/Harper-Collins and Tyndale publish. He also spoke of the growing level of cooperation he is seeing among authors, publishers, publicists, and booksellers, all who have faced challenges in the changing landscape of bookselling.
Finally, we discussed some of the books that are his “bookseller’s picks”. Several times in our conversation he mentioned Gordon Fee’s Paul, The Spirit, and the People of God, a book deeply consonant with Vineyard’s theological commitments. Two other books Jeff and Meg are recommending these days are John Ortberg’s If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat and Michelle DeRusha’s 50 Women Every Christian Should Know.
While The Bookstore’s primary clientele are Vineyard members, the store is open to the public. Jeff contends that their prices are often better than you-know-who. They also have a Frequent Buyer program that offers a 10% discount on all purchases, email notices of featured books and specials and has no annual membership fee.
Their hours are as follows: