How Your Church can benefit from having a Bookstore
A bookstore can help us all to bring a bit of the “heaven on earth” feeling of our Orthodox faith into our homes by adorning our walls with icons and strengthening our faith with Orthodox music, books, prayer ropes, sacramental supplies and other resources. It also provides a peaceful haven for shy people or anyone who wants a quiet moment to browse icons, books and other items. For me, co-managing the Bookstore is an opportunity to minister to the Parish in a quiet, behind the scenes kind of way. Parishioners drop in to seek help with book recommendations, items needed for their home altar and of course, presents. The small setting of the bookstore provides an easy venue for visitors to come in and learn more about our faith and for all of us to share books and resources that help us on our spiritual journeys.
How to Set Up a Bookstore
Before setting up a church bookstore, prayerfully clarify the purpose your parish has in mind and the resources that will be committed to the bookstore. I co-manage our church’s bookstore at Saint Elias in Atlanta and we’ve noticed that our role is not just providing Orthodox resources, but also helping people decide what they need, recommending books, and inspiring both visitors and parishioners. Even Amazon has started building brick and mortar stores because book lovers, including millennials, like to browse books, feel the paper, skim a bit, and then purchase. Once the parish has a clear goal in mind these steps will help you put your plan into action:
- Decide who the manager will be and recruit a few volunteers to help out.
- Determine the location: a table in the coffee hour room is a great start. I’ve seen charming church bookstores run out of tiny closets. Be sure to choose a location near people, so the bookstore is not forgotten.
- Set up a system for ordering, paying for orders, stocking inventory, recording sales, keeping track of merchandise, handling money, and being accountable.
- Order your inventory. Be sure to check if there’s a church bookstore discount. Try to get things people want, but don’t order too much of any one thing. Our Bookstore carries these things: prayer books in English and Arabic, Bibles, spiritual books, introduction to the faith books, children’s books, incense, oil lamps, charcoal, prayer ropes both beaded and knotted, CDs of Orthodox music, Christmas cards and occasional cards, cross necklaces and saint medallions, icons of saints, wooden wall crosses, magnets, pins, and inexpensive tiny icons.
- Price your inventory once it arrives. I have things sent to my house because it’s easier for me. I price things as cheaply as I can because our goal is not to run a profit, but to provide resources for the parish. Your suppliers will often be monasteries, so part of the ministry of the bookstore is helping support monasteries by purchasing their products.
- Establish regular hours. Our Bookstore is open for about 45 minutes after church during our coffee hour. Make sure your helpers are welcoming and the displays are attractive, because one of the main purposes of the Bookstore is to inspire. We have a model home altar set up and we change out the icons around it. Sometimes we like to burn incense and play music to create a welcoming atmosphere.
- Start off with a Grand Opening!
You’ve followed the above steps, but now you’re blowing cobwebs off your beautiful displays. The books have sat there so long they’ve since been reprinted with new modern covers, leaving you with old copies to sell, and even the icons look a little lonely. I know it can be too quiet in that cute cubby of a bookstore. What do we do to inspire our parishes to read?
- Start a book study. We have one at Saint Elias that meets towards the end of coffee hour for about 45 minutes. I bravely ordered twenty copies of the book we’re reading (God’s Path to Sanity by Dee Pannock) and I’ve sold 19 copies. That book’s title was provocative enough to stir up interest just by being displayed in our window.
- Advertise in the bulletin. When I insert a quick two sentence blurb in the bulletin, at least one person will come in the Bookstore that would not have come in otherwise.
- Ask your priest to mention special bookstore events during announcements.
- Be a great host. At my previous parish, the Bookstore manager had comfy chairs, her own coffee machine, and friendly volunteers. People would come in just to sit and talk. Along the way, you’d find yourself pulling a book off the shelf, flipping through it, and buying it impulsively.
- Have a system for customers to request items you don’t currently have.
- When you can’t provide an item, recommend Orthodox online sources.
- Visit Sunday School classes as a guest reader to promote books you have in stock.
The Bookstore is a ministry, not a business, so the key is to pray for it as a ministry and to manage it with care and joy. Be friendly, compassionate, and kind to your customers. Don’t order too much or too much of the same things. Be familiar with the kinds of books and resources you’re selling so you can help others. Provide the things Orthodox people need to have to create a beautiful spiritual environment in their homes. Keep your priest involved, but not in a burdensome way. Blow those cobwebs off with a smile, pray, and the customers will eventually come and when they do, they’ll be just the ones who need this beautiful ministry.
I’d love to hear your ideas or experiences with your parish bookstore. Please your suggestions or advice in the comments section below.