“I want to remain true to my calling: to glorify God through the publication of books and Bibles that change lives, bring hope and life in Christ.” This is what drives Chris Johnsen, director of publishing of Christian Art in South Africa, to do what he does.
“Ephesians 2:10 has shown me that we cannot really work for God. We can, at best, live out the good works that He intended for us,” he says. “This Scripture has kept me focused through the years on the work that God intended for me and for which He equipped me.”
How it all began
Johnsen has been in the Christian book industry going on 42 years. The foundation was laid in 1969, when at the age of 19 after hearing the Gospel preached for the first time, Johnsen gave his life to the Lord.
In 1970, he read the classic God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew and felt a calling to spread the Gospel by publishing and distributing Christian books and Bibles. “In the evenings, after a full day’s work, I started going door-to-door selling books from a suitcase,” he says.
From there he received a clear confirmation from the Lord to pursue a career in the Christian book industry, and in 1974 he opened CH Johnsen Bookshop (Vereeniging, South Africa) and subsequently entered the wholesale business by establishing South Africa based Christian Art Distributors, known internationally as a publisher, distributor and supplier of Bible-based books,
Christian Art Today
The publisher and supplier aims to meet people’s spiritual needs by continuing with the creative development of Christian books and Bibles and to furnish church leaders with effective resources to spread the Gospel. Ultimately, they want to ensure that Christian Art is a beacon of hope and inspiration not only in South Africa, but also in the international market by licensing products in more foreign languages.
Christian Art’s business in Africa is growing, with an average of 100 new Afrikaans titles and 50 new English titles published annually. Local authors are commissioned to produce manuscripts on a variety of relevant topics, but Christian Art also has ties with a number of prolific authors in North America, representing the most influential U.S. publishers in South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The creative development of Bibles and Bible-related product is an important focus. “We enjoy the cooperation and loyalty of the best scholars from all the theological faculties and seminaries in the country, representing various denominations,” says Johnsen.
In the area of distribution, they work with and through various channels, including online, independent bookstores, and their own retail stores, CUM books, and the church and church leaders.
Biggest sellers and trends
Bibles consistently sell well, along with children’s products, devotionals, books on prayer, and novels by popular authors. Products with tie-ins to theatrical releases like Courageous and War Room tend to draw readers to the stores.
Johnsen shares one noticeable trend is coloring products for adults, which have been extremely popular. Christian Art’s coloring book entitled, “Today is Going to be a Great Day,” has been very successful in the CBA market.
[SUBHEAD] Opportunities and challenges
Johnsen believes large, secular chains hold a lot of opportunity potential, as well as partnering with ministries and church leaders. While he believes there are always more opportunities than obstacles, the adverse rand-to-dollar exchange rate and the volatile markets are a huge challenge in maintaining the production of affordable publications.
However, Johnsen expresses that in addition to first seeking God’s guidance in all their new ventures, “Christian Art’s dedicated staff is our biggest asset in achieving our goals and accomplishing our mission.”