“The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by his Spirit and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones … Then he said to me, “‘Son of man, can these bones live?’” (Ezekiel 37:1-3)
Many of us are looking out over what we perceive as the “dry bones” of an industry that has seemingly been decimated by the advancement of technology we struggle to keep up with, the online competition that threatens to swallow us up, and most recently the closure of the largest Christian retail chain and physical distributor of our product. With all the challenges and struggles we’ve faced, we might be tempted to reply, “‘Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished; we are cut off’” (v. 11).
But our perspective has everything to do with whether we are looking with our own eyes, or seeing what God sees: a vast and living army, alive with His Spirit.
In the Ezekiel story, I believe God is telling us that even in the midst of disruption and desolation, great opportunity exists for those who can see it. Consider what happened in the ABA market when Borders closed its chain of stores. According to a new study, the Borders Group closed 686 stores between 2010 and 2011; and between 2010 and 2016, 651 independent bookstores opened. Since then, not only have the number of indie stores increased, but sales at these stores also have grown about 8 percent a year over the past three years.
The demise of Borders has often been attributed to the rise of e-books and Amazon, but upon closer inspection, the chain was actually unable to overcome its problems with bad back-end distribution, stores that were too big, and a series of poor product decisions—including expanding music and DVD space in advance of digital dominance.
Added to my optimism, research shows the leveling off of e-book sales, with print sales once again on the rise. According to one study, guess who benefits most from print book sales? Independent retail stores.
What can we learn from this?
Maybe we think we’re looking at dry bones in the valley where Amazon, ever-evolving technology, and closed stores dwell—but innovators and leaders will instead see a vast army, creating and distributing His Word in all its forms, taking it to every corner of the earth, and marching with thriving Christian stores.
Independent ABA stores saw opportunity where others saw disaster and stepped in to fill a chasm, and now their product is once again flowing through stores. We could do the same thing, and even greater—for how much greater is the worth of our products and the Leader of our army?
The valley is before us and the time is upon us to decide how we will answer the question whether our dry bones can live. These decisions are too big to be determined by one company or one segment of our industry. That’s why I challenge us to come together at UNITE 2017 to look out together over the valley of our future— and envision the life and breath God is waiting to give to our dry bones when we step out in faith and lead.
— Curtis Riskey, President, CBA