Encouraging new research pointing to “an opportunity to reinvest in Christian retail” was presented at Tuesday’s UNITE General Session by Kristen McLean, director of new business development at Nielsen BookScan.

Christian publishing has been growing since 2010, with Christian retail accounting for around 17 percent of category sales, she said, spotlighting areas of potential growth. One of those she identified as professing Christians—those who are interested in faith but may attend church only rarely, and yet comprise almost a third of consumers.

“In my opinion, the professing Christians are the future of this business,” she said. “They’re reading a lot of Christian,” though not as much as committed evangelicals—the core CBA store shoppers—who account for 70 percent of sales. “What do they want, how can we engage them and are we packaging our stuff properly for whatever it is they’re looking for in their Christian content?”

Another reason this professing Christian group is important is that it tends to be younger—half of them under 44—than the evangelical core group, 70 percent of whom are 45 and older. “We have to figure out how to connect with these guys and create content that appeals to them,” McLean said, “and it makes me ask the question, what does the Christian retail environment of the future look like?”

Following McLean’s presentation, CBA President Curtis Riskey led a panel discussion about consumer trends and store-supplier relationships. Taking part were Chuck Wallington, president of the Covenant Group and owner of Christian Supply Inc., in Spartanburg, South Carolina; James Barnett, president of DaySpring Cards; Mark Taylor, chairman and CEO of Tyndale House Publishers; and Terry Hemmings, president and CEO of Provident Music Group.