Future leaders discuss challenges and opportunities, Part 4

In this final installation of a four-part series, four more retailers and publishers with a passion for the Christian products industry and a vision for the future address top challenges and opportunities.

Kevin Ferguson
Christian Bookstore Owner and Pastor
Corvallis, Oregon

Years in Industry: 3

State of the industry: I believe the industry is in crisis. Family Christian’s closure is simply a symptom of a greater problem. We have severe division [and animosity] in the body of Christ. We are putting one store against another, and I believe we need to be united in the effort to share the Gospel.

Top Challenge: We need to work together rather than just trying to make a buck at the expense of a competitor. Mission needs to be over money. If we don’t get the right perspective, we will continue to die nationally.

Greatest Opportunity: We need to work hard at negotiating a way that [everyone] can work with the industry with their top authors and books. The greatest opportunity is for the world to see the industry come together in the name of Christ in complete unity with a path forward. May our love for one another be our greatest apologetic to a world that needs hope.

What Is Needed: Break down division in the industry. Continue to train and equip stores to learn how to serve the churches and guests when they come through our doors. We need to reconnect with churches.

Future Outlook: [We need to be willing to] release [our] ministries into the Lord’s hands and allow unity, collaboration, and a path forward. May this send a message to Amazon and others that we will be placing Christ first in all that we do.

Stephanie Hillberry
Content Marketing Manager and Podcast Co-host
Group Publishing

Years in Industry: 3

Top Challenge: There are so many opportunities and innovations in direct publishing and selling that make it possible for influencers, creators, and entrepreneurs to bypass Christian retailers and publishers. And because younger buyers are affiliating less with institutional churches and brick-and-mortar stores, they’re less accessible through traditional channels.

Greatest Opportunity: Products that layer a Christian perspective over lifestyle niches (ex. DIY, health, and wellness, etc.), an emerging interest in supporting businesses “with a mission” through patronage, and young people returning to more liturgical expressions of worship, ushering in a hunger for new books and products that marry the old with the new.

What Is Needed: The overall Christian market can blossom in these conditions, but this shift in buying behavior presents challenges to business as usual.

Future Outlook: I’m itching to explore new topical areas for faith-based resources and to sell all the creative add-ons these new topics provide. The field feels wide open.

Larry Sparks
Destiny Image Publishing House

Years in Industry: 9

State of the Industry: In flux. It’s not a matter of whether people are still buying books; they are. The questions are—what format do they want information in, and how are they learning about the information they seek to acquire?

Top Challenge: We must broaden our definition of publishing if we are to move confidently and successfully into the future. If we keep our focus narrowed to books, I believe we are going to get left behind in the information transition that’s currently taking place.

Greatest Opportunity: The redefinition of publishing poses a tremendous opportunity. We get to move beyond the confines of how information has been communicated for thousands of years and venture into the new frontiers of technology. A second opportunity is the transitioning role of marketing. We consistently need to be looking for where our audiences are going to receive information and stewarding these spaces as opportunities to introduce our product.

What Is Needed: We need to be willing to change with the times. Unfortunately, there tends to be the propensity to dabble in innovation, while focusing more exclusively on maintaining things the way they’ve always been.

Future Outlook: I’m excited that books serve as springboards into entire funnels of product that not only introduce language for what God is doing, but help equip and disciple people into living these lifestyles of revival, where they can practically integrate what they are learning into their respective spheres of influence. We must be willing to become fluid in our definition of what publishing looks like.

— Lora Schrock

Read about other future leaders: Fresh Voices Carry on Industry’s Legacy, Part 1Who Will Lead?, Part 2Innovation Leads the Industry Forward, Part 3