“People just don’t read” is a phrase heard frequently around here. Many times we’re frustrated that the general public fails to read signage or the “small print.” It also can mean the decline in the overall thirst for getting lost in a good book as a result of our soundbite culture.

We also throw out this phrase without thinking about those who really can’t read, those of low income or poverty, or those that aren’t proficient in their reading skills due to systemic inequality. According to “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3” by University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, “kids growing up in families on welfare hear 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers—and that’s just before the age of three.”

As a Christian and a leader in a book industry, it troubles my soul when I hear such statistics. Our goal is to serve the church with great literature. As we go about each day in our tasks to fulfill that goal, I don’t even consider those who we are missing—those who can’t read.

And what does a vibrant faith mean for those who haven’t been given opportunity or access to the world of the written word?

The Scriptures were written during a time when far more people were illiterate. Yes, they certainly enjoyed a vibrant and genuine relationship with God. But, as a reader, I know that the enrichment gained through the classics of the faith have moved me forward as a Christ follower.

“Reading and writing are deeply woven into the fabric of our faith. The truths underpinning our faith, the foundation of what we believe, come from a book that spans thousands of pages. What does it mean to worship and follow a God who is called Logos—The Word— when you yourself can’t read?” asked Sara Kay Mooney in America’s Reading Crisis Is Much Worse than You Think.

The impact is great, but the deficiency isn’t beyond us to help. What I do know is that our industry has penned these values in our goals as members: Jesus Christ and His message; open, honest, and collaborative relationships; innovation and creativity; and excellence in everything we do.

If this is where we hang our hat, then let’s love radically as retailers to meet those we’re truly missing. A few ideas:

  • Summer reading program. Many of us encourage children to read through our summer reading programs, enticing them with prizes. Let’s collaborate with an inner-city church or ministry and consider taking our program on the road to reach those we wouldn’t otherwise.
  • Donate staff PTO to tutor and read with children. What a great way to encourage your staff to step out and do what they already love in a new venue.
  • Donate damaged books. Books damaged in shipping at times receive credit from the publisher, but usually the vendor tells us to donate them. Donate the children’s titles to your local literacy council or school. They’ll certainly put them to good use.
  • Donate Zondervan’s “I Can Read” Books. These small, inexpensive gems could be added to local tutoring/literacy programs. Big impact here for a small price.
  • Welcome those already in the game. If it’s a table and chairs in the corner of your store or a conference room, let your local ESL groups, teachers, pastors, or tutors know that your store is welcome space for those who need it.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18)

-Sue Smith