This is the third post in a six part series on establishing and maintaining a church book table, stall, or store. Many of the ideas and experiences are based on the bookstall at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC where I have been blessed to serve as Deacon of Bookstall for over two and a half years. This post will consider whether a church bookstall should be operated as a business or ministry.
Are You Selling as a Business or a Ministry?
Most churches will see their book sales as a ministry. The difficulty is in making it clear that your book table is a ministry. Following are a few aspects of our bookstall that make it look more like a ministry than a business.
First, we sell at cost. We take our cost for the book, including shipping and the sales tax we must collect and remit to the government, rounded to the nearest dollar. We smooth these prices to get as close as possible to our goal of neither making nor losing money on the sale of these books. The natural result of this is that we lose money. More accurately, the church subsidizes the bookstall by including it as a line item in the annual budget. The loss is a result of shrinkage (presumably, some people do not understand that the books are not free and others sometimes take a book intending to pay, but forget). Selling at cost is also made possible by relying entirely on volunteers to run the bookstall.
Second, we do not close off the books. No business leaves its wares unwatched and accessible while it is closed. But, though we encourage people to purchase books only when the bookstall is open, books can be taken and paid for when the church building is open, but the bookstall closed.
Third, we give books away. We make CCEF booklets available for free. We do note our cost and some people pay for them. Our pastors believe these to be particularly helpful counseling booklets that touch on sensitive topics and we are happy for people to take them without paying if they promise to read them. We give away more than 1500 of these booklets each year. Also, one book on our bookstall is thought to be a valuable, but overly expensive, evangelistic tool. The church subsidizes the book by charging far less for it than it costs us. And, though not strictly part of the bookstall ministry, our church annually allocates funds to “pastoral accounts.” Pastors frequently pull books off the bookstall, give them away, and charge them to these accounts.
None of these points is made to imply that a church should never run a bookstore as a business or even that a book business could not adopt some of these procedures. The point is just that the purpose of your book ministry or business should be defined from the start and evident in your practice.
J.A. Ingold is Deacon of Bookstall at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. You can see what he’s reading at Bookpress.