Christian Retailers, Publishers Convene for 60th Convention

DENVER, Colo. – Ron and Carolyn Meyer see few young people at their local Christian bookstore. They're more likely to see moms and grandmothers come in to purchase devotionals that may help guide their children in their faith.

Owners of Genesis Christian Bookstore in Montrose, Colo., the Meyers are among thousands attending the 2009 International Christian Retail Show, now in its 60th year.

Independent and national Christian retailers and publishers have convened in the Mile High city to connect, learn the latest trends and tools to help grow their ministry's impact, and to support each other – especially during economic hard times.

For the Meyers, the main reason for attending this week's show is to seek out sources for gift products to feature in their store. But when probed about their customer base, they expressed some concerns over the rarity of seeing a young face.

"We don't have the youth coming to our stores much anymore," Ron Meyer said. "They're getting their music sources [and other] resources elsewhere" – mainly the Internet.

Data collected by R.R. Bowker General Manager Kelly Gallagher and a consumer research panel shows that the "active Christian," who has a high belief of Scripture and a high level of church involvement, is the core customer of Christian retailers.

And the active Christian is on average around 48 years old – about six years older than the general book-buying population.

"We are serving an older audience," Gallagher said Sunday during an afternoon session.

Some retailers say they're losing younger patrons to the Internet. Amazon.com is now the largest single sales channel in the United States for book purchases, says Gallagher.

But many believe they're simply losing youths, period.

Author and popular speaker Josh McDowell gave attendees at the International Christian Retail Show a wake-up call when he presented them with sobering statistics about today's youths. Among the data, only nine percent of young Christians in America say there is truth. That's only three percent higher than the general youth population.

"The last four major studies show there's no difference between evangelical fundamental born-again Christian kids and the average secular kid," McDowell told them, insisting that these are not a spike in research.

McDowell, who has worked with youths for five decades, says there is an onslaught of young people leaving the Church because they don't believe it's true or relevant.

And if they don't act now, it can be too late, he says.

While there is a cause for concern, Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, told attendees earlier that the sky is not falling.

The Church is not thriving as it once has but this is a time to respond soberly and not alarmingly, Stetzer said.

One place to start may be the Internet.

Only a handful of the independent Christian bookstore owners indicated they're Twitterers, bloggers or on Facebook.

Lori May is venturing into the Christian bookstore business but plans to start her store online. May is convinced that the world is in need of truth and wants to provide a resource to get people the answers they're searching for.

While the economic climate is forcing her to start her business online before opening up a bookstore in her neighborhood, she says the Internet is a direction Christian retailers need to be going. She plans to call it Epic Bookstore.

The International Christian Retail Show celebrates its 60th anniversary on Monday. This year's show is shorter by one day compared to last year's and will conclude Wednesday.