An old slogan of the business world claimed, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.” Evangelicals might ask if the same can be said of the largest corporations in North American Christendom. Is what’s good for Zondervan, Word, and Nelson good for the church? Or what about the 350 smaller companies exhibiting at the recent Christian Booksellers Convention in Dallas, the largest-ever gathering of retail Christian stores and suppliers?
The conservative Protestant industry—now accounting for $2 billion in sales, with products ranging from Bibles to bumper stickers—is dominated by books (about one-third), followed by music and curriculum (about one-quarter each). Coming on strong are videos and computer software.
Since World War II, the growth of Christian “business” has paralleled the growth of independent Christian ministries. These business enterprises, says Allan Fisher, a chronicler of Christian publishing, are “predominantly undenominational, parachurch, lay-oriented, and profit-making.” He adds that the geographical center has been Midwestern, made more so by the recent purchase of the venerable New York publisher Fleming H. Revell by Grand Rapids-based Baker Book House.
Revell, which has had five owners in 20 years, represents the old line of independent religious publishing houses. A majority of today’s household names in Christian books and magazines began in the 1960s and 1970s. Tyndale (1962), Word (1965), Multnomah (1969), Chosen (1971), and Nelson (1969, under present ownership) all joined the older established Cook (1875), Eerdmans (1911), Zondervan (1932), Baker (1939), and denominational houses like Broadman and Concordia.
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