The popularity of Christian bestselling books such as The Prayer of Jabez and The Purpose-Driven Life has been a double-edged sword for Christian booksellers. Crossover successes raised awareness of Christian books. But when discount retailers and major bookstores began stocking bestselling Christian books, many buyers started driving past the local Christian bookstore in the strip mall and headed for Wal-Mart, Borders, or logged onto online retailers.

"We've got a little bit of a Catch-22 here," says Bill Anderson, president and CEO of CBA, the association for Christian retailers. "We used to complain that not enough people knew that Christian books existed. As more people have become aware, America's retailers want to sell it, and that has increased our competition." On some titles, independent Christian stores and even chains sell bestsellers for twice as much as Wal-Mart.

Now, CBA is fighting back. It launched an awareness campaign in April, which included television ads on the Christian Broadcasting Network and encouraged Christians to shop at Christian retail stores.

Hundreds of Christian retailers have closed their doors in recent years. Of 271 Christian retail store closings last year, 21 were CBA member stores. This dropped its count to 2,407 stores, including some store openings this year. Between 2000 and 2002, while the general Christian product market grew by $200 million, business at Christian stores shrank by $100 million.

"The year 2001 was a watershed year," Anderson said. "Jabez was the number-one [selling book] in the whole world, Desecration was number two, and the number-four bestselling book was [Bruce] Wilkinson's Secrets of the Vine. That success caught the attention of New York publishers, retailers, ...

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