How Can We Encourage Christ-Followers to Read?

Over the years I’ve bought and read thousands of good books. I cannot divorce God's works of grace in my life from great books. I love a good movie, but I find that for me television is incapable of having the deep and profound positive effect on my spiritual life that books do.

That's one reason I'm so concerned about the plunging literacy rates for young people, especially boys. In a day when we are drowning in popular culture and TV shows and video games, may we and our children and grandchildren break away from obsession with the trivial and become creatures of the eternal. Those who don't grow up to be readers will not be readers of God's Word. That’s why with my graphic novel Eternity one of my goals was to tell a good story with compelling art that draws in young readers who hopefully will move on to some of my other books, and many more as well.  

George Thomsen on encouraging Christ-followers to readI’m including in today’s blog part of an article by George Thomsen, manager at the award-winning Harvest Bookstore, a non-profit Christian bookstore located on the campus of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. (Greg Laurie pastors there, and I’ve had the privilege of speaking with him twice at their church, and will do so again October 27.) This is probably my favorite bookstore in the country!

George has become a good friend of mine over the years. His depth and breadth of knowledge about books is astounding. His great passion is for the Christians to become readers, and readers of both Scripture and great books. Here’s a portion of what George wrote to his fellow bookstore owners and managers, regarding the importance of encouraging reading:

Books as Tools for Transformational Ministry

by George Thomsen

One of the most interesting business books I have ever read is The Experience Economy by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore. …They explain that at some point all people desire commodities, products, service or experiences that will change them for the better. That is why they join a health club, take vitamin supplements, go to conferences and retreats, etc. 

…It has occurred to me how much we as Christian retailers are involved in the business of transformation. What is more transformational than the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Absolutely nothing! Not only do we sell Bibles, gospel tracts and other witnessing tools that are used in spreading the good news in the work of proclamation and salvation, but we also sell books that are useful tools in the process of our sanctification.   

In Romans 12:2 the apostle Paul writes to the church “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind….” Listening to faithful preaching, reading God’s word, engaging in Godly conversation with other believers and the reading of good books are great helps in this process of renewing our minds. Aside from the benefit of spiritual development, there are a multitude of other transformational benefits that can be derived from reading including increased intelligence, stress reduction, improved analytical thinking, better memory, increased vocabulary, better concentration and focus—just to name a few… 

So now I find myself asking…why do we not do more as retailers, publishers, pastors or trade associations to promote reading? After all, reading requires time, effort and commitment.  Visual media like television and the internet, if not regulated, can be huge distractions that take away from valuable reading time. I know this from my own experience. And when I think about it I can honestly say that never has a television show delivered a transformational benefit, though some movies have come very close. Yet like most of you, books have made a huge difference in my life. 

So it seems in my estimation that we ought to be evangelists for the discipline and pastime of reading. It has been said, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”  But I prefer the expanded version which includes the phrase “but you can make him thirsty.” So how can we…create a thirst for what we have to offer? It is one thing to market books to people who are already readers, but what about “evangelizing” those who aren’t?

"Get Caught Reading": Abraham LincolnSeveral years ago I had a wonderful time speaking with Bill Grieg of Gospel Light Publishing about this (he is the one who really got me thinking about this). Bill made me aware of a campaign called “Get Caught Reading” that was sponsored by the American Association of Publishers that still exists today. It is like the “Got Milk?” campaign that was launched by the dairy association. Promotional posters of celebrities who have been “caught reading” are available for download by retailers. There are celebrities like Shawn Johnson, George Foreman, Laura Bush, Abraham Lincoln and even Bob and Larry…

There is a lot an individual retailer can and should do in their local community to be sure. Yet, this in itself will not be enough. Somehow we as an industry and the church need to work collaboratively on a national campaign that makes people aware of the benefits of reading and encourages Christians to become readers.

Somehow we need to involve the church as well. Generally, pastors are readers and want a congregation that is active in transforming their minds towards godliness. Yet, how often do these influencers exhort their people to read? How can we as an industry harness the tremendous power of social media and create a community involving authors, pastors, editors, publishers, stores and churchgoers that is excited about and engaged with others about reading?

…While I don’t have the answers, I know the answers are out there among us. Authors probably already do this better than anyone. Years ago CBA (the Association for Christian Retail) had a “What goes into the mind comes out in a life” slogan. Yet I am not sure that it was direct enough and it was short-lived. I would love to see our industry (and the church) as a whole take this on as a challenge.  

Thanks George, and thanks to countless other Christian bookstore managers, for all you have done for the selling and reading of gospel-centered books!

P. S. For those in church leadership interested in more perspectives, Mike Leake shares “7 Ways to Create a Reading Culture in Your Church.”

Reading photo credit: Garrett Gill via photopin cc | Get Caught Reading credit:

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries