Advice for a Church Bookstore

Article: 20 Pieces of Advice for Establishing a Church Bookstall
by Justin Sok (original source here)

Justin works in Washington, D.C., and is a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

Between the two of us, we’ve served as deacons of our church’s bookstall for several years. As a result, we’ve learned a lot about what to do—and not do—when it comes to maintaining a bookstall. We hope these reflections are helpful to every church that wants to instill sound doctrine in their members through books that are both affordable and faithful.

But before we say anything else, let’s be clear. The goal of a church bookstall isn’t actually to sell books. It’s a discipleship tool. Your goal is not to include every Christian book you can, or even every good Christian book you can. The goal is to highlight the particular books you really want your congregation to read.

For that reason, our church treats book selection as a pastoral responsibility. Every book on the book stall has been added by a pastor. You can buy any book in the world on the internet. But a bookstall is where a church gets to hear from its pastors about what’s worth reading.

1) Budgeting To Start A Bookstall

You’ll need some money on-hand to start. How much? It depends on how big you want your inventory to be. If we estimate that each book could be purchased by the church for $10, you could buy 400 books for $4,000. If you have 5 copies of each title, that means you could carry 80 different titles. You can scale that estimate up or down depending on the size and needs of your congregation.

You’ll also need to set aside some money for shelving and a system to accept payments. You could find a cheap cash box for under $25 if you wanted to accept only cash and checks. If you want to use an electronic point-of-sale system like Square Register, the estimates would jump to around $700, including $100 for a cash drawer, $400 for a tablet to run the app, $50 for a credit card reader, and $30 for a barcode scanner. Some of those items can be found here. Since each church’s shelving may vary widely, we don’t have an estimate for how much shelving would cost.

2) Accessibility

It’s important to determine in advance how accessible the books will be to the congregation. At our church, we leave all books out at all times. The advantage to this is that the books are on hand when pastors or church members want to give them away for discipleship or evangelism. The disadvantage is that some books get taken off the bookstall outside sales hours are and subsequently unaccounted for. (People take books and then forget to leave cash or pay during normal hours.)

The cost of such an open policy will vary based on the size of the church, size of the bookstall, and use made of the bookstall by church staff and members. At our church, the deacon of the bookstall is responsible for regularly reminding staff and the congregation to properly account for books taken during off hours. These regular reminders have decreased the cost of an open policy.

3) Pricing – General Policy

Our goal is to sell books at the lowest possible price that permits the bookstall to be self-sustaining. We don’t sell our books exactly at cost, but the prices are low enough that total revenue is approximately equal to the total cost of the books. Our costs include the books, the price tags (perhaps $20 per year for the several thousand price tags we use), and a credit card swipe fee. The church budgeted for the newly installed electronic point-of-sale system; it wasn’t paid for from bookstall revenue. We also build sales tax into the price.

4) Shelving

Since neither of us were here when the bookcases were installed, we don’t know if they were purchased or constructed. Nonetheless, we have several of them built in at the back of our auditorium. This means the books are easily accessible. That said, our corner layout does cause some traffic problems after the morning service. Continue reading