Monday, January 15, 2007
Emergent Church Fiction
In the recent issue of Christian Retailing, editor Andy Butcher wrote an editorial about the difficulties of Christian bookstores serving the “emergent church.” This periodical is targeted to booksellers, and there’s nothing in the editorial that speaks directly to Christian fiction, but I do see connections between Butcher’s thoughts and our fiction industry.
As the pull-quote notes: “For many Gen X and Gen Y believers, their local Christian bookstore simply isn’t on the radar.”
I agree. Whether they’re buying nonfiction or fiction, twentysomethings will tend to patronize a store that offers more choices and less outward “spiritualism”—and often, a coffee shop atmosphere in which to hang out. In other words, they’ll probably choose a B&N over the local Christian bookstore.
It’s great to see that the booksellers are grappling with how to reach this segment of the market. At CBA Advance later this month, a session will be offered that examines the emergent movement and its implications for Christian publishing. Butcher opines it will “be a lively discussion.”
I don’t want to get into debates about the emergent church and its pros and cons. There are people on all sides of this issue. But the fact is, whether you believe everything these folks believe or not—they are seeking truth, and they want books to help them do so. As more nonfiction books are being written for this age group and mindset, fiction should also be considered. I know some publishers are doing this—specifically targeting the 18-34-year-olds. (By the way, I’m nowhere near an emergent church expert. However, I’m not sure that one age group makes up for 100% of the emergent church folk. But it seems most people equate the younger generation with the emergent church, and so for general purposes, I’m going along with that equation.)
The fact that booksellers and publishers are targeting this group excites me because of what it could mean for our fiction in the future. I don’t think it will negate the kinds of fiction that are now offered. The core Christian readership will always be with us—and they want a certain type of story. Serving the emergent church group should expand our market into offering different kinds and genres of fiction. For example, many in this age group might enjoy fantasy and sci-fi fiction with a Christian worldview. They’ll enjoy certain kinds of suspense and contemporaries, too. By and large, these may be stories with less overt Christian tone.
Thing is, Christian booksellers will have to figure out how to let this target audience know the books are out there to buy. And there’s the rub. Any publisher who sticks its toe in such “emergent fiction” water is going to be watching sales carefully. If the books don’t sell, houses will quickly stop publishing that kind of story. And if this targeted audience doesn’t frequent Christian bookstores, and meanwhile the B&Ns of the world house Christian fiction and nonfiction together at the back of the store… Good marketing will be essential. And I’d far rather see the books bought at Christian stores rather than B&N. Butcher is right—our stores will need to work if they want to win these folks over.
So, yes. This whole “emerging” audience could enlarge our offering of fiction. But it’s going to take everybody to make it work. Novelists at the top of their craft to write great fiction for the audience. Houses willing to publish it—and market it well to the target audience. Booksellers willing to woo these folks—while also serving the needs of their core audience—who may not like the emergents and what they stand for. Not an easy task to balance these two groups, which often seek very different atmospheres in a store.
So much for my opinion—what do you think? Does the thought of expanded fiction for the emergent church excite you? Frighten you? Make you just a little wary? What do you think such fiction will look like? Could you write it?