Lifeway Stores to Close

Last week the Lifeway Christian Store chain announced the closure of all 170 of their stores by the end of this calendar year.

This is follows the closure of the Family Christian Stores in 2017 (240 locations). And in 2012 the Cokesbury chain closed (35 stores). Over 400 total locations closed in seven years. You may also recall that Borders closed 500 locations in 2011. (I started my career in this industry with the Berean Christian Stores. That chain was bought by Lifeway in 2013.)

The State of All Retail

The brick and mortar retail environment has been under siege for many years as the consumer’s eye has wandered. Some chains adapted well, others did not. Every retail industry has been affected by the un-malling of America.

Obviously the loss of 170 locations will impact those communities and make it harder to find the right products. Lifeway has been an important resource in those communities. Buying a Bible is usually an exercise in comparison of the various sizes, colors, study options, etc. Buying the right gift product with a Christian message of some sort is highly tactile and visual.

From a business perspective, at least this is not a bankruptcy. Invoices will be paid and author royalties unaffected, as long as sales volume is recovered elsewhere.

What Does This Mean for the Publishing Industry?

Meanwhile publishers continue to find new outlets for their products, and will again. There are still many Christian bookstores out there and many large churches have one on their campus.

I do know one major publisher started seeing a decline in sales to Lifeway quite some time ago. And yet this same publisher had record sales, last year.

Publishers obviously are not thrilled, but they are not wringing their hands.

Don’t forget that Publishers sell far beyond bookstores and For example, I have a client who sells over one hundred thousand of her books each year. Almost 98% of those are to ministries which use them as gifts or as a fund raiser. It has been rare to find her books in a bookstore for many years.

Publishers are not going to be hurt in the long run by this. This should mean happy authors as well.

Remember to think of the thousands of retailers who will be without work in the next year.

Writers? Please don’t despair. The enemy would love nothing more than for you to be distracted by the ebb and flow of the retail economy. The world needs great content by great writers and great communicators.

26 Responses to Lifeway Stores to Close

  1. Loretta Eidson March 25, 2019 at 4:53 am #

    I hate to see Lifeway go, but I’m glad publishers aren’t panicking! Back to my keyboard!

  2. Linsey March 25, 2019 at 5:11 am #

    Thanks so much for your encouragement, Steve!

  3. Terry Whalin March 25, 2019 at 5:30 am #


    Thank you for this post. The first reaction is to despair when such news breaks about the closing of bookstores (which we love). I’ve been inside Lifeway stores in recent years and they have been empty–not a good sign for sales in my view.

    I appreciate the positive, encouraging information in this post. Writers need to persist and continue to grow their own audience. I know of a children’s book that has sold over 400,000 copies–and it is not through the normal expected channels but special sales in bulk to corporations. Writers need to look for those opportunities in addition to expected places like retail. These possibilities are out there but the writer has to take action for them to happen. Sitting back and doing nothing achieves nothing.

    Straight Talk From the Editor

  4. Damon J. Gray March 25, 2019 at 5:31 am #

    While not wringing my hands, it is sad, and even a little depressing to see this happen. I had a similar reaction to the Family Christian Store closeout. The one in my little hometown has been replaced by a private bookstore run by the gentleman who managed the Family Christian Store. I hope and pray he is able to make it go.

  5. Dana Peters-Colley March 25, 2019 at 5:32 am #

    Thank you for this post, Steve. The closing announcement affected me deeply. But your post gave me – and I’m sure, others, hope that what we create will be used by God.

  6. Gail Helgeson March 25, 2019 at 5:41 am #

    Thank you for this post.
    “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

  7. Erica Wiggenhorn March 25, 2019 at 5:52 am #

    This is disappointing for communities across the country! As an author, if one of our goals is no longer “shelf space” within a major Christian retail chain, where would you suggest we focus our marketing efforts to let people know about our books?

    • Steve Laube March 25, 2019 at 11:39 am #

      For a long time the best author marketing is through your own email newsletters. These are people who ask to hear from you. Building that list is crucial.

      Another recent option is buying Amazon ads. But be very careful. There are good ways to do it and bad ways. And, like Facebook ads, they may work well at first and then the algorithm changes and it doen’t work the same.

  8. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 25, 2019 at 6:40 am #

    The slow decline of retail places,
    the golden age of Amazon;
    we’re losing small and gentle graces;
    where has our community gone?
    We need the people in the aisles,
    the people unlike us,
    and the brief and quiet smiles,
    for is not Heaven thus?
    The person that you helped today
    retrieve a fallen load
    went home, and did gladly pray
    that he met you on the road.
    Yes, we can witness in digital lands,
    but still need intentional, solid hands.

  9. Carol Ashby March 25, 2019 at 6:55 am #

    Steve, what would passage of the Equality Act mean for bookstores in churches?

    For those unfamiliar with what is going on in the US Congress right now, here’s some info from Wikipedia.

    The Equality Act updates the definitions of three terms in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system.

    “sex” to include a sex stereotype, sexual orientation or gender identity, and pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition
    “sexual orientation” as homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality
    “gender identity” as gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms, or characteristics, regardless of the individual’s designated sex at birth.

    The Equality Act expands the categories of “public accommodations” to include places or establishments that provide:

    exhibitions, recreation, exercise, amusement, gatherings, or displays
    goods, services, or programs, including a store, a shopping center, an online retailer or service provider, a salon, a bank, a gas station, a food bank, a service or care center, a shelter, a travel agency, a funeral parlor, or a health care, accounting, or legal service
    transportation services.

    Will that addition of any place that includes a store cause many churches to close their bookstores to avoid legal risk?

    • Brennan S. McPherson March 25, 2019 at 8:38 am #

      I think it’s much too unpredictable for anyone to say. My guess is the right to religious liberty will always be in tension with laws attempting to mitigate social problems, but religious liberty will win out until the current government becomes despotic. Politicians DO fear making too many people angry. We just need to keep our heads down, live the Gospel, preach the Word, and keep awake and sober-minded, not giving into fear or outrage.

      “12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory[b] and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

      “If the righteous is scarcely saved,
      what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[c]

      19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” 1 Peter 4:12-19

    • Steve Laube March 25, 2019 at 11:40 am #


      I’d rather not comment on politically charged topics on this blog. Not the right forum.


  10. Daphne Woodall March 25, 2019 at 7:41 am #

    I have seen the decline with Lifeway in my area. The campus Lifeway closed about five years ago with another store 20 minutes away. That store just remodeled last year with fewer books and more gift items on display.

    But I’m mostly concerned for the District Manager and his family whom we know and other employees losing their jobs.

    Online shopping will continue to grow for everything. My personal preference is having products in hand before purchasing. At least with books I don’t have to try them on!

  11. Debby Kratovil March 25, 2019 at 8:12 am #

    This makes me sad because of how bookstores and libraries figured into the raising of my 3 daughters. Those places were magical! But I understand where things are going as I’ve watched it in my own industry (having been a magazine editor for 14 years in a craft niche market). I got out just in time to “reinvent” myself before the total collapse came a few years later. I’ve seen several publishing houses either go bankrupt or just suddenly close to avoid bankruptcy. I feel for those who have lost their jobs! People will ALWAYS love to read and there will always be a need (and hunger) for authors to satisfy that! It’s not always true: “If you write it, they will come (and read)”, but we can try!

    • Steve Laube March 25, 2019 at 11:42 am #


      The craft magazine giant F+W Media, which had 50 magazines under it’s management, declared bankruptcy two weeks ago. One of those magazines is Writers Digest.

      They do hope to find a buyer for their book division and selected magazines in the near future.

      • Debby March 26, 2019 at 4:20 am #

        Yes, I was a contract worker with F & W and saw things going sour for well over a year before they declared bankruptcy. At least one of their holdings got out in time (for whom I contract at large trade shows). They gobbled up so many trade magazines that they ended up devouring themselves! There is so much despair in my community about a few of their craft magazines with serious venting on other blogs; subscribers feel betrayed. But if you can’t find advertising for the printed page (where the bulk of revenue comes from), then you have to fold! For the past three years most of the ads in these magazines were for F & W’s other holdings. Obviously, it was unsustainable!

  12. Paul Luiso March 25, 2019 at 8:30 am #

    I contacted LifeWay about carrying my Christian novel and they told me they didn’t handle self-published works. This is something Barnes & Noble has started doing and perhaps if LifeWay have considered doing it too, it may have stopped them from having to close their stores or at least slowed down the process. It’s important to keep up with what’s going on in the world and that includes the publishing business.

    • Brennan S. McPherson March 25, 2019 at 8:50 am #

      Good luck getting your indy book into Barnes & Noble. They make it horribly difficult, as well, and they’re not doing so hot, either. But I don’t think that’s the issue. There are many more contributing factors (and more powerful ones) having to do with consumer mindset and the competitive landscape.

  13. Connie Welch March 25, 2019 at 8:30 am #

    This is sad news. While I understand it comes down to business and financial decisions, there is immense value in brick and mortar Christian stores. I’ve heard wonderful testimonies of people receiving prayer, counsel, and hope who have been helped by Lifeway employees. When shopping for Bibles and study aids, it’s very beneficial to look through these in person rather than online.

    I’ve often joked with my husband if I ever come up missing, I’m probably hanging out at a bookstore, start searching Lifeway first since it’s my favorite.

    As a writer, while this news saddens me, we must persevere to write Christian material for there is a great need for Christ’s hope in our society.

  14. Sharon K Connell March 25, 2019 at 9:10 am #

    Thank you for the information, Steve. And for the encouraging words at the end of your article. It’s sad to see the stores disappear, but it’s the way things are in this world. We as writers have to make changes along with them. But good Christian stories will always be read, told, and desired.

  15. Shirlee Abbott March 25, 2019 at 9:30 am #

    I mourn the loss of brick and mortar bookstores, but where I live it’s an hour’s drive to find one. As I get older, on-line ordering with delivery to my door has been a blessing. I work part-time in a high school, and many students tell me they hate books. That breaks my heart.

    • Steve Laube March 25, 2019 at 11:43 am #


      High schoolers have said they hate books since the first scrolls and parchments were used in education.

      They don’t like to read assigned books.

  16. claire o'sullivan March 25, 2019 at 12:20 pm #

    Used to hang out in bookstores and libraries for hours. Then Barnes and Noble or the local Christian bookstore. Then Amazon. It is impersonal. I miss the old days. But we move with the time/technology except for the Word of God.

  17. Pepper Basham March 25, 2019 at 2:49 pm #

    Thanks so much for the perspective and encouraging words, Steve! I really appreciate how you’re addressing this disappointing situation.

  18. Peggy Booher March 26, 2019 at 8:15 pm #


    I was saddened to hear of Lifeway’s closing, even though there aren’t any around here. As a person working in retail, I feel for the employees.

    Thank you for the way you managed to put encouragement in the post.

    When I think of events such as this, I think of the Apostle Paul, who worked to spread the gospel regardless of events and circumstances. He just kept doing what he was supposed to do.

  19. S. Kim Henson March 26, 2019 at 10:37 pm #

    I love that no matter what news you deliver, you keep it positive and encouraging and refuse to give into fear. Thanks for that!

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