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Family Christian Stores closing after 85 years

A Family Christian Store in Appleton, Wis. Photo courtesy Wikimedia

(RNS) Family Christian Stores, which filed for bankruptcy protection two years ago, has announced it is closing after 85 years.

The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company employed more than 3,000 people in 240 retail sites across 36 states. It was considered the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise.

“We had two very difficult years post-bankruptcy,” said Chuck Bengochea, company president, in a statement. “Despite improvements in product assortment and the store experience, sales continued to decline.”

Bengochea said the nonprofit company was not able to work out terms and pricing with its vendors that allowed it to compete in the market successfully.

“We have prayerfully looked at all possible options, trusting God’s plan for our organization, and the difficult decision to liquidate is our only recourse,” Bengochea said.

The company was also known for providing humanitarian aid. In a statement, the company said it had served more than 14 million widows, orphans and other oppressed people across the world.

At the time of the bankruptcy protection filing, Bengochea said the company “took on too much debt” due to declining sales and was hit by the 2008-09 recession and the digital revolution that has changed the sales of books, movies and music.

In 2015, MLive Media Group reported that the chain had $230 million in sales in 2014, down from $305 million in 2008. Publishers Weekly reported that the chain had “assets of between $50 million and $100 million and liabilities in the same range.” The magazine said creditors included prominent publishers such as HarperCollins Christian Publishing, which was owed $7.5 million.

Family Christian Stores was founded in the 1930s. In 2012, it was purchased by three businessmen and donated to the nonprofit Family Christian Ministries.

Its closest competitor was LifeWay Christian Stores, with more than 170 stores.

The president of CBA, formerly known as the Christian Booksellers Association, said in a statement that his organization was “saddened” for the employees and customers affected by the loss of Family Christian Stores and grateful for its long history.

“Family Christian Stores has been an important part of a global network of Christian product providers, yet this decision will not change the strength of our industry’s mission to make God’s name known,” said Curtis Riskey.

“This news brings to light the importance of adapting to a changing marketplace and changes in consumer behavior and can be a catalyst that encourages us in the Christian products industry to find new ways to work together and learn from each other as we continue to equip people with life-giving resources.”

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

28 Comments

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  • I am sorry for those loosing jobs and businesses, but this is just one more sign that fundamentalist and conservative religion in the U.S. is in serious decline. A Pew survey a few years back asked 15-25 year-old’s what was the single word or message of the Christian Church in the United States? Their reply was not “God is love”, or “Grace”, or “Jesus saves”, but the number one answer coming in at 26%, was “God hates fags”!!! If that is the message you give young people, why should they continue in their churches, go to Christian Colleges or be customers in a Christian book store. And considering that 85% of evangelical Christians voted for an adulterer, a racist, a misogynist, and a man that has basically no understanding of what being a Christian is about, the evangelical church has signed its own death warrant the same way it has signed the death warrant for religious book stores. You reap what you sow.

  • ““We have prayerfully looked at all possible options, trusting God’s plan for our organization, and the difficult decision to liquidate is our only recourse,” Bengochea said.”

    Bengochea seems to have unwittingly revealed one more reason to conclude that Christianity is nonsense.

    But I am sad about 3,000 people losing their jobs.

  • Curious how Christian businesses operate no differently from secular businesses. Harpers Christian demands at $7 million from Family just like any cutthroat corporation would. Not much sign of God in that business. One would expect things to be quite different if their god existed.

  • Jon Keeling: Jon Erickson has a point, regardless of the “Family Christian” business. However well the business intended or accomplished, the take away of many people is that the church exists to perpetuate racism, sexism, pedophilia, discrimination, etc. So, in fact all religions are in a decline, except some Evangelicals. The fact that “85% of Evangelicals voted for an adulterer, a racist, a misogynist, and a man that has basically no understanding of what being a Christian is about, the evangelical church has signed its own death warrant.” Consider not just the business, but particularly the culture that has moved beyond the businesses ethics,, perhaps because of their higher ethical or moral beliefs – those would be the people who did not vote for Trump and ultra Conservatism.

  • Perspective is a crazy thing. None of what you quoted is fact, but you are more than welcome to your perception. Have a wonderful day!

  • The rise and fall of “Christian” businesses and particular percentages of adherence by Americans notwithstanding, you can’t kill the Church…CAN’T DO IT. But if you’re so inclined, you’re welcome to try, the effort will be wasted.

  • Strange that you should say that nothing I quoted is a fact. I have taken my “facts” from good reliable sources. Perhaps you have alternate facts, so why don’t you put them out there, rather than say my facts are not facts?

  • Edward Borges-Silva. I hope you don’t think I want to kill the church. It is impossible, I think, to stop the wisdom and Spirit of God from moving among us. But, some things about the church must change, I think, or Christianity may weaken and die, at least temporarily.

  • Actually, conservative, evangelical Christianity continues to grow in
    the United States and around the world. While the number of liberal
    Christians in the United States dropped from 41 million in 2007 to 36
    million in 2014, the number of conservative, evangelical Christians grew
    from 59 million in 2007 to 62 million in 2014, according to the 2014
    Religious Landscape Study by the Pew Research Foundation. Expect that
    trend to continue to accelerate in the coming years, as conservative,
    evangelical Christian families usually have more children than the
    general population. As for the demise of Family Christian stores, that
    is similar to what has happened to many secular bookstore chains like
    Borders because of the rise of Amazon.

  • You are conveniently ignoring the accelerating increase in the percentage/number of “nones” in the U.S. According to the Pew Research Center in 2015 . . .

    Religious “nones” – a shorthand we use to refer to people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular” – now make up roughly 23% of the U.S. adult population. This is a stark increase from 2007, the last time a similar Pew Research study was conducted, when 16% of Americans were “nones.” (During this same time period, Christians have fallen from 78% to 71%.) . . .

    Not only are the “nones” growing, but how they describe themselves is changing. Self-declared atheists or agnostics still make up a minority of all religious “nones.” But both atheists and agnostics are growing as a share of all religiously unaffiliated people, and together they now make up 7% of all U.S. adults (up from 4% in 2007). Nearly two-thirds of atheists and agnostics are men, and the group also tends to be whiter and more highly educated than the general population. . . .

    http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/13/a-closer-look-at-americas-rapidly-growing-religious-nones/

  • The question remains; What are the things that must change? If you refer to our present application and presentation of Christian principles to an unbelieving world, I would agree. If you mean changing specific precepts to placate sinners who have no thought of repentance, I cannot accept that. I acknowledge both my shortcomings and sins as a Christian in the active present sense. But I mourn them as well. Is there social and economic injustice in the world, and do Christians have a responsibility to address those issues? Absolutely.

  • I’m afraid I missed your “present application and presentation of Christian principles .” Could you elaborate on this? I’m not sure we have an unbelieving world, and I don’t mean changing precepts “to placate sinners who have no thought of repentance.” But I do think that even believers need somewhere to go after repentance, and some churches are silent on this point, as if “accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior” is all they need to do. I think many people are looking for ethical and moral ways to address social and economic injustice, and are looking to leaders who are Christian to do this If they don’t find such leaders, well. . . . .

  • There’s always Franklin Graham, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollay, the Late lamented Eddie Long, Jim Bakker, Falwell jr., Kirk Cameron, Rick Santorum, The two popes,he vast real estate empires of the the Mormon church, the German archbishop of bling, that woman shilling for trump, and a host of others I could name,

    Do they count?

  • Jon Erickson – I think that there are many failures of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists. whether “Christian” or other religions of the world all have in common hateful, judgmental attitudes toward other people. The Liberal or Progressive churches in America, such as mine – Episcopal – are interested in diversity, inclusiveness, which many fundamentalist denominations are not. There are many thoughtful Christians who no longer call themselves Theists, but who nevertheless have a lively faith in God and their brothers and sisters in Jesus. I think a new “church” is being born by such Progressive Christians. Our Bishop, John Spong wrote a couple of good books – Why Christianity Must Change or Die,
    and Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism – very provocative. Those like Franklin Graham are dinosaurs.

  • Well, it’s possible to stand for biblical truths and commands, but if we fail to meet people where they are, our declaration of those truths will be ineffective. As Christians we often meet people who have no basic knowledge of the faith and whose views of the faith are framed by popular perceptions that are often not reflective of the truly affirmative nature of Christianity. Certainly a mere declaration of Jesus as Lord and Savior is insufficient to my way of thinking. This is where the epistle of James becomes so valuable. He is not in conflict with Paul, as Martin Luther and others have argued, he simply emphasizes the fact that true faith manifests itself in active good works; though works do not save they are an evidence of genuine faith. The difficulty lies in the fact that even among Christians and Christian leaders there is considerable disagreement about what constitutes social and economic justice. At the same time, I have little hope for a truly just society or world until Christ Returns to bring to an end the ineffective human administration of the world. I am curious about your thought that you’re “not sure we have an unbelieving world.” Can you flesh that out a bit?

  • As a former ELCA Lutheran pastor, I quite agree. I have read Spong and enjoy his thought. (Rescuing the Bible). I would direct you to James Fowler who writes about developmental Stages of Faith, seeing fundamentalist as a failure to mature. (He’s a Methodist but we forgive him for that!!) Most fundamentalists are stuck at about a nine year old level and for some reason have not been able to (or willing to) move on to deeper understanding. If they do, they most often get stuck in the next stage of black-and-white thinking. Graham may come across like an adult in the rest of the world but his “religious thinking is that of a nine year old. I think the hateful and judgmental thinking is not really that, but the thinking of a spoiled nine year old. “I’m right and you’re wrong! What else is there to say until you agree with me?” For most, God is only one step above Santa Claus, which as you so in-sightly conclude, is no different than Islam fundamentalism or in any faith. I will add a link to a nice five page article about Fowler’s thought you might enjoy as well. Let me know what you think??!!
    http://media.wix.com/ugd/18a280_eb803d35e4e346aab67230499245666b.pdf

  • Jon Erickson: I would love to read the book you are recommending. I heard about it a long time ago, but never followed up on it. It sounds very much like the kind of evolutionary position I like to take about stages of “religion.” Some of us are more mature than others. That helps me not be so angry at some!
    My first husband thought he wanted to be an ELCA pastor, and we came to Columbus for him to study at what was then the Capital U. seminary in the late 60s. Quite frankly, it had something to do with the break-up of our relationship!
    Capital was then very hard, very strict, and was the epitome of what I didn’t believe. I know it has changed a lot now, thank goodness. I am happy in the Episcopal church, possibly because I found them very tolerant of what was then my heretical beliefs! Now, those beliefs are much more mainstream, and I am comfortable in a church that not only tolerates me, but encourages me to be curious and in some cases rebellious.
    Thank you for your recommendation. I look forward to reading it. Marlene Talbott-Green

  • I had considered Columbus but had heard it was rather rigid. Went to Gettysburg in 1974 and never regretted it. It was considered the “rural” seminary and I always wanted to be in a rural setting.

    I find that in the last number of years the Episcopalians are attractive to the ELCA because of their hierarchical structure. Lutheran pastors seem to like the CEO model of that which helped to support the merger a few years back. I guess I was always a “gut level” kind of pastor but that also made me a punching bag for many Fowler-level-three parishioners. I had the heart but too much thought. I left the Lutheran Church 22 years ago and after many years of being unchurched ended up in a Unitarian Universalist church which I find very accepting of my strange theology but still not much better in building a “family” experience among its members.

    “Some of us are more mature than others.” Interesting how you stated that. I always consider that some never grow in their understanding. Kind of half empty/half full glass language. I think that book is easily available on Amazon and as far as I am concerned, it is probably the single most important book in defining my theological and political understanding I have read since leaving seminary. Good luck in finding it and if you do, drop me an e-mail with some thoughts. My e-mail is in small letters my whole name (last then first) etc. backwards at gmail. com. Would love to hear from you.

  • It sounds like you and I may have had some parallel experiences with “churches.” I very much appreciate hearing about them. Sometimes in the past I have felt like the Lone Ranger! It’s not that I wish other people to have the travails of spirit that I did, but it is comforting to find one is not alone.
    So, the book is Stages of Faith? I will get it and read it gladly. Thanks for sharing your experiences and your references.

  • I know the Lone Ranger experience. By the way, The Lone Ranger is one of my favorite characters. Have you read Sherman Alexie’s, “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven”, a collection of Native American story/essays. One of my favorites. Also “The Lone Ranger’s Code of the West”, Jim Lichtman, values and ethics based on the stories from television episodes? Both are fun and insightful. By the way, living in the prairie of northeastern Colorado, there is not much stimulation so that’s why I get into these blog posts and follow-ups. It is 130 miles round trip to the UU church I attend, so mental stimulation is few and far between. If you would like to continue, on this or expand into other topics, I would enjoy that. We seem to have some common areas of experience and theology.

  • I would like to continue as time and energy allow. I am recovering from total knee replacement and am in physical therapy, which takes up more time than one might think. I am a mental health professional, Counseling and Therapy, not retired, and need to get back to work 2 days a week, when I think I am ready. I have an office in my home. If you like, go to my website – Marlene Talbott-Green PhD or Labrys Counseling and Therapy, which will tell you a little about me. I’m really old, but I need the stimulation of work. Like you, I also look for stimulation, and it’s hard to find intellectual stimulation, especially when I am rather homebound. My son is a Prof. of Philosophy at the American University at Beirut, and when he is home, or even on e-mail, he provides a lot of intellectual stimulation for me. He specializes in Leibniz and Ethics. So, I also like stories about ethics, especially how they work in different cultures. This past couple of years of campaigns and chaos, have provided me with a lot of stimulation and a lot of anger. I am quite interested in politics and religion. My undergrad degree was in Comparative Lit., and so I miss that discipline once my work takes over and keeps me stuck in psychology! How do I get my personal e-mail address to you?

  • FG is much worse than a dinosaur, but an example of one who uses the heretical KJV of the Bible as a weapon. We need to thank those in Puerto Rico and Victoria BC for opposing his hate speech.

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