I have mentioned before our three pronged strategy to get our people reading a bit more. First, we have a list of resources on our church website that people can access, click links and then buy for themselves. Second, we have a church book stall at which people can buy select material we want to encourage them to read. We run it in such a way that some books are cheaper than you would get elsewhere, using discounts on certain books to sell others at reduced value too. Third, we offer free giveaways. Just before the sermon I stand up with a selection of books and give them away to whomever raises their hand and asks for it.
Whilst it is helpful to get our people reading good things, the reading itself is probably the least significant of what we are trying to do through this. Ideally, people would read and then pass those same books on to somebody else. Most importantly, we hope people read them, pass them on and then meet up with someone else who has read it to talk about what they have learnt. We are not aiming for a reading culture per se, but a discipling culture in which people talk about what the Lord has been teaching them. The books are really one way of giving them material and fodder to chat about.
But I thought it might be helpful to share some benefits of giving books away for free. Here are some things that we think are beneficial.
Free giveaways puts good material in people’s hands. If they don’t have it, or they’ve never heard of it, they can’t read it. Encouraging people to spend money on books they aren’t sure about can be a tall order too, especially if they’re not big readers. But giving people books for free, with no strings attached, increases the likelihood that they will read the material. Even if they don’t read the whole thing cover to cover, if they only dip in, there will be good things they will learn from it.
We are ultimately less concerned about the reading of itself as we are about creating a discipleship culture. We want people in the church to find it normal to read books and then meet other Christians to talk about them. We want it to be normal for believers in the church to read something and share with other believers what they thought about it. We want people to read things are start thinking critically about what it says and how, or if, it applies to them. The more people doing this together, the better.
We believe in the power of preaching. We believe that God will work to challenge, grow and build up his people through the preaching of his Word. But we don’t believe that this is the only means God uses. The Lord can speak through his Word in different settings and in different ways. Nor do we assume that everyone drinks in every word that is preached from the front – it just isn’t so! One of the ways we can supplement and reinforce the teaching and preaching in the church is to give away free books that teach the same truths. Someone may not get every word of the sermon, but might recall more of what you said as they read the same truths in a book. They may not have understood exactly what you meant, but get it more clearly as they read something reinforcing the same thing. Free books helps people understand better and reinforces what you are teaching.
Highlights helpful writers/speakers
One of the most helpful things giving away free books does is to highlight who good authors and preachers are. Some people may never heard of RC Sproul, Don Carson or Mark Dever, but the more books you give away by these authors, people clue into the fact that these are men worth listening to and whom the church are saying can be trusted. There will almost certainly be much lesser known authors that people don’t know. But again, over the course of a few years, people will cotton on to which publishers all these books are coming from. When they are looking for resources themselves, or searching online articles and blogs, or even just watching videos online, they will have a store of names of people who are known and approved by the church. They can be listened to with a degree of confidence.