In the last issue I took a look at one area of book retailing which is not diminishing (according to the available data at least), the Children’s market. This time round I’m turning my attention to another area which, for the Christian trade, should be right up there alongside Bibles in importance – Children’s resources. By this I mean the stuff we produce for our Children’s workers, toddler groups and so on.
Why is this important? Well it seems that growing churches are those where there are growing numbers of children and young families attending regularly (see From Anecdote to Evidence, a report from the Church of England)
Recently I’ve travelled around a bit of the UK and discovered that there are many churches engaging successfully with Messy Church (2371, UK and International, according to data supplied by BRF), but beyond Messy Church and the like there are many churches which have organised groups for pre-schoolers through into teenagers on days other than Sunday.In recent years we’ve moved on significantly from the ‘Sunday school lady with the flannel graph’ so generously depicted in the What’s in the Bible with Buck Denver series of DVD’s produced by Phil Vischer. In many ways Children’s workers probably have move variety and scope to choose from than ever before.
Alongside the books, activity sheets and leader’s resources produced by Scripture Union and the like (which are now available online as well as print of course) we have DVD’s such as the aforementioned What’s in the Bible series, Veggietales, Friends and Heroes and the Torchlighter series to name but four. All of these are excellent Bible teaching vehicles with high production values and can provide an almost ready-made curriculum.
In this article I’m not going to review a string of products, although towards the end I’ll signpost a couple of things which might have missed your attention and flag up some new releases in the box. Here I’m going to look at how developing relationships with Children’s workers and those who train them could bring a boost business and your links with local churches.
Connecting with Children’s workers
We often hear of the importance of connecting with church leaders in terms of strengthening relationships (and business opportunities) with the local churches. It’s even more important however in the area of Children’s ministry because many of those involved are often more likely to be in need of support, advice and help with regard to resources.
The continuing success of the Hand in Hand Children’s and Family Ministry Conference run by Kingsway Trust is testament to the need for those working in this sector to be supported. When I visited the conference this year I was struck by the vast amount of resources available. If I was a Children’s worker I wouldn’t really know where to start.
Going to such a conference helps of course because you get to meet resourceful people face to-face. But what happens when you get back home – who can help you then? Well, if they know their stuff, then clearly the local Christian retailer ought to be a valuable port of call.
You may not be an expert on Children’s resources but someone on your team might be. Or you could ask some local Children’s workers to become ‘consultants’ to you, checking out the resources and trialling new stuff that comes along?
Ask the experts ...
Rona Orme, Children’s Missioner for the Diocese of Peterborough believes Christian retailers who aren’t engaging with people like her and her colleagues might just be missing out on some business opportunities.“People like me are training people as Children’s leaders; we are recommending product the whole time,” says Rona. “If I recommend something and the local bookshop hasn’t got it then the people will, probably go elsewhere and get it. Having a relationship with your local ‘trainer’ means that you could ensure you have the product available in stock – or even run a bookstall at a diocesan (or similar) training event.”
Linking with people like Rona can provide a connection with schools too. “I would advise bookshop managers to contact my equivalent around the country and in other denominations too. Many LEA’s no longer have RE Advisors which means RE Coordinators in schools no longer have that avenue of finding out about available resources - so there’s an opportunity there.”
How do you find people like Rona? Contact your local Bishop’s office and ask for the person responsible for Children and Youth work in the diocese. “Like me, says Rona, “they will be sending out regular newsletters to their database of contacts and Christian bookshops should be using this means of getting information out there.” Rona sends an e-bulletin out to 400 targeted people twice a month and all dioceses send regular emails to clergy and others. “It’s worth talking to your Bishop’s secretary about getting your information sent out to these key people.”
Alex Taylor runs the Creative Daydream consultancy and writes regularly for Childrenswork Magazine. He says “Christian retailers and publishers are not the best at telling those in Children’s ministry what they are doing but it’s probably something both sides need to be responsible for; networking is a two-way thing.” He continues, “People like me and other church leaders have a responsibility to engage with retailers too and let them know what we’re doing, what resources we are using or promoting. But retailers could also be a little more pro-active too in this respect.”
Now we could run a whole feature on Children’s Bibles – we might do so another time. But this feature is titled ‘More than a flannel graph’ for a reason and so I want to consider some new product which might be interesting and help retailers help their customers. After all it will be the new school (and Sunday school) year before too long and Children’s workers and RE Coordinators will be looking for products to help them.
The box and the end of this feature has some new titles which have potential to drive sales. But here are a couple of other things which might otherwise pass you by.Pens, published by CWR, is already well known as a daily Bible reading series for 3-6 year-olds. CWR have now created an online resource for Children’s workers to link the series to what children are doing in church on a Sunday.
Lynette Brooks explains.“We have created three online sessions giving leaders slightly different activities for two different age groups, little learners and growing learners. The idea is that for a month leaders focus on a particular theme, for which there is a corresponding Pens daily devotional booklet, and the children can continue to read, think and engage with that during the week.”
But how can an online resource benefit a B&M retailer? Here’s Lynette again. “We can furnish retailers with all the information about these resources and supply the books too. The retailer’s part in this process is to engage with churches and encourage them to participate. If they get bulk orders for books we can help the retailer with discounts.”
A company I came across recently may not be well known to retailers but many teachers and Children’s workers will know of Starshine Music. They produce and distribute a range of original musicals, many written by Ruth Kenward who founded the company with her husband John. Ruth was a teacher when she wrote her first musical, Miracle Child, in 1999. She couldn’t find anything suitable for presenting with her school children for the millennium so wrote her own.
Starshine has now published over 50 musicals,including many nativity musicals and supplied around two-thirds of schools in the UK. I’m currently working with a group of kids on one of her latest musicals Move It!, a street dance musical designed for 8-12 year-olds.Again you might wonder where a B&M retailer might benefit from working with a company which already has a good reach. Well it’s a different set of products; you might just introduce someone (like me) to a new set of material; you might be regarded as ‘on the ball’ by your customers and there will also be a margin. If you want to know more visit www.starshine.co.uk or call Starshine Music on 01323 764334.
Connecting people to resources ...
In our business/ministry it’s all about connecting people to resources. I’m amazed at the reaction of people when they visit an exhibition or festival resource centre and see the vast array of goodies available which they didn’t know existed. Now no single Christian retailer can stock everything, that’ a given, but connecting with the people who need resources and those who know more of what’s around is surely what today’s retail world is about.
In the world of Children’s ministry there are many ‘frontliners’ who need help with resources and who better to provide that help than the local Christian bookshop.
One suggestion both Rona and Alex made was for retailers to host an evening inviting all Children’s workers (and their church leaders) to visit the shop and look at what’s available – as well as discussing the sort of resources they might be needing – whether that’s for weekly meetings or holiday clubs etc. You could perhaps ask your local Diocesan Children’s Adviser (or the like) to join you as well.
There’s a pop classic (“The greatest love of all” by Whitney Houston) which contains the line ‘I believe that children are our future’ ... who knows they (and their leaders) might just be the future for your business. It must be worth a try.
July 10th, 2015 - Posted & Written by Together Magazine