Christian church attendance has fallen from 43% in 2004 to 36% today, according to the March 24 Barna Group research report “Americans Divided on the Importance of Church,” and a lot of those who still go do so less frequently. The data “shows two trends, often at crosscurrents,” the report suggests. “Adults are aware of their very real spiritual needs, yet they are increasingly dissatisfied with the church’s attempt to meet those spiritual needs and are turning elsewhere.” Many turn to books, creating durable demand for titles on the evergreen topics that address leading a spiritual life: prayer, reflection, meditation, inspirational readings, and other spiritual practices.
Evangelical publisher InterVarsity Press has its Formatio imprint, focused on spiritual formation, and Jeff Crosby, associate publisher and director of sales and marketing, sees books getting narrower and broader at the same time. Publishers are “beginning to address some very niche topics in spiritual formation,” he says. In The Way of Grace: Finding God on the Path of Surrender (IVP, Nov.), Anglican priest Glandion Carney writes of what he has learned through living with Parkinson’s; with topics like relinquishment, acceptance, and submission, each chapter ends with a reflection and an application. Another example is IVP’s Walking the Labyrinth (Sept.), in which Travis Scholl looks at the longtime Catholic and Anglican tradition of using a guided walk as a catalyst for prayer. Crosby points out that distinctions between “Protestant” and “Catholic” forms of spiritual formation are “largely melting away, and I think that’s a good thing.”
Bullish on Francis
Books about spiritual formation from Catholic publishers have been given a healthy shot in the arm by the election of Pope Francis. When the new pontiff quickly gathers almost four million Twitter followers and is featured on the covers of both Time and Rolling Stone magazines, “there’s something special going on,” says Greg Erlandson, president and publisher at Our Sunday Visitor. In September, OSV releases St. Francis and Pope Francis: Prayers, Poverty, and Joy in Jesus, in which Alan Schreck explores the commonalities between the 21st-century Argentinean prelate and the medieval Italian friar from whom he took his papal name.
Joe Durepos, executive editor at Loyola Press, agrees that the new pope has stirred a fresh wind among Catholics and others. “In order to understand Francis, why he has become such an inspiring and very popular leader in such a short time, you have to understand something about his spirituality,” Durepos says. Loyola’s The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church (Apr.) by Pope Francis draws on speeches, homilies, and papers from the first year of his papacy.
Franciscan Media publishes Richard Rohr’s Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of St. Francis of Assisi (Aug.) to help people see the pope’s model as “more than just the bird bath saint,” says Barbara Baker, divisional director of sales, marketing, and Internet. “He was really quite radical.” Also from Franciscan Media is Pope Francis and Our Call to Joy by Diane M. Houdek (July), which presents reflections, discussion questions, and suggestions for personal growth from the pope’s example. A related title is journalist Andrea Tornielli’s Fioretti—The Little Flowers of Pope Francis (Ignatius Press, Sept.), playing off the title of the 14th-century classic The Little Flowers of St. Francis and reflecting on spiritual themes from the new pope’s first year.
Other, non-Francis spiritual formation titles from OSV slated for September are George Martin’s Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life, Susan Conroy’s Coming to Christ: Resting in His Love, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s Open to the Holy Spirit. From Ignatius comes Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn’s With Jesus Every Day—How Believing Transforms Living (Oct.).
Tweaking the Tried and True
A classic format in spiritual practice books is the daily devotional or inspirational readings book. Among FaithWords releases in October are four major through-the-year devotionals: Aaron Tabor’s Jesus Daily: 365 Interactive Devotions draws on themes from the Facebook page of the same name that, with more than 25 million fans, has been described as having the social media network’s “most highly engaged audience.” With an eye toward ongoing fascination with the afterlife, Experiencing Heaven: True Stories, Prayers, and Promises for Every Day of the Year by Sarabeth Browne—a pseudonym for a bestselling devotional author—offers a daily Bible passage, prayer, hymn, or story.
Also in October, two of FaithWords’ powerhouse authors present their latest collected readings. The Power of Being Thankful: 365 Devotions for Discovering the Strength of Gratitude comes from Joyce Meyer, while Daily Readings from Break Out! 365 Devotions to Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life is based on Joel Osteen’s Break Out!, with new prayers from him.
Also in the 365-day devotional genre is Every Day in His Presence, from pastor and Bible teacher Charles Stanley (Thomas Nelson, Nov.) and The Story Devotional (Zondervan, Sept.), the first of its kind from Zondervan’s The Story line, which presents the Bible in an abridged, chronological form like a novel.
The high level of gift buying of devotional and inspirational books is an important consideration for many publishers. “We find people will buy several copies of a devotional to share with friends and family,” says Laura Minchew, senior v-p and publisher of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan Gift Books, Tommy Nelson Children’s Books, and New Media, citing Stanley’s Every Day as a book they can position that way.
Barbour Publishing has added leather-look finishes to some of its devotional titles, such as Darlene Sala’s You Are Chosen: Inspiration to Reassure Your Soul (July). Those nicer touches cost more, though Barbour still focuses on offering “a very nice price point,” says Paul Muckley, senior editor for nonfiction. Other forthcoming Barbour titles include 90 devotional readings by Janice Thompson in From God’s Word to a Woman’s Heart (Aug.) and 180 Prayers for a Woman of God (Sept.), a compilation by Barbour staff covering such topics as joy, contentment, difficulties, and trust. Barbour has seen a shift in the market that is reflected in these titles. “We feel that sometimes the daily devotional, the 365-day ones, may be a little big for people,” says Muckley. “I don’t know if it’s an issue of attention spans getting shorter, but we are doing some shorter-form things.”
Not that Barbour has abandoned the heftier reads. The Best of Daily Wisdom for Women by Carol Lynn Fitzpatrick (May) gathers some of the best readings from the annual devotional that launched in 1997 and has since sold more than 750,000 copies. Meanwhile, Dave Earley’s The 21 Most Effective Prayers Collection (May) compiles his five previous 21 titles in a 512-page volume.
The shorter form is “not a trend that we have observed,” says Sarah Beatty, publicist at Hachette Book Group, where FaithWords has published some shorter devotionals, such as Joseph Prince’s 100 Days of Right Believing (Feb.). “But the 365-day format is still working,” Beatty says.
Another classic format is the biblically weighted 40 days. In The Seed Sower: A 40-Day Journey to Sow Seed & Harvest Fruit (Shade Tree Publishing, Apr.), Tammy L. Jordan translates gardening principles and practices into cultivating personal growth and relationships. 40 Days With the Holy Spirit: A Journey to Experience His Presence in a Fresh New Way (Charisma House, June) presents daily readings and reflections from R.T. Kendall’s January release, Holy Fire: A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in Our Lives. Leafwood Publishers, an imprint of ACU Press, has Faith, Hope, Love, & Deployment: 40 Devotions for Military Couples (June). Heather Gray completed the project she had begun with her husband, David, after he was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2012.
The Known Knowns
Though some may be falling away from church, many remain loyal to their favorite Bible teachers and authors, making established names like Stanley, Meyer, and Osteen a strong selling point. Another beloved writer, Brennan Manning, is soon to be published for the first time by Eerdmans. Dear Abba: Morning and Evening Prayer (Aug.), completed shortly before his death in 2013, presents a month of readings from Manning’s previous works along with Scripture passages; John Blase compiled the collection. Also from Eerdmans is Shaping the Prayers of the People: The Art of Intercession (Apr.), in which Samuel Wells and Abigail Kocher present a model for congregational prayer. Donal Harrington’s Weekday Prayers: Prayers for Weekday Masses and Prayer Services releases in June from Irish publisher Columba Press (Dufour, dist.); also for congregational use is an updated edition of The Veritas Book of Blessings for All Occasions (Veritas Publications [Dufour, dist.]; May).
In September, Harvest House presents prayer guides from two megachurch pastors and bestselling authors. Tony Evans advocates Praying Through the Names of God as a way of understanding more about God’s character and nature. John MacArthur offers A Year of Prayer: Approaching God with an Open Heart Week After Week.
Authors like Stanley, Meyer, Osteen, and MacArthur tend to appeal to older readers. But while some make the mistake of thinking only older people enjoy reading devotionals, says HarperCollins Christian Publishing’s Minchew, “we have found this to not be the case. We regularly hear comments from high school and college students who are using one of our devotionals with a small group or an entire sorority.”
So there is always room for new voices. Sherri Gragg weaves biblical history and fiction together in a 35-day reflection on Jesus’ life in Arms Wide Open: A Call to Linger in the Savior’s Presence (Thomas Nelson, May). Baker Publishing Group releases In Pursuit: Devotions for the Hunter and Fisherman (Aug.), in which pastor and freelance outdoor writer Zeke Pipher presents 90 devotions that weave scriptural messages into true hunting and fishing stories.
Making It Personal
Joni Eareckson Tada, another beloved name in the Christian market, debuts with NavPress–Tyndale House under the two publishers’ new partnership with Beside Bethesda: 31 Days Toward Deeper Healing (Aug.). The well-known speaker and advocate for the handicapped—she became a paraplegic after a diving accident in 1967—wrote about unanswered prayer and suffering after her visit to the site of the biblical healing pool in Jerusalem. Jen Hatmaker’s Interrupted (2012) is revised and given a new subtitle—When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity—for August release to maximize her increased popularity and ride a projected reality television show to premiere in July. NavPress v-p and publisher Don Pape points to both books as examples of first-person narratives that are appealing to readers because they “show the reader that Jesus can work,” he says. “So many academic books talk about Christianity and are somewhat of a religious treatise. Narratives are almost invitations” for readers to see God do the same thing in their lives, says Pape.
Pamela Clements, associate publisher at Abingdon Press, echoes those thoughts, noting that titles that work in this space need to be more than just memoir, with a blending of the descriptive and the prescriptive. “There’s nothing better than a beautifully written memoir,” Clements says, “but there has to be some takeaway for the reader, something they can integrate into their own life.” Among such Abingdon titles is Linda McCullough Moore’s The Book of Not So Common Prayer: A New Way to Pray, a New Way to Live (June), which recounts Moore’s discovery of new ways to make prayer a more meaningful part of her life; she suggests practical steps for others to do the same. For those who would find that too much of a stretch, Donna Schaper has written Prayers for People Who Say They Can’t Pray (Nov.). A pastor and writer, Schaper addresses those who are disappointed or doubtful when it comes to faith, offering new ways of thinking about and approaching prayer.
Other Abingdon titles exploring similar themes include The Vinedresser’s Notebook: Spiritual Lessons in Pruning, Waiting, Harvesting and Abundance (Apr.), in which Benedictine sister Judith Sutera draws spiritual lessons from the fields, and Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door by Barbara Mahany (Oct.). Mercy & Melons: Praying the Alphabet by Lisa Nichols Hickman (Sept.) is a collection of meditations inspired by everyday objects beginning with the letters A through Z.
From Worthy Publishing comes Found: A Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer (Apr.), in which Micha Boyett recounts how a visit to a Benedictine monastery helped her discover a “grace-filled rhythm” for life that had been lost in the busyness of motherhood. An Inner Step Toward God: Writings and Teachings on Prayer by Father Alexander Men (Paraclete Press, Apr.) presents Christa Belyaeva’s translation of some of the works of the Russian Orthodox priest murdered in 1990.
Love Letters from the Edge: Meditations for Those Struggling with Brokenness, Trauma, and the Pain of Life (Kregel, June) offers hope for those suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Christy Award–winning novelist Shelly Beach (Hallie’s Heart) and Wanda Sanchez, a talk radio executive producer who has experienced PTSD herself, write for other women who have suffered abuse or abandonment.
As part of an international ministry, David C. Cook brings a global perspective to its publishing. Books that are “more cultural in nature, while they may be bestsellers in first world countries, don’t often last as long as those books that address universal matters of faith,” says Dan Rich, chief publishing officer. Enduring titles “seem to be those that unpack the deep truths of Scripture, that help us understand our faith and how to live it out in real life,” he says. Praying for Your Elephant: Boldly Approaching Jesus with Radical and Audacious Prayer by Adam Stadtmiller (Oct.) invites readers to create 100 “game-changing prayers,” drawing from his experience in asking God for the impossible.
A similar challenge to dare to ask for more is the theme of Greg Pruett’s Extreme Prayer: The Impossible Prayers God Promises to Answer (Tyndale Momentum, June). The president of Pioneer Bible Translators tells how “praying differently” rather than more has led to remarkable growth for the organization.
Also from David C. Cook, Addicted to Busy: Recovery for the Rushed Soul (Sept.) by megachurch pastor Brady Boyd challenges readers to look at the speed at which they are living and find ways to slow down and make room for God. Pastor and airport chaplain Samuel Kee reflects on why people ink their skin and how God wants to make a deeper mark on their lives in Soul Tattoo: A Life and Spirit Bearing the Marks of God (Oct.).
Not Just for Christians
Of course, Christians aren’t the only ones seeking guidance to organize their spiritual lives. “The trend is toward greater interest [in these practices] from the ‘spiritual not religious,’ ‘spiritually independent’ seekers,” says Stuart Matlins, publisher at SkyLight Paths and Jewish Lights. “This is a growth area, but it is from a relatively small base. It would be a mistake to forget that most interest is from denominationally committed Christians and Jews, and it remains strong.” In a wide-angle look, SkyLight Paths releases John Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings (Aug.), which urges the rediscovery of spiritual practices as the basis for personal and world transformation. Jewish Lights has Living the Life of Jewish Meditation: A Comprehensive Guide to Practice and Experience by Rabbi Yoel Glick (Sept.), and Urim Publications presents a contemporary translation of Psalms in Plain English: English-Hebrew Pocket Edition (Apr.). Alden Solovy offers 150 prayers and meditations in Jewish Prayers of Hope and Healing through his own Kavanot Press (Apr.).
For Buddhists and those interested in Buddhist practices, Shambhala Publications’ new titles include Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s Turning Confusion into Clarity: A Guide to the Foundation Practices of Tibetan Buddhism (July), written with Helen Tworkov. Jason Siff’s Thoughts Are Not the Enemy: An Innovative Approach to Meditation Practice (Oct.) is aimed at those who think they can’t meditate. Lodro Rinzler offers The Buddha Walks into the Office: A Guide to Livelihood for a New Generation (Sept.) and the how-to Sit Like a Buddha: A Pocket Guide to Meditation (Dec.).
Mind-body-spirit publishers also publish these kinds of books. From Sounds True comes Resurrecting Jesus: Embodying the Spirit of a Revolutionary Mystic by Adyashanti (Apr.), about how people’s stages of enlightenment can parallel those of Jesus during his life. Just six words make up what Debra Landwehr Engle unpacks as The Only Little Prayer You Need: The Shortest Route to a Life of Joy, Abundance, and Peace of Mind (Hampton Roads, Oct.). It is followed in November by Gangaji’s Freedom and Resolve: Finding Your True Home in the Universe (Hampton Roads), which encourages the practice of self-inquiry in pursuit of authentic living.
Rap mogul Russell Simmons looks at how inner peace and outer progress are linked in Success Through Stillness: The Simplest Path to Meditation from Gotham Books (Mar.), written with Chris Morrow. Interfaith minister Alan Pritz writes about Meditation as a Way of Life: Philosophy and Practice (Quest Books, Sept.). Shortly before her death last year, Karen Speestra, with coauthors theologian Herbert Anderson and palliative-care physician Ira Byock, completed her work on The Divine Art of Dying: How to Live Well While Dying (Divine Arts, Sept.), recasting the process of dying as a celebration of living. And Karen Maezen Miller finds spiritual insights underfoot in Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden (New World Library, May), about how gardening can be a spiritual practice.
While publishers are always looking for new ways to bake and slice the loaf of daily bread—with some going shorter and narrower, as others look for variations on the tried-and-true big names—readers have proven they remain hungry for the spiritual sustenance these books can offer.