Despite ongoing supply chain issues, staff shortages, and new variants of Covid-19, Christian retailers today are experiencing “surprising and unprecedented growth,” according to a new survey conducted by the Parable Group. The marketing group’s 2022 State of Christian Retail Report reveals a 15% rise in sales from 2019 to 2021. (The comparison included 2019 due to the impact the pandemic had on sales in spring 2020.) Of the reporting Christian retailers, 82% experienced a rise in sales, despite 44% of those stores having fewer transactions. Holiday sales, which hit a decade high, helped 2021 finish on a high note.

“Shoppers visited stores consistently throughout the fourth quarter of 2021,” Parable’s president Greg Squires tells PW. “For the 12 weeks leading up to Christmas, same-store sales showed a 19.7% increase from 2019 to 2021—remarkably, sales outperformed 2019 and 2020 every single week.”

The State of Christian Retail Report is based on data collected by ParableConnect from over 220 U.S. Christian bookstores, is an analysis of $74 million in sales and almost 2.1 million consumer transactions. Though Parable does not track store openings and closings, Squires cited anecdotal information indicating that very few stores closed over the past two years.

“Similarly, we are aware of several Christian bookstore openings and ownership transitions. A good sign for the industry,” Squires says. “Additionally, three to four prospective retailers reach out to us each month inquiring about opening a Christian bookstore in their local market.”

A sampling of other findings from the State of Christian Retail Report include:

-Books remained the largest sales category at stores, taking up 35% of the market share in units and 36% in dollars.

-Bibles accounted for 8% of unit sales, but brought in 23% of the sales dollars.

-Gift sales were up just over 2%, while devotionals, Bible study, and women’s book categories also increased their market share from 2020 to 2021.

-Christian living remains the bestselling adult book category, but sales are down for the fourth year in a row.

Parable credits the sales growth to a number of factors, including Christian stores being located in mid-size markets rather than in urban areas, where the impacts of the pandemic have been felt more, as well as innovations from Christian retailers. These include digital marketing initiatives, "reserve online, pick up in store" options, and online or in-store events.

The majority of participating retailers also remain optimistic. When asked about the future, 90% of retailers had a "healthy, strong" or "steady" outlook for 2022. Retailers also shared ways their businesses have changed, with a majority reporting they introduced new products. Bookseller's “resilient” way of doing business is paying off, Squires notes.