When Brad Lyons joined Chalice Media Group as president and publisher in 2011, he predicted that two things would ultimately set the direction for the 112-year-old company’s next decade. First, affiliation—both church membership and attendance—was shrinking across mainline Protestant denominations, including the Disciples of Christ, with which Chalice is affiliated. And second, interest was on the rise in social justice-oriented, progressive Christian topics and books.
These societal shifts have picked up even more steam in recent years, leading Lyons to pursue what he saw as a major opportunity for growth and expansion at Chalice. “There are new ways we can reach our audiences and new audiences by diversifying and working our way into the second quarter of the 21st century,” he tells PW.
Chalice is looking to broaden its reach through a multi-year, multi-media growth strategy, underway now, that will “meet readers where they are,” Lyons says. “Different experiences in American religion and American culture will shape the way our theology is lived out, and the way we treat each other,” he adds.
Announced in August, the press’ new fiction imprint Chalice Stories is a lynchpin of the expansion, and it embodies the company’s commitment to diversity. “I do not want to use the phrase, ‘Christian fiction,’” Lyons explains, because he feels the new titles will have a broad appeal among readers of many faith backgrounds. “We’re producing fiction that has faith in it, we’re not producing faith-focused fiction,” he said. “We think we can reach a larger audience with that approach.”
The first of three inaugural titles, Welcome to Triumph, is slated for publication on May 9, 2023. It is the first in a series by two clergywomen and features a diverse set of characters, including Native Americans, Korean Americans, and LGBTQ+ characters. The books are set in the fictional town of Triumph, Wyoming—and come with content warnings about sex, drugs, and language. The series will add two books each year for the next five years.
A standalone novel, Catherine’s Mercy, is expected on June 13, 2023. The work of a historical fiction by Nicole Evelina (The Once and Future Queen) tells the story of Catherine McCauley, one of the founders of the Catholic religious order, Sisters of Mercy.
And publishing on July 18, 2023, The Nominee by Michael Kinnamon (July 18, 2023) is based on the author’s nomination to the presidency of the Disciples denomination in 1997. The nomination was sidelined by his support for welcoming and affirming LGBTQ individuals and making the denomination fully inclusive.
Chalice Stories is expected to grow quickly. “My admittedly ambitious goal is to double the Chalice Stories line in 2024, to 10 titles in 2024, and then growing incrementally from there,” says Rebeca Seitz, Chalice’s executive director of marketing and content development.
At the same time that Chalice is expanding its fiction efforts, its nonfiction front list is intentionally resonant, with many new titles addressing challenging topics about American society. The press is publishing 16 nonfiction titles in 2023—up from 12 titles in 2022—and plans on adding more year over year. New releases include After Botham: Healing from My Brother's Murder by a White Police Officer (April 21) by Allisa Charles-Findley. It tells the story of how Botham Jean, a 26-year-old Black man, was shot in his home by police officer Amber Guyger, who mistakenly thought she was entering her own apartment. The book will be released in hardcover, as will American Leftovers (March 21), the autobiography of New York Times bestselling author Eric Wilson and his sisters, who spent their childhoods smuggling Bibles into countries around the world.
Forthcoming books are also aimed at younger, tech-savvy readers. I Love Jesus But: Calling Out the Co-Opting of Christianity (May 2023) is a collection of essays by progressive Christian TikTok and Instagram influencers. Seitz calls it “a clarion call to the nation” to protect the idea that Christianity is “about love” and to offer “an authentic experience of faith that’s not pretending… and not weaponizing Jesus or what he was about.”
Chalice also plans on launching a children’s book imprint in 2024, but details are to be determined.
Beyond print media, Chalice’s growth strategy includes the Chalice Voices podcast network, launching in January 2023 with six shows, and another six are planned for July. The shows –both scripted and non-scripted—will connect to Chalice’s books on topics from female leadership in faith communities to trauma recovery, to criminal justice reform, and racial reconciliation.
Lastly, the company is in conversations and contract negotiations with streamers and production studios to license and produce its content for television or film adaptations, with the aim of debuting the first project “on a screen—big or small,” in 2027, according to Seitz.
With all these changes, Chalice is making adjustments to its staff as well. The onset of the pandemic initially shrunk the seven-person staff to just three full-time employees who work remotely and are supported by a network of freelance and contract professionals. “We are bringing on a new production manager because we have too many titles” for the current staff, she says. “We’re constantly having conversations about how the staff is going to expand.”
Nevertheless, the expansion at Chalice goes far beyond the number of products they release or the staff they employ. “When you’re looking at diversity in a time that’s charged with all sorts of division and suspicion, being able to understand other points of view is so critical to developing a faith that is welcoming to all,” Lyons says.
Agents and writers alike have told Seitz and Lyons they particularly value the cultural and theological broadness that they see at Chalice. “I like the fact that Chalice sees Christianity as a spectrum,” says Evelina, author of Catherine’s Mercy. “It’s not this little box of conservative beliefs. They’re branching out to show all the different flavors that Christianity takes in today’s society…. To me, that’s a huge deal.”
This progressive, expansive view of the faith-based market, Seitz says, “is what Chalice is. It’s our DNA.”
Holly Lebowitz Rossi is a freelance writer and coauthor of “The Yoga Effect: A Proven Program for Depression and Anxiety.”