Despite dropping church attendance rates and other changes in the ways people practice their faith, Bibles and their smaller counterparts, devotionals, remain a staple of spiritual growth for many readers. As a result, these reliable categories have become increasingly important to religion publishers.
“There’s a rising conversation about habits, practices, and daily routines as people seek a connection to something deeper,” says Cindy Bunch, IVP’s associate publisher and editorial director. “We are looking for ways to offer biblical and formational material in formats that are brief, engaging, and accessible for people who are longing to cultivate a moment of rest with God.”
Devotionals, which feature daily doses of inspirational readings and prayers, frequently top religious bestsellers lists and can be remarkably durable sellers. Jesus Calling, Sarah Young’s 365-day devotional first published by Thomas Nelson in 2004, has seen a 5% annual increase in sales for 15 years, according to the publisher (read about its recent sales milestone here).
Emily Brower, acquisition editor at Fortress Press, attributes the popularity of devotionals to a larger societal shift. “Readers have a deeply felt need for moments of peace, inspiration, and growth in what we experience as busy, often overwhelming, and challenging lives,” she says. “A beautifully curated daily practice or reading meets that need in an accessible yet meaningful way.”
Customization Is Key
As a general trend, publishers are designing Bibles and devotionals for every aspect of the market—men, women, children, spouses, parents, and grandparents. Today, even lovers of literature and activists are getting their own editions. Greg Garrett, a professor of English at Baylor University, and coauthor Sabrina Fountain will pair excerpts from literary works with brief scriptures and prayers in The Courage to See: Daily Inspirations from Great Literature (WJK, Sept.), while IVP is publishing Bread for the Resistance: Forty Devotions for Justice People by Donna Barber (Sept.), which offers words of encouragement and hope geared toward “those engaged in the resistance to injustice,” according to the publisher.
In early 2018, Dayspring, a subsidiary of Hallmark that specializes in Christian products, began publishing Bibles and devotionals with an emphasis on giving. “Devotionals are a sweet spot,” says Jason Rovenstine, v-p, product development specialty at Dayspring. “They have struck a chord with faith consumers in the impulse book space.”
Dayspring’s 100 Days Creative Devotional series, comprising three books by Shanna Noel, has sold nearly 150,000 copies, according to senior marketing manager Joy Groblebe. Groblebe adds that every Dayspring devotional includes a to/from page, as well as special characteristics, such as embossing. “Faith consumers are highly motivated to care for others, and as a result, a good percentage of inspirational devotional content is given as gifts,” she says. “It has to feel nice to hold in your hand.”
In November, Dayspring will publish The Wonder of Christmas, the fourth book in the 100 Days Creative Devotional series, as well as Authentic Living, the first in a new devotional Bible study series by actress Candace Cameron Bure.
The Series Strategy
Devotional series are prevalent across all religious houses. Catholic publisher Loyola Press continues to release annual devotionals for the church year, as well as around the Advent and Lenten seasons; coming next month is Sacred Space: The Prayer Book 2020. Fortress Press recently launched a 30-day devotional series featuring brief daily readings and reflections based on the lives and teachings of great spiritual thinkers. The newest installments, 30-Day Journey with Martin Luther King Jr. by Jonathan Chism and 30-Day Journey with Dorothy Day by Coleman Fannin, are available now, while three more titles are slated for publication next year.
And launching next spring, IVP is targeting younger readers with its Alabaster Devotional series, which integrates images and designs with biblical texts to guide daily prayer.
While many devotionals are part of a series, they’re also a low-cost way to expand an author’s brand. New spin-offs of previously published books include Love Language Minute for Couples (Tyndale, Sept.), adapted from The One Year Love Language Minute Devotional by bestselling author Dr. Gary Chapman. In November, Viking is publishing a couple’s devotional based on 2011’s The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller, the pastor of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and his wife, Kathy Keller. And megachurch pastor Adam Hamilton collects 31 biblical stories about peace, courage, and hope in Living Unafraid (Random House, out now), a devotional based on 2018’s Unafraid.
Bibles for All
Along with developing devotionals for niches, some new Bibles catering toward special audiences include Crossway’s ESV New Christian’s Bible (Sept.). This edition, designed for young Christians as an introduction to scripture, features brief articles and sidebars alongside key passages that can help explain the text.
Zondervan is bringing Bible reading to the entire family with the NIV, Our Family Story Bible (out now), which features space for note taking and guided group activities. And Tyndale is packaging its One Year Pray for America Bible NLT (Dec.) as a gift in response to today’s divisive political climate. The compact Bible features daily nonpartisan prayers for leaders in every sphere of civic life.
Here are more samples of forthcoming devotionals.
Acts of the Almighty: Meditations on the Story of God for Every Day of the Year
Walter Wangerin Jr. Zondervan, Oct.
Cloud Devotion: Through the Year with the Cloud of Unknowing
David Robinson. Paraclete, Jan.
Help! My Bible Is Alive! 30 Days of Learning to Love and Understand God’s Word
Nicole Unice. Tyndale, Oct.
Jesus, Day by Day: A One-Year, Through-the-Bible Devotional to Help You See Him on Every Page
Sharon Kaselonis. Multnomah, Sept.
Live in Grace, Walk in Love: A 365-Day Journey
Bob Goff. Nelson Books, Oct.
Peace in the Storms of Life
Julie Rayburn. Barbour, Mar.
Women of Courage: A 40-Day Devotional
The (in)courage community, edited by Mary Carver. B&H, Oct.