At San Jose (Calif.) Christian School, it’s not a question of whether to teach creation but how. With students from about 100 different denominations, teacher Karen Wynbeek knew that about the only thing her middle-schoolers would agree on was that God created the world.
That’s why Wynbeek was thrilled to discover Fossils and Faith: Finding Our Way Through the Creation Controversy, written by Rev. Thea Leunk and copublished by Faith Alive Christian Resources and Christian Schools International.
“After the eighth-graders leave SJCS,” she explains, “some go to public school, some to Catholic schools, and some to a fundamentalist Christian school.
“I wanted my students to hear the Reformed principle that God is the author of creation and Scripture and both serve as revelations of him.”
Leunk’s curriculum promotes this view—a rare balancing act among today’s science curricula, Wynbeek says. “In class, I tried to emphasize that not all Christians believe the same thing about the details of creation, and that is OK,” she said. “The important belief is that God is the creator, and humankind must care for his creation.”
More Than Half of Sales Are Outside CRC
Wynbeek’s story is just one example of how Faith Alive’s materials are being used and appreciated outside Christian Reformed congregations.
In fact, 80 percent of Faith Alive’s church customers are outside the CRC, and they account for just over half of total sales, says Gary Mulder, director of CRC Publications.
“This has not always been the case,” Mulder recalls. The Board of Publications decided to start marketing outside the denomination in the 1970s. Within a decade, “outside” sales surpassed those to CRC customers.
“We believe that these sales outside of the CRC testify to the quality of our resources—and is a little-known example of a CRC ministry that has an impact far beyond our denomination,” Mulder says.
In terms of sales percentages, Faith Alive’s top sellers outside the denomination fall
into three categories: children’s curriculum, worship resources, and Friendship Ministries resources.
Faith Alive’s children’s curriculum reaches churches and children from many different denominations. About 60 percent of sales go outside the CRC—and not just to churches. Christian schools and daycare centers also use the Little Lambs, Story Hour, and Walk With Me programs.
Worship resources also sell well to other denominations, Mulder says, because the journal Reformed Worship, copublished by Faith Alive, is “promoted heavily and used far beyond the CRC.”
At Deer Creek Church, a congregation in Littleton, Colo., associated with the Presbyterian Church in America, program leaders have ordered Sunday school material and adult Bible studies from Faith Alive for about two decades.
Pastor Duane Cory says the worship resources have been especially valuable for blending contemporary and ancient liturgical elements.
Cory often uses The Worship Sourcebook, copublished by Faith Alive, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, and Baker Books. It offers a collection of classic and contemporary calls to worship, prayers of confession, and other spoken prayers and litanies for use on particular Sundays and during specific seasons of the Christian year.
Friendship Ministries serves people with cognitive impairments, helping them to know God, express their faith, and become a valued part of the church family. Friendship resources sell well to non-CRC groups. “That’s probably because Friendship Ministries, a separate nonprofit organization, has worked very hard to promote its ministry and these resources,” Mulder explains.
Reformed Traditions Have Broad Appeal
Why do resources from our small denomination appeal to such a broad range of customers?
Mulder says the Reformed tradition is a big tent, including lots of denominations whose leaders value a Reformed point of view in teaching and worship material.
“We intentionally develop all our resources so that they are consistent with the Reformed perspective,” he says. “After all, that is what makes us unique and the reason we exist.”
Some resources highlight the similarities among christian churches.
Marilyn McGinnis, director of adult ministries at Glendale (Calif.) Presbyterian Church, recently led a group of adults in discussing Leunk’s What’s Up With the Church Down the Street?
“At the end of the series,” McGinnis says, “one couple that was moving to Texas was absent. The man told me later he wanted to be sure to get his packet (of study materials) because they might need that when looking for a new church in Texas. I think the one thing we all took home from the series is how much the denominations have in common in our beliefs.”
McGinnis discovered the curriculum because a fellow church member put a copy of the Faith Alive catalog in her mailbox.
But Faith Alive—the arm of CRC Publications that publishes everything except The Banner and foreign-language resources—doesn’t rely just on word of mouth to promote its products. It gets the word out through print and online advertising, conference exhibits, direct mail, and more. It also offers the entire catalog online at www.FaithAliveResources.org and sends monthly e-newsletters.
Quality and Variety Are Key
Formal partnerships with other organizations help too. Faith Alive serves as the distributor for resources from the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, and other denominations officially endorse the Walk With Me curriculum for use in their churches.
Perhaps most of all, the quality and variety of material have generated a core base of customers who keep coming back for all kinds of resources.
Jann Treadwell serves as director of Christian education for youths and adults at Northpark Presbyterian Church in Dallas.
“I am always keeping my eyes and ears open for curriculum within the Reformed tradition—a very important factor for me,” Treadwell says. “Most of the PCUSA studies are quarterly materials, but our youth love short-term studies that allow them to discuss issues from daily life and how faith speaks to that. Faith Alive offers much more variety in that arena.
“Each summer and fall I invite the senior high students to choose topics they want to study,” she continues. “I include in the list many of [Faith Alive’s] titles and some from other sources, and the youth pick what they want. [Faith Alive’s] titles are among the ones that intrigue them the most.”
Since first getting catalogs from Faith Alive a few years ago, Treadwell has used three Bible studies from the LifeWise series for teens, Leunk’s What’s Up With the Church Down the Street?, Mary Lagerway’s Stuff to Know When Cults Come Knocking, and No Easy Answers, a Christian ethics course designed for high school students by Bob Rozema and Dan Vander Ark.
“I guess the bottom line with Faith Alive,” Treadwell says, “is that the resources are contemporary and relevant to things [young people] are facing daily, yet are biblically based and in sync with the Reformed tradition.
“Our youth in particular like knowing how their beliefs differ from those of others without putting down the others. In my opinion, [Faith Alive] accomplishes that. Thanks for providing us with some good faith-growing stuff!”
• Total annual budget: $6.5 million
• Faith Alive yearly sales: $4 million
• Number of hits each month to the Faith Alive website: 10,000
• Number of products offered through the website: 3,000
• Copies of The Banner printed each month: 100,000
CRC Publications at a Glance
With roots reaching back more than a century to when the Christian Reformed Church published a few catechism and church school materials, CRC Publications now comprises three separate divisions:
• The Banner, founded in 1887, now prints approximately 100,000 copies each month in its second year of being sent to every household in the CRC.
• World Literature Ministries translates and distributes hundreds of titles in several languages, including Spanish and Russian.
• Faith Alive Christian Resources publishes and distributes CRC Publications products, including curriculum, worship and leadership resources, and the quarterly journal Reformed Worship. Faith Alive also
publishes print resources for Friendship Ministries, a separate nonprofit organization.
CRC Publications employs 30 full- and part-time staff members in six areas:
• Administration (2)
• The Banner (5)
• World Literature (2)
• Editorial (7)
• Customer Service (7)
• Marketing (7)
Two people also produce the journal Reformed Worship in conjunction with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Additionally, Faith Alive uses dozens of freelance writers and illustrators.