Jeff Miller doesn’t mess around with mediocre materials for his 9th- and 10th-grade kids. An engineer by profession, he teaches senior high Sunday school every week at Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Ripon, Calif.
Like many others, Miller feels content is king. “If the denomination has the best materials for my kids, I’ll use them, but I won’t use something just because the denomination publishes it,” Miller said.
This year Miller’s choice was a new course called Questions Worth Asking: A Study of the Heidelberg Catechism published by Faith Alive Christian Resources, a division of CRC Publications. A course overview and sample lesson available on Faith Alive’s website sold him on trying it, and his class seems to appreciate the choice.
“I’ve had good reception from the kids, and significant participation in activities,” Miller said. “It engages their minds, then steps right into the core of the matter. I haven’t had to throw out anything this year.”
Rev. Paul DeVries, senior pastor at Brookside CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich., said he does recommend materials just because they’re published by the denomination.
“Our adult small group leaders ask us often for study material suggestions, and we usually refer them to Faith Alive,” DeVries said. “You can always count on the material being biblically accurate, solid, and Reformed. That’s important to us.”
Brookside has a variety of adult small group educational programs and Sunday morning classes, so lay leaders are often searching for good resources. “You can go to a bookstore and see a lot of flashy, fun, and interesting stuff for adults,” DeVries said. “But if it’s not solid and substantive, then all that fluff doesn’t really matter in the end.”
Meeting Diverse Needs Is a Challenge
Providing high-quality Christian resources that convince critical buyers like Miller and maintain the loyalty of leaders like DeVries keep the Faith Alive staff on their toes.
Gary Mulder, executive director of CRC Publications, says the challenge of meeting the diverse needs of churches can seem overwhelming at times, especially considering today’s intense competition to capture the Christian customer’s attention.
Mulder enumerates three key strengths of the CRC that result in an excellent denominational publishing ministry: writing, education, and theology.
“The CRC has an outstanding reputation in all of these areas, which makes our materials attractive to other denominations,” Mulder said. “Few people realize that we actually sell more of our resources outside the CRC than inside, which helps us keep our costs down and enables us to maintain a rather broad publishing program.”
CRC Publications took on most of the denomination’s publishing efforts in 1968, when synod placed under one umbrella The Banner (launched in 1887), the denomination’s catechism materials (started mid-1800s), the Sunday school arm (started in the early 1900s), and the printing plant. In 1972 CRC Publications released Bible Way, a curriculum that merged catechism and Sunday school materials.
During the 1980s CRC Publications expanded to include worship resources (such as the Psalter Hymnal) as well as Friendship Ministries and World Literature Ministries (WLM) to provide resources for people with cognitive impairments and for people who speak languages other than English.
Expanding the Reformed Reach
While developing educational curriculum is still a primary focus, CRC Publications is also making its mark in other ways around the world.
World Literature Ministries, directed by Rev. Alejandro Pimentel, translates and publishes Reformed theological books in many languages. The highest demand has been for Spanish-language materials—some 30,000 books go out each year to church leaders and seminary students in Latin America and the United States.
There is also high demand for John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion translated by WLM into Russian. “The Reformation never came to Russia before, but it’s starting to happen now because of World Literature Ministries, which has been thrilling to witness!” Mulder said.
A significant expansion within the past year resulted from the merger of the Reformed Church in America’s distribution center and CRC Publications’ marketing and distribution services. Since December 2004, CRC Publications has handled marketing, order processing, and shipping for both denominations.
“The bottom line is a healthier financial foundation, a bigger selection of materials for us, and a huge cost savings for the RCA,” Mulder said. “It took a lot of trust on both sides, but it’s been going very well.”
Another change occurred in April of this year when The Banner went from being a subscriber-based magazine to an every-household publication. From March to April, the Banner’s circulation increased five-fold, from under 20,000 to more than 100,000 copies.
Synod 2004 approved this change, recognizing that the Christian Reformed Church is becoming more diverse and hoping that The Banner could help bridge the differences by keeping CRC members connected and mindful of their God-given calling to minister together locally, regionally, and around the world.
Curriculum Still the Bottom Line
Faith Alive’s resources for education and discipleship generate 70 percent of CRC Publications’ income. They also require the highest level of staff investment. Curriculum development and distribution combine the efforts of editors, writers, graphic artists, copy editors, marketers, customer service representatives, press operators, assembly and shipping professionals, and administration (see sidebar p. 23).
Faith Alive released Walk With Me, a new Sunday school curriculum for preschool through 8th grade, in 2004. The curriculum is receiving rave reviews both inside and outside the CRC. Year 2 of Walk With Me is scheduled for release this summer.
Janet Lefbrink, Sunday school superintendent for children and youth at Georgetown (Ontario) CRC, said her teachers love Walk With Me. “They’ve given totally positive feedback, especially about all of the different activities available for the kids.”
“I rely on our denomination for all of our resources because it’s good stuff, and it falls along the lines of our Reformed faith,” Lefbrink said. “That’s really important to us.”
Looking to the Future
Rather than resting on their successes, the editorial and marketing team at Faith Alive is listening attentively to what church leaders say they need to minister even more effectively. Two significant new projects in the works are a curriculum for smaller churches and an adult discipleship program.
Ruth Vander Hart, the curriculum editor who is championing the small-church curriculum project, says the goal is to develop a family-focused series that can be used in a variety of multiage level groups.
“Many churches tell us they only have a few children in each grade level, so they’re forced to combine age groups,” Vander Hart said. “We hope to provide them with a curriculum appropriate for two combined-age groups spanning a four- to five-year series.”
With an anticipated release date of 2008, this curriculum will include suggestions for one-on-one mentoring, home schooling, midweek programming, and worship service coordination.
The adult discipleship program, also anticipated to debut in 2008, will provide a comprehensive plan for adult course offerings—a groundbreaking project for Faith Alive. Patricia Nederveld, director of Faith Alive, said it will include something for everyone, from new believers to 80-year-old lifelong Christians.
While both projects are in the early stages, the goal is to meet the changing needs of churches that must constantly find new ways to tell the old, old story.
For a century and a half the Christian Reformed Church has been providing resources that help Christians to fulfill their varied callings. CRC Publications continues to carry out its mission “to provide resources that call people to follow Jesus Christ by helping them to understand, experience, and express the good news of God’s kingdom.”
How a Product Comes to Life
From conception to delivery, a new idea that’s born into the Faith Alive family moves through many phases before it ever reaches a customer. Faith Alive director Patricia Nederveld and curriculum editor Ruth Vander Hart describe the progress of a typical product:
- Idea Submission: An idea may come from a variety of sources, including Home Missions church planters, customer evaluations, board members, Faith Alive Council, questionnaires, research on the website or by phone, proposals from authors, listening tours, or visits with key church leaders.
- Idea Approval: Representatives of the editorial and marketing staffs give the project the green light.
- Budget Approval and Sales Projections
- Editorial Planning Session: Theological experts and editorial staff develop a course overview, session plans, and theological themes.
- Author Identification: CRC Publications is always looking for good writers with a strong theological base.
- Manuscript Receipt: Each manuscript is reviewed by at least four editors--one for theological content, one for educational/pedagogical content, a copy editor, and a proofreader.
- Design/Layout/Cover: Design concept and artwork is selected for the product, with approval by the editorial and marketing teams.
- Marketing and Sales: The marketing team plans the best way to get the word out about new and existing products.
- Order Processing and Shipping: A product that began as an idea makes its way to you, the customer.
Did You Know . . .
- There are more than 3,000 titles on Faith Alive Christian Resources’ website.
- The Faith Alive website receives about 10,000 hits each month.
- CRC Publications sells more products to non-CRC customers (55 percent of sales) than to CRC customers (45 percent of sales).
- The top two groups of churches other than the CRC who use Faith Alive materials are the Reformed Church in America and Presbyterian churches.
- CRC Publications employs 33 people in its three main areas: Faith Alive, The Banner, and World Literature Ministries.
About the Author
Rev. Bonny Mulder-Behnia serves as family ministries pastor for Rosewood Christian Reformed Church in Bellflower, Calif.