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Barna presents research on Pastor reading habits

Tuesday, July 31, 2012   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Sheri Toomb
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Pastors Love Books!

by David Kinnaman, President, Barna Group

While most in the publishing community recognize that Christians play an important role in creating many bestsellers (The Purpose-Driven Life remains one of the bestselling hardcover books of all time), few fully understand the influence of faith leaders—pastors, ministers, reverends and priests—when it comes to books and the book industry.

Let’s start with the fact that pastors love books. You may have guessed that pastors tend to be readers. But just how zealous they are is surprising. One of the nation’s most loyal book-buying audiences, 92% of all pastors in the U.S. say they buy at least one book every month, and they average 3.8 books per month. That’s anywhere from 12 to 46 books a year. Compare that to the total population, where only 29.3% of American adults buy more than 10 books in the course of a year.

That means pastors, as a group, purchase between 8 million and 13 million books every year. And that number doesn’t account for the book purchases they influence—those of their staffs, boards and congregants. You can imagine how the numbers increase when you factor those in.

Quite simply, pastors are one of the most loyal segments of buyers fueling the book industry. Here are a few of the interesting revelations we discovered recently as we interviewed pastors about their book-buying habits for the Barna Group’s new report, Pastors + Books.

Where They Buy

You might also be surprised to learn that Christian retail retains significant pull for many pastors. This is somewhat of a surprise in a world where independent retailers of all stripes are struggling. One factor that helps explain this is that many pastors say they want to support the business and ministry of Christian retailers. This sentiment—particularly for bricks and mortar Christian retail—is changing with the generations, however. As you might have guessed, younger pastors are leading the shift to online buying, with 57% of Buster pastors (ages 28-46) expressing a preference for online.

Topic or Author?

When a pastor selects a ministry-related book, the most important factor, by a wide margin, is the topic. 58% of pastors say topic is the most important factor, while only 15% give top priority to the author of the book. This was consistent across all generations and across all church sizes. This is surprising in our culture of celebrity authors. Is it possible that we are placing too much emphasis on promoting authors, particularly when we are selling books to pastors?

Hardcover, Paperback or Digital?

By a large margin, pastors in the U.S. prefer to read books in hardcover (55%). Only 24% prefer paperback, and 16% prefer digital. While e-book sales in the industry are booming and print declining, pastors of all generations and in all church sizes still prefer their hardcovers!

This finding is offset by the huge growth of e-reading devices, which have tripled in their penetration among pastors in the last two years. We project that the demand for digital content is going to increase significantly in the coming months.

Get the Full Report

As you can see just from these few highlights, pastors tend to buck the conventional wisdom when it comes to their book buying habits. They buy more than the average adult, more often, and differently. This specialized and highly energized audience is a key part of the success of the Christian book business, and to serve them well, publishers need to understand how, where, what and why pastors buy when it comes to books.

To provide a better picture of this important customer, we conducted a nationwide research study that answers these questions. The results of this study are available in the new Barna Report, Pastors + Books. Our new report provides rare market insights into this important group of influencers.


Special Offer for ECPA Members Only
As a special service to ECPA members, Barna Group president David Kinnaman will personally do interpretive dance at your next staff meeting when your organization purchases the report. (OK, that’s neither desirable nor true!)  But David would be happy to offer a complimentary telephone conference call on the research for any buyers of the report.

To find out more about the contents or to order, please visit



David KinnamanDavid Kinnaman joined Barna Group in 1995 as an intern. Now heis the president and majority owner of the firm, a visionary research and resource company located in Ventura, California.

Since joining Barna, David has designed and analyzed hundreds of market research projects for a variety of clients, including the American Bible Society, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, CARE, Columbia House, Compassion, Easter Seals, Focus on the Family, Habitat for Humanity, NBC-Universal, The ONE Campaign, the Salvation Army, SONY, Walden Media, World Vision, Zondervan (Harper Collins) and many others.

In addition to client studies, he has overseen nearly 100 nationwide, representative research studies among American adults, teenagers, tweens, and clergy on matters of faith, spirituality, public opinion, political attitudes, and cultural dynamics. This body of public opinion research is frequently quoted from pulpits and in major media outlets (such as USA Today,The Wall Street Journal, CNN,Fox News,Chicago Tribune,The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times). In total, during Kinnaman’s 16 years at the firm, he has supervised or directed interviews with more than 350,000 individuals and leaders.

Kinnaman is the author of the best-selling book,unChristian,and a new 2011 release entitled, You Lost Me,both of which explore faith and spirituality among teens and young adults. He frequently speaks publicly on topics of cultural and spiritual trends, teenagers and young adults, leadership and influence, as well as vocation and calling.

He lives in Ventura, California, with his wife Jill and three children, Emily, Annika, and Zack.

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