It was Sunday morning! As soon as his Sunday school class was over six year old Tommy ran as fast as his little legs could carry him to the church library.
He wanted to be the first to pick out one of the many colorful Bible picture story books that mom and dad would read when they tucked him in bed at night. He loved the stories about King David and the Lord Jesus.
His mom and dad had not been regular church attenders…UNTIL RECENTLY.
Two thousand years earlier while in the Mamertine dungeon in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:
When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments [scrolls/books]. 2 Timothy 4:13 NASB
Paul emphasized his desire to have the parchments, or what today we call BOOKS! One of Chuck Swindoll’s books, Come Before Winter, is based on that 2 Timothy verse.
Paul wanted and needed his “books”; Christians need books today as well. We need books for learning, for reference, for Bible Study, and to stimulate our minds. For centuries books had been produced by hand, one at a time. Religious books were only available to monks, priests and the educated “elite”. With the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440, the number and availability of books increased. They became more accessible to the common man.
It was in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his revolutionary theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This sparked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Once this happened, the iron-grip held by the church and the “elites” on interpreting the Bible and its teachings began to loosen. What once had been available to read exclusively by monks and priests began to be accessible to the average person.
Over the years libraries developed and grew as a wide-range of printed texts became available. These libraries were often located in professional offices (doctors, ministers, etc.), on college and university campuses, and supported through endowments and private collections.
The concept of the “public library” did not begin in the United States until the late 1800s. When Melville Dewey became president of the American Library Association in 1890, the process of standardizing libraries began. He developed the Dewey Decimal system, which became an internationally applied decimal system of library classification. It uses a three-figure code from 000 to 999 to represent the major branches of knowledge, and allows finer classification to be made by the addition of further figures after a decimal point. This is still in use today.
The industrialist, Andrew Carnegie, thought libraries and books should be available to everyone, not just to scholars. His large donations for the development of public libraries are responsible for the modern United States public library system.
The gathering of books into church libraries has accelerated since the 1950s, and today many churches have libraries. Why do churches need libraries? One simple answer is that they attract children and young families. Young families and kids are the future of the church.
Children love to read and to be read to. A church library can provide a source of uplifting, fun and wholesome books, videos and DVDs, that parents can conveniently get at the church library with no extra driving trips involved. Adults can also find reading and reference material for subjects that interest them. The managing of a church library represents good stewardship of resources and can act as a support ministry to every other ministry.
One study has shown that it is under the age of fifteen when children develop their moral foundation and are in the age range when most people become Christians. Another survey, commissioned and conducted in 1995-96 by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, found that 71% of Christians in the United States converted to Christianity before the age of fourteen.
There are many charts taken in different years that vary by 1 or 2%, but resulting data all are about the same as the one below:
AGE OF CONVERSION TO CHRISTIANITY
Before age 6 = 6%
Ages 6–9 = 24%
Ages 10–12 = 26%
Ages 13–14 = 15%
Ages 15–19 = 10%
Ages 20 and over = 19%
In 2003 George Barna published the results of his research, which showed that children are the most important population segment to minister to because of their spiritual teachability and developmental vulnerability. Barna argued that a child's moral development is set by the age of nine; yet, many churches focus more efforts on older children. In 2004 Barna wrote that "Habits related to the practice of one’s faith develop when one is young and change surprisingly little over time.” and “The older a child gets, the more distracted and vulnerable he or she becomes to non-family influences.”
Barna also found that children who convert to Christianity before their teen years are more likely to remain "absolutely committed" to Christianity. "It is during those (pre-teen) years that people develop their frames of reference for the remainder of their life." He later stated, "The early impressions we make go a long way toward shaping a person’s worldview, relationships, dreams, expectations, and core reality.”
Church libraries can be exciting places for both children and adults. Libraries don’t just include books. When I talk about a “library” I am encompassing all of the material possibly offered by a church library. This includes family-safe and Christian-focused DVD’s, movies, videos, magazines, audio books, fiction and non-fiction material for children and adults. Subject matters appeal to children, men or women and offer wholesome entertainment, guidance and learning. Books can offer help and give support for marriages and child-rearing. Others may deal with health issues or the teaching of ethics and the Biblical way to handle finances.
Still others might be about travel, history, science, cooking or biographies. There are books for all age groups, and picture-books for the very young. There are books that can speak to teens about missions. Large-print books may be offered for older folks with eyesight issues. The church library can be a reliable source for wholesome entertainment and edification for the whole family.
A church library can also be a valuable resource for pastors and lay Bible teachers by providing reference material like: commentaries, concordances, Bible dictionaries, atlases, books about church history, Bible handbooks, guides to Bible study and interpretation, various Bibles translations, books on prayer, etc.
Some churches, such as the First Baptist Church in Dallas, offer eBooks through their vendor, OverDrive. Offering books electronically makes them available to church members who are home-bound or on vacation, and even to missionaries serving abroad. One lady said, “Since my eyesight has gotten so bad, I had to quit coming to the library.” She was one of the first to sign up for the church library’s new eBook check-out service. She continued “I can read those on my iPad. I just enlarge the letters big enough for me to see.”
Libraries are useful by providing books on leadership and specific areas of ministry, such as the mission field, hospital visitation, prayer, counseling, Christian psychology, apologetics, Bible science, creationism, Christian biographies and sermons. As you can see, books speak to all ages and on many different subjects; the library can have a tremendous outreach.
My sister, Kay, started a library at her church in the 1980s. It was one of the earliest churches in the Dallas area to have a library. Today, nationwide, thousands of churches, large and small, sponsor libraries. Some have thousands of books and some only a few. I read about a church that began a library with only seventeen books! Many such libraries have been started with only a handful of books.
Kay’s church encountered the same difficulty many churches have when starting a library—a lack of space to house the books and material. She began her church’s library with just a few books, placed in a mobile bookcase in a hallway. Gradually more books were added, either through purchase or donation. Many were donated as memorials or to honor loved ones. Some were gently-used books donated by church members. As the church expanded their building size, the amount of space given to the library was expanded also. As a result, the library was given a more prominent location in the church in a room of its own.
Sometimes a church can accumulate too many books. These extra books can be sold in a church-wide book sale and the money earned used to support expenses to run the library. New books keep the library fresh, and new material keeps church members coming back.
Since most of the work is provided by volunteers, the cost to maintain a library is inexpensive. Getting a book ready requires coding and adding the correct Dewey Decimal System Number, adding a pocket to house the check-out card, listing the book in a computer, and then putting it on the shelf in the correct location. Librarians I spoke with said to allow about one hour processing time per book and a cost of a dollar per book for paper and glue, etc.
Like other ministries in the church, such as music, Christmas Angels, support of missionaries, Good News Clubs, summer sports camps, and many others, the church library is a ministry as well.
Christians are called to be stewards and charged with spreading the Gospel. A church library is an excellent way to help fulfill this commission!
Post Note:. Tommy’s parents joined the church!
But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 NLT