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Photo by Noémi Macavei-Katócz on Unsplash
Photo by Noémi Macavei-Katócz on Unsplash
World News

'A sign of the times': New Zealand Christian bookshop numbers slashed in half

by Lydia Davies

Nearly half of New Zealand’s Manna Christian bookstores are closing their doors, prompting concerns over the loss of access to Christian resources and the rise of misinformation in an increasingly digital age.

The imminent closure of these stores is scheduled by the end of March 2024.

The decision to close down the stores comes from Bible Society New Zealand, which operates 14 Manna Christian bookstores nationwide.

Facing economic challenges exacerbated by the current climate, the organisation deemed it necessary to consolidate its operations, leaving several communities without a local Christian bookstore.

According to Rachel Afeaki, a board member for the New Zealand Christian Network, the closure reflects broader societal shifts, with the digital age reshaping reading habits and consumer behaviour.

She said the bookstore's departure was a reflection of “the times that we live in" and added that the digital age had a “huge impact” on people wanting to read books, as customers find better deals online and are embracing digital formats.

In a press release the ministry said: “The decisions were made in response to the dynamic challenges the economic climate presents,” and sustaining retail operations at some of the stores has been “financially challenging for some time”.

The closure of Manna Christian bookstores not only marks the end of a longstanding era but also raises concerns about the impact on local communities.

With physical bookstores diminishing, the availability of Christian resources is becoming limited, potentially exacerbating the spread of misinformation and unvetted theological content online.

Colin Marshall told Christianity Today that, for the past 25 years, has been able to walk a minute down the road from his church in Auckland, New Zealand, to pick up Christian books and materials from his local Manna Christian bookstore.

By the end of March, this will no longer be the case.

When he first heard the news about the closure, the minister of St. John Presbyterian Church said he felt “sadness” more than anything else.

Established in 1972 with a single store in Invercargill, located in New Zealand's South Island, Manna Christian Stores aimed to collaborate with churches and local communities to offer Bible and Christian resources.

Over the years, it expanded to encompass 14 stores across New Zealand, facilitating workshops, conferences, and partnerships with mission groups to spread the gospel.

"In 2017, Manna Christian Stores merged with Bible Society New Zealand to form the Bible Society New Zealand Group, with a mission to distribute Bibles widely and fill hearts with the message of Christianity," according to its official website.

However, in December last year, Neels Janse van Rensburg, the chief executive of Bible Society New Zealand, revealed to the Otago Daily Times that the bookstore chain had been facing financial challenges for several years.

"We have to be good stewards of what we’ve been entrusted with and if we go on down this path, we are not good stewards," Van Rensburg told the newspaper.

"We have to make hard decisions of how to save the whole or end up in a position where you have to close the whole.

"Factors such as escalating building leases post-COVID-19, surging paper prices, and increased international freight costs contributed to the strain on profitability" he explained.

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