It’s no secret that Greater Sydney Conference’s Adventist Book Centre has struggled financially over a long period of time.
In fact over the past 10 years, we’ve averaged losses of $173,000 per annum, making our ABC the worst performing ABC in Australia. Or if we want to put this in a better light, of all conferences in Australia, our Conference has been the most patient and supportive of our book/Adventist literature ministry, making significant sacrifices in order to prop up this ministry.
As a Conference we are absolutely committed to having an Adventist Book Centre presence. There is no doubt that the ABC provides an important ministry. We all agree on this, and believe that there is a reasonable level in which we can support this ministry. It’s important to provide a means in which our members and those in the community can purchase Adventist books and other Christian literature. However, this function or purpose has steadily diluted in importance in recent times. For example, our lesson pamphlets are easily accessible free of charge either through the internet, or an App. Another example is the entire collection of Spirit of Prophecy books by Ellen G White, can also be accessed freely in the same way. You can even buy Spirit of Prophecy books through Amazon.com.au where a Desire of Ages as an eBook would cost you $1.03.
Looking more broadly across the sector, we’ve seen the recent closure of Word Christian bookshops, and we’ve been advised that Koorong the largest chain of Christian bookshops in Australia, has been sold to The Bible Society, demonstrating how difficult it is to operate in the Christian book market, that others much larger than us are finding it tough to survive.
With external factors alone, the future of our ABCs looks increasingly difficult. To compound matters, the ABC has a number of internal issues as well. These include that some work practices are highly manual, and therefore inefficient. That the website we’ve been working on, needs improved interfaces with our Point of Sale system. That our staff particularly at our Epping store are significantly overworked to the point of our ABC being an unhealthy workplace. Stock control could also be improved, and the range of stock tightened. That having two shops creates an unreasonable and unsustainable workload for our staff. That dealing with day-to-day issues and workload, afforded scarce time for management to market and plan effectively.
With these issues in mind, our Church Ltd Board considered a number of recommendations, including the closure of the Wahroonga ABC located in the SAN. While no doubt this shop is an important contributor to the Adventist identity of the hospital, providing opportunities for staff to witness to non-Adventist visitors, as recently described in the Record, it however suffered a loss of $60,000 last year, and also accounted for a significant amount of costs at Epping. This loss is not a one off, but rather an ongoing issue.
Our Conference absolutely affirms that the Hospital is a major mission field and in fact already funds the salaries of half its chaplaincy team at the Hospital (2.5 positions out of 5) who are trained to provide spiritual support to patients and their families in often very stressful times.
Questions need and should be asked whether the ABCis the right vehicle for missional activity in the hospital, when in reality, the Wahroonga shop sells mainly drinks, greeting cards, and food. In fact, less than 10% of sales comprises of Christian Literature.
However, what was not considered in the decision, was the outpouring of community support experienced, when news of the Wahroonga ABC closure spread. Recently, a meeting was held at the hospital chapel which was filled to capacity of people who supported the store’s ministry. Testimonies were heard of the important work that the ABC does, that it is a beacon on the hill. As a result of the meeting, it was decided that the official announcement of the Wahroonga ABC closure would be postponed, and a report of the community support would be presented to the Church Board, as an opportunity to review the decision.
This reprieve still does not address the fundamental issues of the ABC and how it operates. So what can we do to make this a viable and continuing ministry? Two simple things:
- We need to pray intentionally and constantly for the ABC. God can work miracles and we need one for the ABC.
- It’s not enough to say how much we love the ABC. We need to walk the talk, and the ABC should and needs to be the first point of call, when we consider purchasing Christian literature and other related materials. Our local churches also need to support the ABC.
The words “Use it or Lose it” has never been more painfully true. If we don’t get behind our ABC, it may become a lovely and distant memory. Our prayers and continued support are necessary for its ongoing ministry.
Written by Eva Ing, CFO of the Greater Sydney Conference