Business / Ministry / April 30, 2014

Should All Christian Content Be Free?

I work for Lifeway Christian Resources, a curriculum publisher, book publisher, and provider of various other resources and training for churches. Before I worked at Lifeway I worked both for Crossway Books and Moody Publishers, both of whom are dedicated to serving the church with books and Bibles. So for the majority of my time in the workforce I have been part of Christian businesses, organizations dedicated to furthering the mission of the church by following a business model. Those last two words are key: business model.

They seem to frustrate many believers, especially those in ministry. The belief often seems to be that since these are Christian organizations producing Christian content they ought to give it away, or at least severely discount it. And there are organizations, like Desiring God, who set a standard by making almost everything available for free. Crossway has given away tens of thousands of Bibles too. And so the precedent is set in people’s minds: Christian organizations should give away their material because that’s the “right” way to do it.

A few problems arise with this way of thinking:

1) It fails to acknowledge that in order for organizations to give away material they have to have another source of funding, most often donations (usually from a small number of very generous people). That isn’t a traditional business model; it’s a ministry/non-profit model. Businesses must earn a profit margin in order to remain in existence. Just because an organization is explicitly Christian doesn’t mean it isn’t a business.

2)  The give-away model is a great one, but not the only one, for Christian organizations to follow. If you think every bit of content should be given away in the name of Jesus you are asking a whole lot of people to go hungry. Selling content at a fair (and often below-market) value isn’t greedy, and it isn’t monetizing the gospel. It is creating revenue to further produce materials to benefit the church.

3) Just as he assumption that all Christian content should be free fails to recognize basic business principles and financial realities, it fails to recognize some important biblical principles too. My friend, Daniel, Darling, recently wrote a well thought out, helpful post on the subject. I’ll let him explain.

Christian publishers should not be so eager to make money. Why not give their books away free?

Christian musicians should not charge to sing at a Church. Why not sing for the Lord?

Christian conferences should offer all their content online, right away, for free, right now.

Well-known speakers shouldn’t charge so much to speak at someone’s church. They should just come to be a blessing.

So, the question is this: Should all Christian content be free? And to this I say a hearty, “No!”

I understand the desire to get resources into the hands of those who can’t afford them. The impulse to break down financial barriers so  people can hear the gospel and so God’s people can grow is good. I’m thankful for all of the free content, readily available online and elsewhere. But we must understand that good content always has a cost.

For free stuff, somebody, somewhere was kind enough to fund the spread of the good news. Praise God for this kind of generosity. May He raise up more Christian philanthropists in this generation.

But I want to tackle this idea that there should never be charge for Christian content–books, sermons, study guides, music, teaching textbooks. This is not a right argument on many levels.

First, the Bible says that hard work should be rewarded with adequate payment.

. . .

Second, Christians should be rewarded for their ministry work.

. . .

Third, by depriving Christians of payment for their work, at times, we could be causing them to disobey Scripture.  

. . .

You can read the full post from Daniel here. I encourage you to do so and to think through the various ways helpful, biblical content can be distributed. Free isn’t always best, even if it seems best for you.

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[…] Absolutely not, which is why I’d like you to insert two dollars into the CD slot of your computer before reading on. Yes, that is too how it works. Barnabas Piper has further thoughts: […]

May 13, 2014

[…] Should All Christian Content Be Free? – I hear this question a lot. I have been criticized for “falling into the trap” of Christian publishing by buying many books and resources for my own personal discipleship and the discipleship of others. Barnabas Piper offers sound thoughts on this issue. They are well worth checking out. […]

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