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The Bible vs. the Ikea Catalogue – Which is Winning Hearts?
Around now – August or September - is when we receive the latest annual Ikea furniture catalogue in our mailboxes. When yours arrives, don’t think of it as just a bunch of pages of desirable furniture. See it instead as a major cultural indicator of our times.
For it’s possible that the Ikea catalogue is now the most widely distributed publication in the world. If it’s not now, then it soon will be.
The Bible is the best-selling book of all time. We all know that. The Guinness Book of World Records says 2.5 billion copies have been distributed since 1815, in 2,233 languages and dialects. (In second place is probably Mao Tse-Tung’s Little Red Book, with around 900 million copies published.)
But what about today? We can only guess at how many Bibles are distributed each year. I contacted several Bible societies for guidance. Here’s what one of them told me:
Since there are literally dozens of English translations of the Bible and over 2,000 translations of the Bible into other languages, Bible sales and distribution total well over 100 million copies per year.
If the Bible were tracked in terms of "best seller" lists, it would pretty much be a constant at the top of that list, week after week!
But from the Bible League came a much lower estimate:
David Barrett in the World Christian Encyclopaedia estimates that the total distribution of whole Bibles amounts to 53 million per year. 85% of these are in what he calls "World C" Christians living in those areas where the Gospel has already been proclaimed. The vast majority are also in the English language, distributed through commercial bookstores in North America.
To get a correct/accurate number is almost impossible because both copyright holders and publishers (often not the same groups) "count" the same Bibles, which of course results in double counting. For example, the Bible League might purchase 100,000 Bibles in the Tagalog language for use in the Philippines, from the Philippine Bible Society (we'd be the publisher/distributor, they the copyright holder) and we'd both "count" them. Thus, the number of 53 million is very likely much higher that the actual number used.
By contrast, thanks to the efficient PR staff at Ikea I know exactly how many of their catalogues are published annually. It topped 100 million for the first time in 2001, with the 2003 version – that’s the one shortly to arrive in your mailbox - requiring a printing of 115 million.
And the company is on a gigantic roll. Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book may have fizzled out pretty quickly. Nothing suggests a similar fate for Ikea.
It already has around 150 stores in 22 countries. In 1997 it opened in Shanghai, two years later in Beijing and a year after that in Moscow. It sees these stores as stepping stones for further penetration of those countries. It is gearing up to enter Japan. The catalogue printing run is set to soar.
China. Russia. Japan. Western Christians are spending heavily to reach people in such countries with the Gospel. Will we win hearts as readily as Ikea?