Providing a purpose: Christian book remains popular among locals

By Shannon Jenkins

Long before a hostage shared the book's message with a suspected murderer, "A Purpose-Driven Life" was a highly recommended read and a New York Time's best-seller.

The Christian-based book, written by Rick Warren, hit bookstores in 2002 and has been going strong ever since. According to www.purposedrivenlife.com, Warren's book is a "groundbreaking manifesto on the meaning of life." The book's purpose is to help people realize "real meaning and significance comes from understanding and fulfilling God's purposes for putting us on earth." "A Purpose-Driven Life" claims there are five purposes for everyone – to offer real worship, enjoy real fellowship, learn real discipleship, practice real ministry and live out real evangelism.

Book sales increased locally after the March ordeal where Brian Nichols, a suspect in four fatal shootings, held Ashley Smith hostage while he hid from police in metro Atlanta. Smith told news media and the world she used the Bible and "A Purpose-Driven Life" to speak with the accused killer.

At the Tanger Mall's Bible Factory Outlet in Locust Grove, worker Christine Roberts said sales picked up after the Fulton County Courthouse incident where Nichols is accused of shooting and killing a judge, court reporter and sheriff's deputy on March 11. The next day, police said he also killed an assistant special agent with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement before taking Smith hostage.

However, Roberts said the book was "on the best-seller list any way" and her store has sold as many as 20 copies in one day.

Family Christian Stores in Jonesboro received an influx in sales for about two weeks after the event, senior sales associate LaJuana Blane said.

"We asked guests if they purchased the book after seeing Smith's story, and many said they did," she said.

Regardless of the Nichols' case, Roberts said a lot of clients comment on the book.

"Many have read it and suggest others read it. Some have said they're reading it for the third and fourth time," she said, although she admits she hasn't read it herself. "They say everyone should read this book."

Blane said her store goes through cases of the books, which have sold for $10 to $20 at the Family Christian Stores location and Bible Outlet store.

"We usually sell three cases a month," she said, which equals about 100 books. "People buy books five and six at a time."

Blane read the book about two years ago when she was having marriage troubles. She and her husband weren't communicating well, so they decided to give the book a try. They read a chapter every day and discussed it. At first, she said their conversations were superficial, but after the third or fourth chapter, "we got really serious with it."

"At the end of 40 days, our marriage was totally healed," she said.

Blane and her husband shared their testimony with their Griffin church, Faith in the Word Ministries. Soon, the church members participated in the "A Purpose-Driven Life" study as a whole.

She's also shared her testimony with clients and her family. She even sent copies of the book to her niece in Korea, her children in California and a cousin in prison, who then shared the book with many people in jail.

"He said it changed the lives of those (people) in the facility," Blane said. "It's just phenomenal."

McDonough First United Methodist Church recently kicked off a 40-day campaign based on the book.

Jason Dugger, director of Christian education at the church, had participated in a similar campaign at another church in 2003 and he thought his own church could benefit from it.

"It has the entire church, from children to the oldest member, studying the same material and intentionally opening themselves to the movement of God's spirit in their lives," he said.

Dugger said the church had set the date of the study long before the "heroism of Ashley Smith but that event helped increase the congregation's interest."

As to why the book is so popular, Dugger said it helps people find an their own answers to an important question.

"Each of us is on a journey to find fulfillment and discover why we are alive," he said. "We search to answer the question, 'Why am I here?' (The book) helps people understand that God intended for people to (live) lives that are fulfilled and are nurtured in the goodness of God's grace. The book helps people connect their lives to the reality that there is an answer to the question, 'What on earth am I here for?'"

The book is currently No. 1 on the New York Times Best-Seller list for hardcover advice books and has sold well over 20 millions copies in America.