Sunday, August 10, 2014

How to start a Christian Book Club (and keep it going!)

Most people that know me know how much I love to read.  One of our thank you gifts at our wedding was a bookmark if that tells you anything! 

I have always loved reading, ever since I was little and would read Little Golden Books, Mercer Mayer, and the Berenstain Bears.  I love the thrill of getting caught up in a novel, the joy of a happy ending….  

Not a lot of people share my love of reading-my husband for example (I did convince him to read The Hunger Games trilogy though).  So sometimes it can be difficult for me to express myself after reading a good book.  Have you ever read an awesome book and wanted to discuss it, have someone else’s input, but have no one to talk to about it because they hadn’t read it?  Yea, that was me.  

I was asked to join a book club by a friend that I went to college with.  It started out with about 10 of us joining together once a month, and then slowly dwindled down to about 5 of us, then one month it just ended.  It happens. 

My pastor’s wife at church heard that I had been involved with a book club, and asked if I would like to start a book club at our church.  Since I loved to read, and kind of knew what to do to start a book club, I said yes and jumped in feet first.  I knew I wanted to start and maintain a lasting book club.  Now, 3 years later, I have a grasp of what I’m doing, and our book club is still going strong.  What keeps us going strong?  Our meeting time/place is secure and our book selection is interesting.  I think what has kept our book club going for so long is our reliable meeting space, and our commitment to keeping the meetings on the same day of the week and time, it helps the members remember when to meet.  Also, we have a variety of Christian books that we read (that aren't all Amish romances).  

Here is a rundown of how we do things, and then I’ll give you some tips on starting your own book club. 

‘My’ book club is through our church, actually through the Women’s Ministry at church.  We’re called the Women of Hope Book Club.  All the women in the church are invited to join, but I have opened it up to ladies outside of our church (friends of ladies already attending).  We have about 15 ladies involved with our group.  It’s not always the same people every month, and some have come and gone throughout the course of the years.  But I always feel that the people are there that need to be.  I don’t worry about how many come or don’t come. 

When we first started we were meeting monthly, now we meet about every 6 weeks.  Our members are busy ladies and it can get hard to meet once a month.  We always take December off though since it is such a busy time of the year. We’ve changed the meeting time as well throughout the years, from meeting at 6:00 in the evening to 6:30 to accommodate the ladies.  One thing that hasn’t changed though is meeting on Tuesday evenings.  When I began the book club and started asking about the interest level, I also asked what day of the week and time would work best.  Tuesday evening was the majority answer and we have stuck with it.  

We meet in our church’s Coffee CafĂ©; we have 4 tables in our church kitchen that serve as a mingling area before and after church on Sundays.  We push the tables together and it makes the perfect space.  Of course being Christian gals, we always eat when we meet!  Since I’m the leader, I provide the meat or main dish and the other ladies provide the side dishes, drinks, and desserts.  Once or twice a year I give the ladies a break from the pot-luck dinner and the church provides me with money to provide the whole meal, usually pizza.  

For our book club, since we meet at church, we read Christian fiction, mostly; we have read a couple non-fiction novels as well.  It can be difficult to find Christian fiction novels that aren’t romance novels, but I have done pretty well to find mystery and suspense novels- the ladies love them!  I’ll be adding a tab to the blog with a list of book titles we have read.  

Our meetings always start out with prayer.  We pray over the meal and our time together.  Then we dig into supper and spend time fellowshipping together.  I think part of the appeal of our book club for the ladies involved is the time of fellowship.  It’s a nice way to unwind and talk with friends.  We usually spend half of our time together just enjoying each other’s company.  Once the conversation starts to wind down, or after we’ve had dessert, I get everyone’s attention to start discussing the book.  Most times I can’t find discussion questions or a reading group guide that correspond with the book.  We’ve been doing this so long though that we don’t really need a list of questions.  I usually open up with, “How did y’all like the book?” and we go from there.  If someone hasn’t finished reading the book we try to steer clear of revealing the ending.  We talk about characters, similar situations we have been in, what we would have done, how the character behaved, surprises, etc.  After we’ve talked about everything, the ladies look to me for the next novel to read.  I try to have a couple different novels in mind, but I’m always open to suggestions from the group.  I try to pick books that have been out for a couple of years that way we can find them cheaper online or even in the library to check out.  We plan the date for the next meeting then everyone helps to clean up.  Then we do it all again 6 weeks later.  

I love to decorate, so I usually decorate the table for our meetings.  If there was a strong theme for the book I try to decorate accordingly.  Sometimes I try to coordinate the food as well.  Once we read a book set in Alaska and there were bears involved so I made ‘Bear Stew’ (chili) for dinner.  Little things like that make it even more fun!

To help the ladies keep up with the next book and meeting date, I send out a group email.  I also include the information in the women’s ministry newsletter and church bulletin.  We might try text messages as well.  I try hard to keep all the ladies involved and up-to-date as possible.  

Here are my tips to help you start your own book club- Christian or otherwise.

*What kind of book club do you want to start?  
This is the first question you should ask yourself.  Do you want a church book club? Mother/daughter book club?  Neighborhood book club?  Are both women and men welcome to come or just women? Where will you get your members?  Ask around and see who would be interested in coming, do you want a mixture of your friends or just ‘church’ friends or just ‘school’ friends? 

     *How many people are going to be involved? How many people should be invited?

I would recommend keeping the number of participants under 20, maybe even under 15.  You want to make sure everyone gets a chance to talk and share. Try to get a feel of how many people are interested, you will probably get about half of the people you invite to commit.  Another question to ask yourself is whether or not you are willing to accept new members.  We have an open door policy at our club, you can ‘come and go’ as you feel necessary and that works for us.  Maybe you want to be stricter about it and not invite new members.  Do whatever works for you.

     *Where do you want to meet?

If you are creating your book club through your church, do you want to have the meetings in your church?  Do you have a good room to meet in?   If you are doing an outside group of people, do you want to meet at your house?  Rotate meeting at the houses of your group members?  I don’t recommend meeting at a restaurant or coffee house because the noise level is generally high and you want to be able to hear!  Wherever you decide to host it, make sure you have enough room for everyone to be comfortable. 

     *When do you want to meet?

This should probably be decided by the group based on what works best for the majority of members.  Or you can set it first and see how the group feels.  Do you want to meet during the week?  On the weekend?  Monthy?  Bi-monthly?  The first Tuesday of every month?  The last Friday night?  Maybe the second Saturday morning and make it a brunch book club?  Morning/evening?  Are you flexible enough to change the meeting time? 

    *What type of books do you want to read and is reading mandatory?

Do you want to read fiction or non-fiction or anything?  Do you want to stick to a certain genre, author, time period, etc?  Also, do the members have to read the book?  I don’t mind if the members of our group haven’t read the book, we try not to give away the ending if the member is still reading.  That is up to you to decide.  Also, are the members responsible for purchasing their own copies of the book?  Will someone in the group do a bulk order and have the other members pay them?  Inevitably someone will ask you to buy the book for them; you need to decide before hand how you want to handle that.  Borrowing books or sharing is always a good way to go, we do that a lot in our group. 


Are you going to eat at your meetings?  Will you provide food pot-luck style?  Do you want members to give $5 or $10 to go towards you or the host buying and cooking the meal?

Some things to keep in mind:

Group commitment:  It is hard to keep a book club going and to keep it strong.  A good way to help a book club stay together is by having the next book and the date of the next meeting ready at your current meeting.  If members have to wait to hear what the next book is or for the date, then they are less likely to stick with it.  It will also help if you keep the meeting time/date the same month after month.  Try not to flip flop around, a Sunday evening meeting one month, then a Friday morning the next.  Another helpful way to keep members involved is the quality of the book selection.  You may love novels set in the 1800s, and want to read one every month, but the rest of the members may not (or the other way around).  Keep the book list interesting and a mixture of different genres.  Unless of course that is what your club is centered on.  Also, take suggestions from every member.  

Book flops:  Don’t worry about a book that ends up flopping.  It happens.  There have been a few books I couldn’t bring myself to finish (and I’m the leader!).  Sometimes a book just isn’t your cup of tea, and that is okay.  Move on! 

Name your group:  Something fun to do is to give your book club a name.  Then if someone is super crafty they can make bookmarks or tee shirts with your group name on them.  

Keep a list of books read:  When I started planning to write this blog post I wanted to include the books we had read so far in my book club, trouble was I hadn’t kept a list.  I ended up going back through emails, newsletters, and sign-up sheets to remember all the books we had read.  So, do it from the beginning and things will be much easier! 

Intro letter/speech:  I sent an email out to the first group of ladies that showed interest in joining the book club just to tell them what my plan was for the book club and important information.  Let the other members of your group know what your idea is, and ask them to let you know what they would like out of the group.   Also, make sure everyone knows to read the book before they come to the meeting.  Trust me, the question will come up. 

Have a leader:  Someone (you) needs to be in charge of keeping everything in order (next novel, meeting time/place) and keep the conversation flowing and on track.  Every now and then I have to rope the ladies back in and get them to discussing the book again.  Every group needs a leader to lead them! 

Have fun!  This is supposed to be fun, so have fun with it!  Dress up, eat good food, talk, laugh, and most of all enjoy yourself!  That will keep your book club going strong!