Video: Selling the Spirit

msnbc.com
updated 6/28/2005 5:52:40 PM ET 2005-06-28T21:52:40

With over 800 churches, Nashville has the highest number of houses of worship per capita in the United States.  It is also home to the largest Christian music and book publishers in the country. 

Coming through loud and clear from the belt buckle of the Bible Belt is 88.7, WAY-FM.  Nashville is home to this powerhouse radio station that plays Christian music 24/7 and reaches a potential audience of seven million people in nine states.

David Senes, the director of WAY-FM, says "The mission statement for WAY-FM is to encourage youth and young adults through the music and then also introduce nonbelievers to Christ." 

Here on a sweltering June Friday afternoon in Franklin, Tennessee, 1,000 fans turn out to meet one of the latest hot Christian music bands for free.  The musicians of Sanctus Real are described as Rockers for the Lord.  They, like other modern Christian bands, connect with their audience through uplifting and spiritual songs. 

"Very early on, Christian radio was hymns and people preaching and getting up on a pulpit and kind of — it had very much of an agenda feel to it," says Senes.  "Now it is much more about reflecting the lives of our listeners." 

Listeners are willing and able to put their money where their heart is — Christian music means big business.  Nashville's famous music row — the birthplace of most country hits — is also home to some of the nation's largest Christian labels; Twenty years ago, religious music was a cottage industry.  Today, it reigns supreme in and out of the house of the lord. 

"We‘re at $700 million in sales as far as Christian music," according to Rod Riley, VP of marketing for Word Entertainment.  And that's defined through the Gospel Music Association.  And we are about 6 percent of all music sales in the U.S.  And that‘s larger than classical and jazz combined." 

No wonder big-name artists like Amy Grant and Randy Travis continue to cross over from pop and country to play music in the name of Christ. 

"Randy Travis was a country icon, had been there for more than 20 years and had a great career, unbelievable sales," Riley says.  "And now he is doing a country album in one hand, doing a Christian album of praise and worship songs in the other, and has this great ministry, where he is able to play at a casino one evening and a church the next morning." 

In those churches, you'll find Bibles.

While Nashville has the beat on Christian music, it also cornered the market on God‘s printed word as well.  Thomas Nelson Publishing makes fresh Bibles daily and it is the largest publisher of Christian books in the world, combined sales at almost $200 million last year. 

"Last year, we sold 8.9 million Bibles," says Michael Hyatt, President of Thomas Nelson Publishing.  "The prior year, we sold 8.1 million Bibles.  So, it is still a growing segment." 

The King James version of the Bible continues to be a best-seller, but Thomas Nelson is reaching out to the youth market with specialized Bibles that look like fashion magazines.  There's even one for the hip-hop crowd called"Real."

"It is a large and growing segment of the population," says Hyatt.  "It is not just black urban people, but it is also a lot of the young white teenagers and so forth listen to that kind of music as well.  And so, this is designed specifically for them." 

Nashville also has the best Christian blue-light specials in the country. 

Recently, this city hosted the Southern Baptist Convention, with 16,000 faithful flocking to exhibit halls for the latest in everything from spiritual neckties to Bible covers.  Music and books are the staples of the convention and lines are long to meet celebrated authors. 

Dan Miller, author of "48 Days to the Work You Love," explained why the Christian-themed book market is booming. 

"Two plus two is four, whether you're an agnostic or a Bible-thumping Christian," Miller says.  "Truth transcends those kinds of denominational distinctions.  And everybody is looking for that.  Everybody is looking for purpose and meaning." 

Tune into see Chris at the Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville with religious leaders.  They will debate the role of religion in politics.

Of course, you can always catch 'Hardball' each night at 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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