By Kim Plummer Krull
Ask Concordia Publishing House (CPH) President and CEO Dr. Bruce G. Kintz how a Christian publishing company not only survives but thrives into its 150th year despite the much-ballyhooed demise of Christianity and publishing, and he might just reference John Wayne and C.F.W. Walther.
Talking to Reporter, Kintz noted that Wayne’s character “Big Jake” in the movie of the same name is repeatedly told, “I thought you were dead” but that “he’s very much alive.”
So, said Kintz, is CPH, the small St. Louis printery founded in 1869 by Walther, the first president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
Now a nationally recognized company, CPH offers more than 12,000 products, has customers in 75 countries, and processes an average of 1,000 orders daily.
While today’s culture often feels hostile to God’s Word, Kintz said that even back in the mid-1800s, Walther observed that the printing press could be as powerful to Satan as it is to God.
Walther started CPH to ensure that the young Synod’s churches and schools had materials that, in Walther’s words, “serve the glory of this great God and the temporal welfare and eternal salvation of men.”
As the Synod’s publishing arm launches a yearlong milestone anniversary celebration, Kintz said its top priority remains the providing of doctrinally sound resources — even while most everything else about the company, including production and product formats, has changed dramatically.
From three pages to 112
One of CPH’s earliest products was the American Lutheran Kalendar, now The Lutheran Annual, the official roster of LCMS congregations and ministries. That first annual included three pages of available doctrinal works, including Bibles and periodicals.
The most recent CPH catalog has 112 pages of products that are just a sampling of what can also be perused online at cph.org.
Those products still include Bibles, of course, and periodicals like The Lutheran Witness — the Synod’s flagship magazine since 1882 — but there are also software programs to help pastors write sermons or to assist churches in managing finances.
Nearly every print product has a digital component. Some 400 titles come in e-books for electronic readers like the Kindle.
Two of the most popular products — Luther’s Small Catechism and Portals of Prayer — also are available as apps to be downloaded on mobile devices. Those beloved daily devotions, introduced in 1937, now have millions of readers.
Another of CPH’s “greatest hits” is Arch® Books, rhyming Bible stories for children. Since 1959, when the series began as Lantern Books, more than 60 million copies have taught little ones about Jesus.
National quality award
When a company has been around as long as CPH, there’s a tendency, perhaps, to take it for granted.
“Very few people pay attention to the publisher of a book, much less who published the hymnal they reach for in their pews,” Kintz noted.
But while many other publishers were downsizing or dying, CPH took major steps forward, “to bring our processes up to speed with secular companies and compete,” said Kintz, who joined CPH after a career in the aerospace industry.
One result has been recognition at the state and national level. In 2009, CPH was awarded the Missouri Quality Award.
The company then participated in a rigorous undertaking resulting in the Malcom Baldrige National Quality Award, presented in 2011. The Synod’s publishing arm remains the sole nonprofit publisher to earn the honor, established by Congress to recognize successful quality-management systems.
Customer service ‘second to none’
Today, CPH customers extend far beyond St. Louis and Lutherans. The catechism comes in 10 languages. A variety of Christian denominations turn to CPH for resources.
One of the newest products is neither book nor software, but a platform — “CPH FaithCourses,” video-based, author-led Bible studies. Introduced earlier this year, additional titles are already in the works and will be added monthly.
Along with guaranteeing that products receive Doctrinal Review — the process for ensuring they are faithful to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions — Kintz said CPH promises “customer service second to none.”
“We know we’re here to serve,” he affirmed, confident a “live” CPH representative will answer within 20 seconds of a customer calling 800-325-3040.
(Kintz added that he, too, is available to customers 24/7 through his Facebook page, facebook.com/brucekintz, or by phone at 314-268-1190.)
Publisher’s challenge: families
Walther dedicated the new publishing house in 1869 on Sept. 11 — a date that, for most Americans, “means something else entirely today,” Kintz said.
Still, he added, “it’s the anniversary of us being able to serve in Christ’s name,” an opportunity “to think about all the Bibles, periodicals, books and many resources of faith that people across the globe want and need.” (See video of the CPH 150th-anniversary kickoff at vimeo.com/289466299.)
Looking ahead, Kintz acknowledged that publishing challenges are sure to continue. One such challenge is a segment of CPH’s core customers — families.
When Kintz sees children in church pews paging through books, he wishes more parents and grandparents would give them the children’s books CPH designs to be engaging to young Christians, yet theologically solid.
But this CEO expects many more anniversaries.
“As long there are LCMS churches, schools and families, CPH will walk alongside and support them,” Kintz said. “God says the Word of the Lord endures forever. As long as He permits, CPH will continue.”
Kim Plummer Krull (email@example.com) is a St. Louis-based writer and editor.
Posted on Nov. 26, 2018