What type of New Living Translation Bible would appeal to visually engaged Millennials who care about beauty but are walking away from religion? That’s what two friends pondered a few years ago when they launched a Kickstarter campaign for Alabaster, their new publishing company. Now their pricey volumes of attractive Scripture have grabbed the attention of the so-called selfie generation, with projected sales of almost $1 million this year.
The Story Behind Alabaster’s ‘Bible Beautiful’
Brian Chung, who converted from Buddhism to Christianity while at the University of Southern California, later became a campus minister with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. Dismayed by students’ flippant reaction when he handed out New Testaments, Chung thought, “There must be a better way.” His own first Bible had felt intimidating, he remembered, with tiny font and archaic phrasing.
Chung befriended another Christian with a similar name—Bryan Chung—and they partnered to create Alabaster, which “explores the intersection of creativity, beauty and faith through original artistic content.” The company’s Bible books contain attractive layouts of Scripture text and soothing, Instagram-worthy photos.
The goal is to produce resources that are “true and relevant to Millennials,” says Bryan Chung. “We are all on our iPhones, but we also respond really well to visual imagery, and so it has to grasp our attention. If it does, it can change the way we think.”
Almost half (47 percent) of Millennials say they still use a Bible, despite surveys showing that young adults are leaving faith in droves. Those declining numbers aren’t necessarily religion’s fault, say Alabaster’s co-founders. “Christian art and design can come off as really cheesy,” says Brian Chung. “But faith, like everything, needs to meet the culture where they are. So we’re creating materials that are approachable, and also represent the intersection of art and faith.”
In addition to eye-catching visuals, Alabaster uses the reader-friendly New Living Translation, released in 1996. “A big part of faith is the language,” says Bryan Chung. “It felt off to be reading and using words you can barely pronounce or understand. That’s not what will interest people.’
Are the Pricey Volumes ‘more Goop than God’?
So far, Alabaster has released the Gospels, Romans and Psalms. (Mark and John have sold out.) Next up are Proverbs and Genesis. Even with the price point of $78 for hardcovers and $38 for paperbacks, more than 10,000 of the Bibles sold last year. The evangelical megachurch Hillsong sold them at last year’s Creative Conference.
Wholesale deals are in the works for the Bibles, which have broad appeal overseas. Entrepreneur Daniel Fong invested $100,000 in Alabaster because “there’s a hunger for unique ways to access religion, and I can see [these Bibles] becoming really popular, especially in China.”
The products have a hip, “vaguely Scandinavian vibe,” leading some critics to say they commercialize God’s Word. “Think soothing sunset pics, sleek layouts and a minimalist design aesthetic that’s more Goop than God,” describes one writer.
Religion professor Elizabeth Angowski says the Bibles seem “aimed at audiences of a certain status,” reminiscent of high-end lifestyle brands in terms of look and price. There’s also an assumption that adding images makes Scripture more “conducive to higher contemplation,” she says. “Alabaster makes it sound like a matter of enhancement of, possibly even a correction to, the reading experience.”
But the founders say they’re excited to see young people connect with God’s Word. “We like the idea that [our books are] opening up a dialogue for people who would otherwise not think about religion that much,” says Bryan Chung.