Dan Rich served as founding publisher at NavPress and the senior vice president of development and communications at the Navigators. Read on to find out how NavPress began.
1. What was the impetus for NavPress? Why did the Navigators want to enter the publishing arena?
Three things motivated the Navigators in the early 70’s to “sell their discipleship resources to local bookstores and churches”. Men and women trained by the Navigators in the military and on college campuses were moving into normal family and work life and still discipling others. This created a demand for training materials, and their natural instinct was to go to Christian bookstores to secure these. Unfortunately, most bookstores didn’t have what they needed and the Navigators weren’t set up to deliver these resources with any dependability.
In an effort to solve this problem, NavPress was created for these reasons:
1) To simply meet this demand in a competent fashion. The backend of a publishing business had to be created, including order processing, shipping, warehousing, and production, for the resources to be accessible.
2) The demand was significant enough that the Navigators leaders felt they could make some money to help fund the headquarters. While this happened gradually over the years, the leadership team didn’t realize how much cash a small publishing operation required.
3) To create new discipleship resources for the growing Navigators Ministry.
Entering the CBA Publishing arena became a means to an end and not the original goal. NavPress was formed to meet the demand that already existed and to distribute the new resources widely. However, fast growth and success with both of these goals led my NavPress team to think longer term. We decided to set up a “publishing ministry” with complementary goals and strengths to the Navigators field ministry, which was similar to IVP and Moody at the time. The Navigators leadership team was not always in agreement with our vision, but for the next 30 plus years, NavPress became a significant flagship for the overarching Navigator ministry.
2. What was the first book selected and how did it come about?
Her Name is Woman by Gien Karsson is the first book we published, and it’s still in print. When NavPress was launched in 1975 at the CBA in Minneapolis, we were working on our new discipleship materials. Book publishing was never discussed. Cliff Barrows of the Billy Graham Association was planning the Graham Crusade in Amsterdam and wanted a Navigators-trained Dutch woman to be part of the follow-up team once the Crusade was over. He knew Gien because of her notoriety as a Bible teacher in Holland and asked us to consider publishing her Bible study on women of the Bible. Since the Navigators had been the foundation of follow-up discipleship since Billy’s early Crusades, Loren Sanny, the Navigators President and main contact with Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), gave us permission to publish the book. Unfortunately, Cliff decided not to use the book in the follow-up discipleship program but this didn’t cripple the launch, and Her Name is Woman became our first book success. At one time, it had been translated into more foreign languages than any other NavPress title. This success allowed NavPress to slowly and carefully look for other authors whose mission was consistent with the Navigators and the new NavPress mission “To Help Christians Grow” to full maturity in Christ.
3. Was the Navigators staff the only roster of authors? How did you transition from Navigators writers to non-Navigators writers and how did the organization respond?
Originally, the Navigators staff were our only authors. Looking back, the Navigators had a remarkable group of Bible teachers and master disciplers whose materials and messages had never been published. Most of them curated their content at Navigators Conferences, which was a significant part of the work in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. A few exceptions were short booklets distributed among the staff and those they were training. Authors like Gien, Jerry Bridges, Leroy Eimes, Jerry White, Jim Peterson, Walt Hendrickson, Jack and Carol Mayhall, Jim Downing, Cynthia Heald, Jean Fleming, and Betty Skinner to name a few. All of these authors wrote commercially viable and widely read books, many of which are still in print today. Jerry became the first author to sell over a million copies, followed by non-Navigators author Eugene Peterson with The Message, as well as some others mentioned above.
The early success and growth of NavPress led other writers who aligned themselves with the Navigators to approach NavPress for book deals, including non-Navigators authors like Larry Crabb and Dan Allender. The successful launch of Discipleship Journal also tremendously broadened the NavPress and Navigators exposure and reach. These realities opened the door to seek out like-minded writers, teachers, and communicators.
4. What got CBA’s attention?
CBA took note of NavPress’s early and consistent success, business growth, and production of discipleship resources that were Biblically solid and “trustworthy”. Bookstore buyers said they didn’t have to read everything NavPress published to know it could be trusted. CBA was growing rapidly at that time as well, and this created the perfect storm for NavPress to grow!
5. Discipleship is a rigorous calling. How did you take resources to market and make them “palatable”?
The pent-up demand for resources was key, as well as the natural matriculation of Navigators training in the 70’s and 80’s. Discipleship Journal played a big part in this expansion as well.
6. Who are some of the remarkable or memorable authors you’ve worked with and why?
Jerry Bridges, who just passed, is at the top of my list. He was trained as an engineer and never intended to be an author. Editing of The Pursuit of Holiness was so rigorous Jerry almost gave up. But he was a dogged Bible student, always looking for Biblical answers to a never-ending list of questions. Turns out his questions were the same ones many believers have.