Citing declining customer traffic and sales, a major retailer in Christian books recently announced that it is closing all of its stores by the end of the year.

For more than a century, LifeWay has offered a wide selection of Bibles, books, Scripture reference tools, children's products, Christian music and movies, church signs and furnishings at its brick-and-mortar-stores.

But efforts to keep the stores open proved too challenging.

"The decision to close our local stores is a difficult one,” said Brad Waggoner, acting president and chief executive officer, in a company blog post. “LifeWay has developed close connections with the communities where our stores are located, and we have been honored to serve those communities. ”

But even as LifeWay Christian Resources shuts down all 170 of its shops, including seven in South Carolina with one in North Charleston, other Christian bookstores in the Lowcountry are staying open by offering non-Christian materials. The establishments are functioning less as a bookstore and more as community centers.

The Daughters of St. Paul has felt the pinch. The religious order currently operates 14 Pauline Books and Media stores across the continent. One of its stores in San Antonio already shuttered its doors.

Pauline Books and Media

Pauline Books and Media has been located at the corner of King and Beaufain streets for 35 years. Brad Nettles/Staff

Sister Margaret Kerry, who manages the store at the corner of King and Beaufain streets, points to other Catholic bookstores across the state that have closed up shop as people purchase more books online.

While Pauline Books has no plans to close, store operators are aware of the times. 

"We are concerned," Kerry said.

The religious sisters say that the Bible and children's books are still popular, making up 40 percent of the store's sales. The group also depends on golf and bowling fundraisers to pay the bills, as well as donations from shoppers. Because the sisters work the store out of spiritual devotion and not pay, that helps save on costs, too.

"We rely on people's generosity in various ways," Kerry said.

The group also has kept up with the digital age, establishing an online store and using social media more to promote products. The sisters also created a Facebook page titled "My Sisters" that provides online teaching and prayer.

Other Christian stores look to nonreligious items to make ends meet.

Rick Hegwood Jr., owner of Agape Christian Bookstore in Goose Creek, said business declined over the years, but offering school products and being privately owned has helped keep the bookstore afloat.

He said 75 percent of the store's sales come from educational materials, such as posters, paper, EZ Graders and stickers for their classrooms. 

"You see where the money is," he said. "I do real well in August."

Christian bookstores are more than retail shops. They are places where individuals come for prayer, spiritual guidance and theological discussions. 

A chapel at Pauline Books and Media features dim lighting and an altar that help create a serene atmosphere. Individuals come in during lunch break for prayer and devotion. 

Pauline Books and Media

Pauline Books and Media has a chapel if customers would like a quit place to pray. The store has been located at the corner of King and Beaufain streets for 35 years. Brad Nettles/Staff

College students host Bible studies in the store's tea room and garden.

At Agape, Hegwood gets frequent requests from customers asking for prayer. The very name of Hegwood's store, Agape, is the Greek word for unconditional love. He views these moments as opportunity for ministry. 

“People don’t come in here for me," he said. "They come in here for Jesus."

Follow Rickey Dennis on Twitter @RCDJunior.