A History of Crossway’s Tract Ministry

Crossway’s Origin

In 1938, during the last days of the Great Depression, a young Christian man stood in front of his employer, a professional printer named Harry Lund, and made a daring request. “Mr. Lund,” the man asked, “What would you think about allowing me to use some of your equipment to print some Christian tracts?” Mr. Lund wasn’t thrilled. Printing was costly, and he was a businessman, not an evangelist. Stunningly, the owner sat up in his chair: “I don’t understand why I’m agreeing, but I’ll let you do it.” It was on Harry Lund’s printers that Clyde Dennis, from Minneapolis, would print his first gospel literature named “Good News Tracts.”1

Within six months, Clyde and Muriel were working full-time writing, designing, and publishing tracts. Within five years, they were distributing more than 50 million per year. Over the next several decades, the ministry continued to grow and flourish by the Lord’s grace, and in 1978, expanded to include the publication of Christian books under the leadership of Clyde’s son, Lane Dennis.

Today Crossway is known around the world for the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible, for many gospel-centered books by authors such as John Piper, Francis Schaeffer, Paul Tripp, and John MacArthur—and for gospel tracts published under the imprint Good News Tracts. In fact, Crossway continues to publish over 20 million tracts every year, for churches, ministries, and individuals. Good News Tracts play an invaluable and historic role in carrying out the vision of Clyde Dennis for reaching the world with the beauty and goodness of God’s truth.

Crossway publishes both evangelistic and Christian living tracts. Both streams reflect our mission to articulate and apply the truth of the gospel to every area of life, and to invite as many readers as possible to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.

Four Goals of Publishing

In addition to producing content that reflects an unflagging commitment to historic Reformation theology, every tract published by Crossway has four distinct goals:

  1. Communicate the life-changing message of the gospel in a clear, concise format.

  2. Reach a large and diverse group of readers through volumes that can be widely distributed.

  3. Captivate readers through excellently designed and written content that reflects the beauty of our Savior.

  4. Empower readers whom the Holy Spirit moves to respond to the gospel truths presented in each tract.

Crossway seeks to bring these four goals together in each tract we publish. Whether it’s a tract that spells out the essential truths of the gospel, offers a winsome defense of Christian truth, or encourages readers with the promises and comforts of Scripture, the reason Crossway exists is to, by the power and under the authority of the Holy Spirit, serve the church of Jesus Christ in its mandate to make disciples everywhere in the world.

A Unique Tool for Evangelism

Tracts can serve the church’s mission of evangelism and discipleship in a special way. Because of their short form, economical production costs, and distribution potential, tracts have a unique capacity to reach a widely diverse group of readers. A gospel-curious unbeliever may read a tract and see, perhaps for the first time, what it means to be a Christian (“What is the Gospel?”). A struggling visitor to a church may notice a short tract that addresses an urgent need in their life and be willing to read it in a way they would not have been true of a longer Christian book (“Hope for Hard Times”). Christmas and other holiday tracts lay out the ultimate meaning of these special days and invite readers to respond in faith to Christ (“The Joy of Christmas”).

The reason Crossway exists is to, by the power and under the authority of the Holy Spirit, serve the church of Jesus Christ in its mandate to make disciples everywhere in the world.

Through tracts, both adults and children can learn about and respond to God’s love for and invitation to them (“You Are Special”), and through apologetics-themed tracts believers can offer the questioning and skeptical concise, winsome defenses of Christian truth (“The Evidence of God”).

Like books, tracts present thoughtful, Christ-centered content. But tracts have the benefit of being easy to read and easy to give away. There is a place in the ministry of Crossway for both full-length books that carefully unpack the truth of Scripture over hundreds of pages, but there is also a place for short form writing that can more easily grab the attention of readers. As John Piper has observed, “Books do not change people, paragraphs do.” Short form content in tracts can powerfully communicate God’s word in a way the Spirit uses to quickly redirect minds and hearts toward truth and toward hope.

The apostle Paul declared that what was of “first importance” was the simple sentence that Christ died for sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and was raised (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Sometimes single sentences can express truths greater than the entire universe. As Crossway stewards our ministry of proclaiming the gospel through publishing, we carry on Clyde Dennis’s vision of producing biblical and beautiful tracts that empower believers to be heralds of the risen Christ to a lost and broken world.

This article is written by Samuel James, Crossway Associate Acquisitions Editor.

Notes:

  1. This story is recounted in Where There Is Vision: The Inspiring Story of God’s Faithfulness Through Fifty Years of Publishing the Good News (Good News Publishers, 1988).

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Crossway is a not-for-profit Christian ministry that exists solely for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel through publishing gospel-centered, Bible-centered content. Learn more or donate today at crossway.org/about.