This spring, Someone Like You, based on the Christian romance novel by author Karen Kingsbury and produced by the newly formed Karen Kingsbury Productions, was released in theaters across the US and Canada. The movie—a tale of grief, romance, and a secret frozen embryo sister—grossed about $5.9 million.

Kingsbury’s accomplishments as an author and movie producer are impressive and, in many ways, singular. Over 25 million copies of her books are in print. Someone Like You was a New York Times bestseller.

But Kingsbury isn’t alone in her success. Female writers—romance writers in particular—dominate the Christian fiction market, claiming eight spots on the top-ten author list in 2023.

Since the mid-20th century, opportunities for these women who write—first in Christian bookstores, then on television, and now in movie theaters—have been expanding in response to growing audience demand. Along the way, these evangelical women have gained a kind of religious authority, crossing over from sentimental fiction to biblical interpretation and theology. Hidden behind paperback covers and movie posters picturing prairie scenes and happy couples, these texts deliver serious evangelistic messages for Christian women to consume and share with others.

The roots of Christian romance can be traced to authors like Grace Livingston Hill and Eugenia Price. But the genre as we understand it today really began with Christy (1967), Catherine Marshall’s story of a young woman in the Great Smoky Mountains. As secular romance novels became more sexualized in the 1970s and ’80s, women began to look for faithful alternatives. With Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly (1979)—Marty moves out West, marries a single father, finds community, and grows in faith—the genre was established. According to Reading Evangelicals, Love Comes Softly sold “an average of fifty-five thousand copies a year for twenty years.”

In the decades since, authors like Oke, Beverly Lewis, Francine Rivers, and Kingsbury have been writing love stories imbued with Christian themes. Though romance is at the heart of these novels, their plots also take on real-world suffering, including suicide (Love Comes Softly), abandonment (The Shunning by Lewis), abuse and assault (Redeeming Love by Rivers), and grief (Someone Like You). The spiritual support they offer is particularly relevant to readers who’ve experienced similar hardships. Characters pray and get saved, worship and read the Bible. Endings are happy—and redemptive.

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From the outset of the genre, Christian romance has had missional intentions. Many novels today include back-of-the-book discussion guides with Bible passages and devotional prompts. Oke has stated, “I see my writing as an opportunity to share my faith. … If my books touch lives, answer individuals’ questions, or lift readers to a higher plane, then I will feel that they have accomplished what God has asked me to do.” Kingsbury has defended Christian stories not just as escapes but as an “unbelievable force” in our faith journeys.

But Christian romance hasn’t only had success in print—a good thing for the industry, given declines in Christian book sales. For decades now, these texts have been adapted for television. Christy was a CBS miniseries from 1994 to 1995. Titles like the Love Comes Softly series (beginning in 2003), Hidden Places (2006), The Shunning (2011), and The Bridge (2015) became made-for-TV movies on the Hallmark Channel, appealing to audiences looking for heartwarming programming. More recently, Hallmark has produced television spinoffs of When Calls the Heart (2014–2024) and When Hope Calls (2019–2021), offering expanding storylines created within Oke’s oeuvre.

Now, Kingsbury has taken the book-to-television strategy one step further. After releasing four made-for-TV movies with Hallmark, she opened her own production company in 2022. Karen Kingsbury Productions released The Baxters on Amazon Prime in March, the month before Someone Like You hit theaters.

Christian romance novels aren’t exclusively sold in Christian bookstores; the Hallmark Channel, though certainly family- and faith-friendly, isn’t an exclusively Christian network. But for Christian romance writers, the move to streaming services and movie theaters does represent the biggest opportunity yet for more mainstream attention—and for expanded ministry.

Rivers’s 2022 Redeeming Love, a retelling of the Book of Hosea, models the kind of attention Christian romances might achieve as they move to theaters. The movie adaptation earned only an 11 percent positive rating from critics. But it also achieved a 95 percent positive rating from viewers and opened fourth in the box office its opening weekend. (Someone Like You found critics and viewers in closer alignment—a 46 percent positive rating from the professionals and a 96 percent positive rating from audiences.)

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For both Rivers and Kingsbury, these creative projects are meant to do more than impress critics or make money. They have evangelistic goals—not just providing clean entertainment for women who are already Christians but drawing in secular audiences. Indeed, both authors have highlighted the opportunity for fans to take their non-Christian friends to the movies. Kingsbury has even offered crowdfunded tickets through her “Share the Hope” campaign.

Here again, discussion questions and reading guides make evangelistic intentions explicit. Rivers put out two study guides just prior to the release of her film—A Path to Redeeming Love: A 40-Day Devotional and Redeeming Love: The Companion Study. The story of Redeeming Love, she says, is “meant to bring people to Christ, and … to offer a tool for us to share our faith with people who don’t know Jesus at all.”

For her part, Kingsbury offers both a six-part discussion series and a seven-part Bible study on the Someone Like You website. Connecting passages of Scripture with plot points in the film, the Bible study discusses difficult personal themes like the loss of Kingsbury’s brother and the health challenges of her son (he portrays Matt Bryan, one of the film’s male leads). Through the study, Kingsbury addresses an audience of readers who intimately know her work, offering a space for longtime fans to experience spiritual growth.

But her discussion questions are doing something different. Here, Kingsbury speaks to a non-Christian viewership, addressing their concerns about grief and betrayal, forgiveness and peacemaking. “What questions have you had about God?” she asks. “What is your source of truth?”

Someone Like You has left theaters but will remain available for group events through the Faith Content Network. This platform provides access to the movie and its digital resources until streaming becomes available later this fall. With five additional novels listed as “coming soon” on Kingsbury’s website and the announcement of a second film, it seems her mission across multiple mediums is only just beginning.

As Christian romance writers bring their stories to film and streaming platforms, so too are their opportunities for evangelism expanding. With trust in pastors declining and church attendance plummeting, authors like Kingsbury might occupy a unique and unprecedented position—trusted by longtime readers and drawing in new viewers, casting the Christian story as relevant and compelling, hoping that “boy meets girl” becomes “fans meet Jesus.”

Emma Fenske is a third-year PhD student in the History department at Baylor University. Her research centers on recovering the cultural, political, and theological identities of evangelical women through mass media and pop culture.