Because either they're more appealing or more keenly needed, Christian books these days are commanding a swelling audience that's looking for help in living.

That's the assessment of William R. Anderson, president of the Christian Booksellers Association, whose international convention in Dallas this past week staged one of the nation's biggest trade shows.It involves a $2 billion annually retail industry, doubled since 1980.

"The volume is growing steadily," Anderson said in a telephone interview. "The market has expanded beyond the pew, partly because the product appeal is broader and also because of sociological trends. There's a renewed interest in religion in general, an acute awareness of the spiritual side of life, a return to Judeo-Christian values."

About 11,000 people were registered for the trade show, buyers from about 5,200 Christian bookstores across the nation placing orders with about 350 exhibitors spread over 275,000 square feet of the Dallas Convention Center.

As part of it, about 20 educational workshops were offered on such things as finance, marketing and management.

In size, the affair is in the top 11/2 percent of the 8,000 trade shows that take place annually in this country, as rated by the Trade Show Bureau.

Statistical extrapolations indicate the Christian bookstores sell about 80 million volumes annually, with best sellers often selling two or three times more than books on secular best-seller lists.

Anderson said readers especially want "self-help kind of books" on difficult issues of life and "understanding of them on a spiritual plane," both for themselves and their children.

"Publishers are dealing with hard issues that were skirted a decade ago, books on AIDS, child abuse, putting a broken marriage together, death and dying, life-related issues that everybody faces. We're selling information about life, how to change, how to determine values, what the Scriptures have to say about it."

He said there also is big demand for books for young parents wanting "quality products" focused on nurturing children in values of honesty, integrity, respect for parents and other authorities.

"There's more recognition of the role of parents, and a conservative value swing in terms of Judeo-Christian values."