Post by Mark Forshaw
The Problem (Some Bad News)
Since 2011 the State of the Bible report—put out by American Bible Society in partnership with the Barna Group—has taken the Bible pulse of America.
This year, that pulse appears to be a little fainter.
|Viewed the Bible as sacred||86%||79%|
|Turn to the Bible to find intimacy with God||64%||56%|
|Antagonistic to the Bible||10%||19%|
The Opportunity (Some Good News)
While the rest of the Western world struggles with a culture of post Christianity, America is different. And that’s where the opportunity comes in for church leaders.
In the U.S., 79% believe the Bible is sacred and 88% own a Bible. The best news is that 19% are “Engaged.” They believe the Bible is the actual Word of God and read it four or more times per week (remember that definition).
So why do we still see a decline in those who respect the Bible? In fact, why do we see a growth in antagonism towards the Bible? And what can we do about it?
The Trends (What’s Really Happening)
Let’s look at the Engaged group (the group we mentioned above). The 2014 State of the Bible reports that for the Engaged:
- 72% saw reading the Bible primarily as a way to be closer to God
- 45% increased their Bible reading over the last year
- 79% wanted to read the Bible more
So there is a committed and waiting audience that wants more Bible.
But they also need more Bible.
The 2011 report found that even this group—the Engaged—struggled.
- 32% found the Bible hard to understand
- 30% saw it as teaching intolerance
- 19% could not identify the “3″ in John 3:16
Before we set out to reach the Friendly, Neutral or even Antagonistic, we must equip the Engaged to comprehend the Bible.
Solution (Where You Come In)
The 2014 survey gives some very helpful indications of what directions we can take.
- Focus on digital. 44% of Americans access the Bible via the Internet and 21% use a Bible app (up from 13% in 2011). As leaders, do we utilize technology and all mediums (84% still prefer to read the Bible in print) to encourage daily engagement with the Bible?
- Context, context, context. People see their lives reflected in the pages of the Bible. In your church, keep an eye out for when people are going through stressful life changes. According to the survey, that’s an opportunity for people to reconnect with God’s Word.
- Remember the big picture. 18% of Americans said they increased their Bible reading for the following primary reasons: “came to understand it as an important part of my faith journey,” “difficult experience in my life caused me to search the Bible for direction/answers,” “significant change in my life.” So, are we teaching that personal understanding that the Bible is truly central to understanding our faith?
I attend a church in the Northeast that has grown threefold in two years, from 70 to more than 200 people. Why such rapid growth? I thank God for bringing us a godly pastor who expounds Scripture. He is gifted, trained, knowledgeable, multi-media savvy, and aware of his world. He inspires me to read more of the Bible. Many people have come to our church because they couldn’t find that anywhere else on a Sunday morning.
As a researcher, I see a story in the data. When church leaders like you focus on God’s Word, your people will grow spiritually.
Mike Forshaw is the executive director of Global Scripture Impact (GSI), the research arm of American Bible Society. He came to GSI after working for the World Health Organization, Geneva Global, Tearfund UK and African Inland Mission.