Why Is Bible Engagement Falling to New Lows?

By Mark A. Kellner | Posted July 28, 2020

Is there a Great American Religious Revival in the making? Perhaps not, if recent statistics about how much people read the Bible are correct.

According to the American Bible Society and its 10th annual “State of the Bible” survey, fewer Americans are reading the Scriptures than last year. This decline in “engagement” may have been affected by the decrease in church attendance. Engagement is defined as how often a person studies the Bible, how those studies change a person’s life spiritually, and how the Bible is used in a person’s moral decisions.

“The data show that Scripture engagement has declined amid the COVID-19 outbreak, and there is a clear relationship between Scripture engagement and in-person church participation,” the Bible Society said in a statement announcing the research findings.

“Faith communities have demonstrated incredible resilience, innovation and empathy through the pandemic. But this survey reveals that a big opportunity still remains for Christian organizations to make an impact on Scripture engagement,” American Bible Society president and CEO Robert Briggs said. “Despite nearly every individual in the U.S. having access to the Bible, engagement has decreased. That’s been a consistent trend over the past few years, and the trend has accelerated since January 2020 throughout the pandemic. The Church must transition from ‘survival’ mode back into ‘discipleship’ mode, and, yes, that’s going to take even more innovation.”

Research showed that in 2019, 35 percent of American adults claimed “that realistically they never use the Bible outside of a large church service or mass. In January, that number was statistically unchanged. However, by June of 2020, that proportion had fallen to 31%.” Furthermore, the ABS reported, “Additionally, many Scripture engaged adults were finding it difficult to maintain their relationship with the Bible. The proportion of Americans who use the Bible daily also fell to fewer than one in ten (9%), the lowest number on record during the ten years of the State of the Bible research study.”

Study Reveals Mixed Results

The study highlighted the connection between the massive disruption of worship services during the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak and Bible reading.

“This study supports the idea that the Church plays a significant role in benefitting people’s wellbeing and Scripture engagement,” said John Farquhar Plake, the Bible Society’s director of ministry intelligence, in the news release. “To increase Scripture engagement, we must increase relational connections with one another through the Church. The pandemic—and now this survey—have shown that when relational church engagement goes up, so does Scripture engagement, but when it goes down, Scripture engagement drops with it. In other words, it’s probably the relationships people have with one another through Church that really make the difference.”

What else has the pandemic led to? The answers may surprise you!

According to the Bible Society, “Americans who have been personally impacted by the coronavirus were more likely to read the Bible. Individuals were most likely to report an increase in Bible engagement if a family member in their household or a neighbor died from COVID-19. For those that have not personally known anyone who has died from COVID-19, their level of Bible engagement tended to stay the same.”

Additionally, the group reported: “8 in 10 individuals who were hospitalized by COVID-19 said they wished they had used the Bible more. Others who did not experience the fear as acutely decreased their Bible engagement, or it stayed the same as it was in January.” 

The study also discovered that “food, TV/streaming services and prayer/meditation have been the top sources of comfort during the pandemic. Those tending to be more Scripture engaged were more likely to seek the Bible, family members and prayer/meditation for comfort. Those tending to be less Bible engaged were more likely to seek food, tv/streaming, and prescription drugs as sources of comfort.”

What Did Jesus Think About the Bible?

Jesus holding a Bible

It is an understatement to say that Jesus viewed engagement with the Bible of great importance. While it seems that Christians today depend on worship services and community as the conduit to the Bible, Jesus depended on the Bible itself. It was His armor against the devil’s temptations (Matthew 4:1–11); it was His curriculum as a teacher (Luke 10:25–28); and fulfilling its messianic prophecies was what He, the Messiah, had come to do (Matthew 5:17).

In fact, the Old Testament, the only Scriptures in existence during the time of Jesus, was a written witness of the Savior: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39), Jesus declared. He was the Word incarnate, the Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14).

The Bible does not only give us the promise of “eternal life”; “it is [our] life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). It is not only our guide to daily living but our guide to living—period! “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), teaches the apostle Paul. “My son,” warns Solomon, referring to the word of God, “let your heart keep my commands; for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you” (Proverbs 3:1, 2).

Church attendance is undoubtedly important—but don’t let its absence stop you from engaging in the Word of life. The Bible is God’s free gift to every individual on this Earth. Although overall trends may be concerning, Amazing Facts is seeing an uptick in the number of people searching for Bible answers on our websites, especially our free online Study Guides! Understand the Bible for yourself, and unlock the key to the best relationship of all—your eternity with Christ!

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.

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