The American Bible Society released a very robust report on their findings from a large research project on the “state of the Bible.” There are some very encouraging trends related to Bible engagement among Americans and the major impact Bible engagement has upon us. According to research, reading the Bible increases our joy, our outlook on life, our likelihood to be good neighbors, and our ability to forgive others. The research also reveals some troubling and concerning trends, trends which ministry leaders should be burdened over and pray for wisdom in how to address.
1. Nearly half of Americans are confused about the message of the Bible.
According to the research, 41% of Americans believe or strongly believe the Bible is, as compared to other religious books, merely a different expression of the same truth. But the Bible teaches a completely different message. Unlike other world religions which offer advice and counsel on how we can earn our way to God, the glorious message of the Bible is God’s gracious pursuit of us. The Bible is not arranged by topic to study or characters to emulate. The Bible is the account of God’s pursuit of us. If we read the Bible as things we must do to climb our way to God, we miss the heart of the Bible and fail to experience and enjoy His grace. For ministry leaders, this data point is a strong reminder that we must constantly point people to the central message of the Bible – Jesus and what He accomplishes for us. Instead of assuming the people we serve know the gospel, we should assume they do not.
2. Church attendance, both physical and digital, is declining across America.
Not only has physical attendance declined since CoVid but those engaging with churches online has also declined since June 2020. According to the writer of Hebrews encouragement from others is what keeps our hearts from being deceived (Hebrews 3:13). Thus, we are commanded to not give up gathering together (Hebrews 10:25). Not gathering with others for worship, communion, and the study of Scripture is damaging the spiritual growth of believers.
3. Anxiety and stress have increased as society since the first year of CoVid.
There have been many studies pointing to the mental health challenges of 2020, but this research reveals that 2021 has been even more challenging to the mental health of Americans. Surely some thought that when “things opened up” and life “started to return to normal,” people would struggle less with anxiety and stress. But the opposite has occurred. Anxiety and stress have continued to increase in the midst of “life going back to normal.” We are living among and serving people who are in deep pain, and we must be kind and loving as we seek to provide care.
4. People use food and exercise for comfort during CoVid more than the Bible.
The Bible offers us comfort as the Bible reminds us of our God who is with us in our pain, who loves us in our struggles, and who promises to never forsake us. During the stressful times of CoVid, people turned to the Bible for comfort. But turning to food and exercise was more common. Exercise is a great tool and we should affirm the tools at our disposal for fighting anxiety and stress: community, exercise, meaningful work, time with a therapist, etc. But we should simultaneously help the people see that as wonder for Jesus increases, worry decreases. We can attack our anxious thoughts with His truth. We must help people run to Him as their ultimate Rest, as their ultimate Comfort.
5. Teenagers today are highly un-engaged with Scripture.
According to the research, only 9% of youth in Gen-Z are engaged with the Scripture. And the youth in Gen-Z are significantly less engaged with the Scripture than Millennials. This should be deeply concerning for parents, pastors, and youth ministry leaders. We must do all we can to help students engage the Scripture in their personal lives. We must seek to include them in the life of the church, offer them godly leaders who love the Scripture.