Institute for Bible Reading appoints next Executive Director

The Institute for Bible Reading has some exciting organizational news which I am pleased to share.

In accordance with a long-anticipated personal plan, I will be retiring as IFBR’s executive director on July 1, the month of my 70th birthday.

Our team has been aware of this plan, and our Board of Directors has engaged in a careful search process for my successor. I am delighted to announce that Alex Goodwin, our senior director of marketing communications, has been selected as IFBR’s next executive director, effective July 1, 2021.

Click here to read the full press release.

Many people have “met” Alex as one of the hosts of The Bible Reset podcast. We are excited that God has led us in this direction of younger leadership to build on the growing momentum from our organization’s first five years.

This movement is growing, lives are being changed, and we are filled with anticipation for how God will work in this coming season.

J.R. Briggs Joins IFBR Board of Advisors

We’re excited to welcome J.R. Briggs as the newest member of our Board of Advisors!

J.R. is the Founder of Kairos Partnerships, an organization dedicated to equipping and partnering with hungry leaders in their health and development. He also serves as an affiliate faculty member at Missio Seminary in Philadelphia and on the Board of Directors for Jerusalem University College.

He has authored several books including The Sacred Overlap and Fail.

“While the Bible is widely available, it is often misunderstood and neglected. I’m grateful for IFBR and its strategic, intentional, and creative work to equip people to engage with the entire story of Scripture. This vision is exciting and contagious, and it serves a significant need today. Few things are as important in our day and age than this effort.”

Our Senior Director of Content, Glenn Paauw, was recently interviewed on J.R.’s Monday Morning Pastor podcast. Check out his interview (which starts around 12:15) here:

Michelle Sanchez Joins Board of Advisors

We’re thrilled to welcome Michelle Sanchez to our Board of Advisors! Michelle has been a longtime friend of ours and one of the key champions for Immerse within the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination. She also recently joined us for our conversation on How the Bible’s Story Helps Us Talk About Racism. We’re so grateful for her friendship and for the wisdom that she’ll contribute to our organization.

When it comes to discipleship, studies have shown that reflection on the Bible is the #1 catalyst for spiritual growth – but what does that look like for the contemporary church? In pursuing what it means to foster the flourishing of twenty-first-century disciples in the Word of God, the Institute for Bible Reading is engaged in some of the most important work of the church today.

Michelle T. Sanchez serves as Executive Minister of Make and Deepen Disciples for the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination. Previously, Michelle served in leadership for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, as a minister to international students with Cru, and as an investment banker for Goldman, Sachs & Co.

Michelle completed an M.Div. and Th.M. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, spiritual direction training at the Boston College School of Theology, and field studies on the life of Jesus in Jerusalem. She is a regular columnist for Outreach Magazine and looks forward to the publication of her first book on the theme of antiracist discipleship.

Announcing our Partnership with Seminary Now

We’re so excited to announce our partnership with Seminary Now, a new on-demand streaming video platform that provides exclusive biblical training courses from today’s leading teachers, ministry practitioners, and authors.

The platform will feature courses from IFBR’s leading voices, starting with Glenn Paauw in the fall. Since we are a Seminary Now partner, you can receive a limited-time 20% discount on your subscription by entering code IFBR20 at checkout.

Like Netflix or Masterclass, subscribers get unlimited access to all courses — available on smart phone, tablet, and TV devices. The courses are divided into short 12-minute videos so you can learn at your own pace. Join today and access exclusive content from teachers and authors including Scot McKnight, John Walton, Brenda Salter McNeil, Michael Bird and many others.

We have joined InterVarsity Press, Northern Seminary, Missio Alliance, and many others in this new partnership. We’re honored be part of this network of top-notch organizations creating excellent content for you and your ministry. Check it out and start your free trial today.

3 Takeaways from ‘State of the Bible 2020’

American Bible Society and Barna Group recently released their 10th annual State of the Bible report exploring various trends in American spirituality and Bible engagement. The 2020 report is a unique edition which reveals two sets of survey data collected in January and June, before and after COVID-19 upended life as we know it.

The special circumstances around the 2020 report shed some light on important realities regarding the Bible in America. Here are 3 takeaways we found:

Things Aren’t Good

Not exactly breaking news, but it’s worth saying. 35% of Americans say they never read the Bible, which is up from 25% at the report’s inception in 2011. Ten percent in nine years. 60% of Americans read the Bible less than five times per year.

“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,” said ABS president and CEO Bob Briggs.

The data makes it clear: the magical thinking that Bible Access equals Bible Engagement is misguided. Reading, understanding, and immersion in the text don’t happen automatically.

Initial Bible Curiosity Didn’t Last

For years, Barna’s research has shown that the majority of Americans wish they read the Bible more. A Lifeway Research study revealed that the top two reasons people claimed for their lack of Bible reading were “I don’t prioritize it” and “I don’t have time.” Maybe the dire situation of the pandemic and the limited activities during stay-at-home orders could lead people to open up the Word. You can only watch so much Netflix, right?

In the early days of COVID-19, it looked like that could actually happen. As uncertainty swirled and people adjusted to the difficult realities of isolation, many turned to the Bible as a source of hope. Bible sales surged.

Yet for all the extra Bible sales, and despite many people having more free time on their hands because of quarantine, unemployment, and other factors, Bible engagement actually declined between January and June.

Pandemic Change in Scripture Engagement - ABS/Barna
Source: State of the Bible 2020 / ABS and Barna Group

What actually happened in the days and weeks after the shiny new Bibles arrived in the mail? What kinds of practices and habits did people try? Did they feel equipped with a good understanding of how to read the Bible? Did they feel confident or overwhelmed? Now there’s some survey data we’d be interested in seeing.

Community Strengthens Bible Engagement

“To increase Scripture engagement, we must increase relational connections with one another through the church,” said ABS director of ministry intelligence John Farquhar Plake. “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.”

Dr. Plake is echoing what we’ve found from over a decade of creating and facilitating community Bible reading experiences like Immerse. As much as Bible reading has morphed into a solo sport in the modern era, the fact remains that the Bible has always been a book meant for communities. People simply struggle to read and understand it on their own. More than half, in fact.

Many churches were understandably in survival mode during the early months of the pandemic, frantically setting up online services and adapting to serve a variety of unforeseen needs within their congregations.

But it’s time to settle in for the long haul. Merely streaming services won’t cut it. One in three practicing Christians has stopped attending church during COVID-19, including 50% of Millennials.

Spending time in the Bible remains far and away the #1 catalyst for spiritual growth, but it’s clear that people struggle when left to attempt it by themselves. Pastors need to facilitate ways for small communities to gather around the Word to read and discuss it together.

If you’re looking for a way to stay connected with your small group, family, neighbors, or friends during these hard times, check out Immerse From Home, a free digital resource we created to help communities get started with Bible Book Clubs via Zoom. Or simply jump in and start reading the entire New Testament in community with Immerse: Messiah.