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.

Video: How the Bible’s Story Helps Us Talk About Racism

How does the Bible speak into our current cultural moment? What does the story’s trajectory reveal about God’s concern for overcoming systemic injustice?

On June 25th we hosted a free webinar with panelists Dominique Gilliard, Michelle Sanchez, and Fr. Steve Delaney to discuss how how the Scriptures can inform our growing national discussion on racism. By understanding God’s mission to set things right in the world, we can participate in his work toward restoration and love.

How the Bible Helps Us Talk About Racism - Dominique Gilliard, Michelle Sanchez, Fr. Steve Delaney

Click here to view the Scripture passages and additional resources compiled by the Evangelical Covenant Church, which Michelle recommends during the conversation.

  • Dominique Gilliard serves as Director of Racial Righteousness and Reconciliation for the Love Mercy Do Justice initiative of the Evangelical Covenant Church. He is also the author of Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores
  • Michelle Sanchez serves as Executive Minister of Make and Deepen Disciples for the Evangelical Covenant Church
  • Fr. Steve Delaney is an Anglican priest serving as a chaplain in the US Army stationed at Ft. Bragg, NC

Welcoming Jim Steere to the IFBR Team

We’re thrilled to welcome Jim Steere to our team as a Senior Associate.

Jim is a longtime friend of ours. He joined us at Biblica in 2012 to help spread the word about Community Bible Experience, then transitioned to Tyndale House Publishers in 2017 and worked collaboratively with us to launch and promote Immerse. He recently retired from Tyndale and joined our team in a part-time volunteer role.

Jim is passionate about helping churches read the Bible in community, and he will continue helping us forge connections with Christian leaders to build awareness about Immerse. He also has a wealth of experience in fundraising and organizational leadership, so he will be a valuable voice as we discern God’s direction for the Institute going forward.

After living in Wheaton, IL for over 30 years, Jim now resides in Orlando, FL with his wife, O’Ann.

Bob Fryling and Jan Stump Join Our Board of Directors

As we begin our fifth year of ministry, we are thrilled to welcome Jan Mortenson Stump and Bob Fryling to our Board of Directors. Jan and Bob are our first outside directors, joining our four co-founders in discerning God’s direction for the Institute. We’re so excited to have their voices at the table and expect that their experience in nonprofit ministry leadership will be a huge asset as we work to help more people become immersed in the Bible.

Jan Mortenson Stump

With thirty-three years of fund development experience, Jan understands the crucial role of mission-driven advancement to build vibrant and sustainable non-profit organizations. Currently, she serves as Executive Director of Global Resources at TEAM, a global mission organization. For most of her advancement experience has been in resourcing the Christian schooling movement through a variety of roles at The Association of Christian Schools International. Most recently, she served as the Executive Director of the ACSI Education Foundation, leading the effort to creatively resource the Christian schooling movement through thought leadership, innovation, resource development and advocacy.

Jan holds an MA in Literature from the University of Alaska and has been a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) since 2001. She and her husband, Don, live in Colorado Springs, CO, and have three sons and five grandchildren.

“It’s a privilege to join IFBR’s board because scripture has had a profoundly formative impact on my life. Most often, the Holy Spirit uses scripture to remind me who I am and empower me for what he calls me to do. I long for Christians to dwell in God’s word in ways that inform and transform their daily lives.”

Bob Fryling

Robert (Bob) Fryling was National Director of Campus Ministries with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for fourteen years and then Publisher of InterVarsity Press for nineteen years. He is the author of the book, The Leadership Ellipse: Shaping How You Lead by Who You Are.

Bob has a BS in Materials Science from Drexel University and a MA in Intercultural Studies from Wheaton Graduate School. Bob and his wife Alice have been married for forty-nine years and have two daughters and four grandchildren. They live in Monument, Colorado.

“I am glad to be on the board of IFBR because I believe deeply in its mission of increasing and strengthening the role of meaningful Bible reading in the church today.”

Upcoming Free Event: How the Story of the Bible Works

We hear a lot about the Bible being a story. But how does that story actually work? How does Genesis work together with Exodus, the Psalms, the Gospels, Paul’s letters, and the other books of the Bible to tell the story of God’s redemption in the world? And how is it a story that’s relevant to us today?

Join us at this free event March 30-31 in Colorado Springs, CO. Our Senior Director of Content, Glenn Paauw, will be presenting.

Don’t live in Colorado? No problem. The talks will be recorded and sent out to everybody who registers.

Click here to learn more and register >>

The event is sponsored by With All Your Mind, a series of events designed to engage the mind on Christian topics.