We’re thrilled to report that Immerse: The Bible Reading Experience has made its way across the Atlantic and into the United Kingdom. The UK wasn’t in our immediate strategy for spreading the vision and impact of Immerse, but the Lord likes to work in surprising ways.
Last year, out of the blue, our team was contacted by Keith Danby. Keith’s a Brit with a long and illustrious career in Christian publishing, and several of us had worked with him when he was CEO of the International Bible Society.
Keith had retired several years ago and we’d been out of touch. Then he stumbled onto Immerse. The more he dug into the new reading-friendly format and organic conversation structure, the more he wondered if Immerse might be perfectly suited for the UK’s post-Christian culture (approximately 5% of the population attend church, many of whom are immigrants).
In Keith’s mind, Immerse had the right stuff: no chapters or verses to confuse a generation unfamiliar with the Bible, the easily-accessible NLT translation, and a “Book Club” model that sparked curiosity and imagination. It felt revolutionary. In time he sensed a call to establish Immerse in the UK, perhaps his last major achievement in a long career.
Keith leveraged his connections with Premier Media, the largest Christian media company in Europe, to form a partnership between Premier, Tyndale House Publishers, and the Institute for Bible Reading. Together we’re working to spread the word to pastors and church leaders across the UK about how Immerse can help draw their congregations in to the Bible again.
Today there are Immerse initiatives in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland. Over 40 churches are actively using Immerse, and stories of transformation are beginning to come in.
Last spring I was invited to speak to a group of church leaders in St. Andrews, Scotland. The hotel where I spoke was situated on the Old Course at St. Andrews, widely considered the oldest golf course in the world. When I wasn’t gawking at the course where I’ve watched numerous Open Championships on TV, I was sharing the history, vision, and impact of Immerse on churches here in the United States.
During that speaking event I met Kenneth Ferguson, a businessman living outside of Edinburgh. Kenneth was taken with the idea of Immerse, and decided to start a group in his home with his wife, Doreen.
Doreen was admittedly skittish about the idea at first. Immerse was just a little too strange for her tastes. “I’m wary of new things” she confessed, “It took me a wee bit of convincing.”
But the Immerse experience itself opened her up. “I could see how people in the group were being helped, and it was easier in some ways to read.” It was different than the many Bible studies she’d been a part of. “[The Bible studies] have ten questions and sometimes it feels like they’re steering us away from what God is saying to us. I hated all the questions and I found them boring.”
Doreen works as a podiatrist, and shortly before their group started reading the Messiah New Testament, she met a woman named Dierdre in her clinic. Doreen has a gift for getting people to open up (Kenneth says she’s good with soles and souls), and soon Deirdre confessed that her parents had recently died. She felt lost. She’d seen counselors. She tried going to church. “It made no sense to me.”
“My life had become a cry for help,” Dierdre later told us. Thankfully, Doreen sensed Dierdre’s need for community and invited her to their Immerse group. Deirdre accepted the invitation with the caveat that she knew absolutely nothing about the Bible and didn’t want to impede the group’s progress.
Deirdre bravely waded into the Immerse 8-week reading plan, which requires reading about 45 pages a week. Despite the intense schedule, she was hooked. “I found myself engrossed; it felt like reading a novel.”
After a couple of weeks reading the New Testament, Deirdre quietly shared with the group, “I think I want to become a Christian.”
The Immerse group at the Fergusons has now read Messiah, Beginnings, Kingdoms, and Poets without taking any breaks. Only Prophets and Chronicles remain. Kenneth says, “Each time we finish a module I ask the group if they want to take a break, and each time they unanimously want to keep going.”
Deirdre comes every week having both read and listened to the Immerse audio Bible. She was pensive when I ask her if reading Immerse had impacted her personally.
“I wanted a bit of peace in my life and in my head. Today I feel personally more confident, and I look at the world differently. Through our Immerse group the pieces of the puzzle are coming together for me. It’s given me strength, even though I don’t know all the directions it’s going to take me.”
Our mission at IFBR is to invite people into God’s transformative story by changing how they read the Bible. So far that has largely taken place in the US and Canada, but we have been delighted to see the ways God has delivered this new way of engaging Scripture into the UK.
I believe the proper term is “cheers” to Kenneth, Doreen, Dierdre, and their group which had the courage to try Immerse. We’re thrilled to see a group of Jesus followers in Edinburgh experiencing the Bible together in transformative new ways.