Tag Archive for: Immerse

Immerse Crosses the Atlantic

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.

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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.”

Doreen and Kenneth

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.”

Dierdre (front left) Doreen, Kenneth, and their Immerse group

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.

Immerse Featured on the Bible Review Blog

Tim Wildsmith from the Bible Review Blog recently published a video review of Immerse: The Reading Bible on his website and YouTube channel.

Before Tim recorded this review, we had the chance to sit down with him to share the history behind Immerse and the vision for how it can transform individuals and communities. We think he did a great job of articulating those things in this review, as well as pointing out the various features and benefits of Immerse.

NLT Immerse Reading Bible – Full Review

From Heartbroken to Hopeful: Immerse at Valley Christian High School

Dr. Greg Tonkinson is immersed in a Gen Z world. In addition to having four teenagers at home, for the last thirteen years Greg has been the Spiritual Formation Director and Chair of the Bible Department at Valley Christian School in Phoenix, AZ. (VCS is rated one of the Top 50 Christian Schools in the country and ranked by USA Today as one of the top 12 sports schools in the country.)

In 2019, heartbroken and frustrated with their student’s alarming withdrawal from the Bible, Greg instituted a radical shift at Valley Christian, restructuring their Bible curriculum around Immerse: The Bible Reading Experience. What they experienced went far beyond anything he could have imagined.

I sat down with Greg to talk about the paradigm shift at Valley Christian.

Greg, I’d like to start with your story. How did you get hooked on the Bible?

I came to Christ as a freshman at Arizona State University thru Cru (formerly Campus Crusade). Ironically ASU was ranked one of the top party schools in the nation, but that’s where I came to faith.

Fortunately, my mentors as well as my fellow students were ardent Bible readers, so I kind of picked it up by osmosis. Because I had no real experience in Christianity or the church, I assumed this kind of deep Bible engagement was normal. I went on to earn a couple of Bible degrees and ended up teaching Bible at Valley Christian. It didn’t take long to realize I’d been living in kind of a Bible bubble and that my students, most of who grew up in church, had zero viable connection to the Bible.

As someone who spends a good chunk of your waking hours with high school students, what’s your perspective on this generation of young people?

My heart truly goes out to Gen Z kids and their parents. In prior generations, parents could look their kids in the eye and say, “I know what you’re going through,” but this is no longer the case. These kids have been swept into a technological revolution unlike anything we’ve seen before. And while there are some advantages, the drawbacks are dauntingly scary.

These kids are facing earth-shaking questions that weren’t even on the radar in my generation: global warming, terrorism, pandemics. Almost weekly I have students coming up to me asking real life questions about a friend or a sibling struggling with sexual identity.

We took Gen Z, put them on an island with all these variables, and told them to figure it out.

We took Gen Z, put them on an island with all these variables, and told them to figure it out.

In an earlier conversation, you told me Bible illiteracy among high school students is “catastrophic.” Can you elaborate on that?

When I started teaching Bible thirteen years ago, I started with a baseline of assumptions about where kids were at with the Bible when they started high school. In ten short years those assumptions have thoroughly eroded. They may own Bibles but for many of them their only real experience with the Bible are a few isolated Bible verses they see on the screen at church.

A decade ago they showed up bored with the Bible, but now they come to my classes questioning the validity of the Scriptures. They don’t even have a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible. They don’t know the key players.

I’m careful about my choice of words, so I don’t use the word catastrophic lightly. There’s absolutely no sense of marrying their faith decisions with a way to grow in their faith.

Tell me about your introduction to Immerse and your decision to make it the core of your curriculum.

I was at a point where this was affecting me personally. I was heart-broken over the condition of my students. There were sleepless nights. And by this time, I was also struggling with the thought that our pedagogy might be part of the problem.

We were doing a good job on systematic theology, world religions, contemporary moral issues. But there was a gaping hole. I couldn’t say with an ounce of integrity that our students were reading the Bible. We wished it and hoped it, but it wasn’t in our lesson plans.

Then in 2019, I attended Christian School International’s Symposium of the Bible at the Bible Museum in Washington D.C. You were there, Paul, and you introduced us to Immerse: The Bible Reading Experience.

I’m a skeptic by nature. I’ve been jaded by so many publishers peddling their wares, so I’m leery of easy answer solutions.

But the longer I listened to the Immerse rationale, the more I was drawn in. I heard a fellow teacher described the remarkable impact Immerse had had with his students.

I went home burdened with the idea that I was facing a crucial decision. It was like when I came to faith; I prayed and said to God, “Give me a reason not to do this, not to go in this direction.” It was a God moment; everything just clicked. My frustrations, my tensions, my heartbreak for these students; I began to feel hope that this fresh approach to the Bible might actually work.

Immerse is a paradigm shift. What adjustments did you have to make?

The adjustment to the Immerse Bible was seamless. Reading a Bible without chapters and verses and books in a different order—the kids didn’t bat an eyelash. It looks and reads like any other book they’ve ever read!

Because Immerse is designed around a more horizontal learning experience – more like a book club than a Bible study – I had to deconstruct the idea that I have the knowledge and you need to listen to me. Today I’m more of “the guide on the side than the sage from the stage.” I’ve had to step aside and honestly it’s been fantastic!

Three year later, Valley Christian students are immersed in Immerse. What impact is it having?

For starters, the kids are now reading 30 to 40 pages a week from Immerse. We’ve pivoted from just learning about the Bible to reading the Bible itself.

Coming from a place of feeling hopeless, I was so moved seeing groups of kids reading together in the classroom or in the courtyard, with their Immerse Bibles open, having engaging conversations. It brought tears to my eyes.

There was also a more subtle shift. In the past, the kids treated Bible classes like algebra or history or any other class. It was all about getting a good grade. As I watched the transformation unfold, it dawned on me that the kids weren’t just reading for a grade. They were reading to discover.

The kids weren’t just reading for a grade. They were reading to discover.

The deep reading has led to a massive shift in our conversations. We give the kids 5 open-ended questions and it’s been astonishing – so much more vigorous than when I was just lecturing. Students are the ones generating and owning the questions.

Occasionally I’m asked if this approach isn’t a breeding ground for heresy. I’d say the opposite is true. We’re learning that when we give students the freedom to ask hard questions, it doesn’t repel them; it draws them back in. It doesn’t make them question their faith. It’s only people who are cherry picking the Bible who think the Bible isn’t complex. Their faith today is more sincere and authentic.

Greg Tonkinson teaching at Valley Christian HS

When God meets them through his word, it’s electrifying.

Any stories you want to share?

Each week the kids have to send me a report on their discoveries and the questions they’re wrestling with. So I’m tuned in to what these kids are thinking like never before.

I recently received a report from one of my “quiet students,” someone who never spoke up in class.  We’d been reading about the endless cycle of Israel’s corrupt kings. He asked: Isn’t there a better way for God to do this? I know that God took care of the ultimate problem of sin on the cross, but it seems like it took him awhile to get there. Some might view that as sacrilegious or blasphemy. I disagree. This is what authentic theology looks like! This is how we turn students into theologians.

Recently I had a moment of profound joy. We’d just finished reading Immerse: Prophets, about 450 pages, and we were basking in the glow of that. I said to the class, “You read every major and minor prophet in 16 weeks!” I’m standing there tearing up and they’re wondering why I’m getting so emotional about this. But I know that my students are experiencing something that most of their parents have never experienced, and it gives me hope for this generation.

Will you share some final thoughts?

We’re fighting against this horrific trend of young people walking away from the faith. Before our Immerse experiment, I didn’t have any hope we could reverse that trend. But now I have a front row seat watching these kids engrossed in their Bibles.

In the last decade we’ve created Bible apps to make the Bible more convenient, but that’s not enough. We need an altogether new approach to the Bible, which is why I absolutely adore telling people about Immerse. It’s complex but simple. It’s profound but presented in a way that it’s approachable. It’s appealing, dare I say entertaining, and fun! It’s what the title says, it’s immersive.

Seeing my kids excited about God’s word and experiencing God – there’s nothing like it!

Episode 3: Nathan Smith – Getting Students Immersed in the Bible

By the time they reach his classroom as high school freshmen, many students in Nathan Smith’s Bible classes are very familiar with the Bible. They’re also quite bored with it.

Nathan shares his take on some of the systemic blind spots in the Bible education space, and how the narrative-based, whole-book, community discussion model of Immerse has reshaped how he teaches the Bible to his students. Simply reading the words of Scripture rather than “words about the words” helps the Bible come alive for them and changes their lives.

64% Of Young People Leaving the Church: https://www.barna.com/research/resilient-disciples/
Written Reflections from Nathan’s Students: Student Reflections on Immerse

Immerse at Calvin Christian HS:

Immerse at Calvin Christian High School

Student Reflections on Immerse

Bible teacher Nathan Smith has been using Immerse in his classes at South Christian High School for over a year. After trying Immerse at Calvin Christian High School and seeing the impact it had on his students, Nathan became convinced that the organic reading experience and “book club” discussion model needed to be incorporated into whatever Bible classes he taught.

Nathan has become a good friend of ours, and he blesses us by periodically passing along feedback he receives from his students about Immerse. He’s probably sent us more than two dozen quotes over the last year or so, and we wanted to share a few of our favorites. God is at work!


“I would occasionally decide to read the bible, then I would start from Genesis because I felt like I had to. Then I would get kind of bored because the whole creation part was something that I heard over and over my whole life. So I would flip the pages for some time then maybe go for a snack, then forget about it. This time, however, was different. The Bible, for instance, wasn’t what I was so used to. It didn’t have a black leather cover, it didn’t even have chapters and verses! It was so different, it felt like I was reading a book. A story. And that is what the Bible actually is, and the Beginnings Bible helped me a lot to recognize them.” -Freshman

“I have enjoyed reading the Beginnings Bible. I have grown up reading the Bible, but I let it come in one ear and go out the other because it just doesn’t resonate with me. However, ever since I have started reading the beginnings Bible on a daily basis I have been able to just fall into the story and actually remember what I have been reading so that I can learn from it.” -Freshman

“I realized that I never knew some of these stories existed before I read them without skipping in between stories. It was very eye opening to read what the life of Jesus was like in more depth and detail.” – Sophomore

“I liked reading without chapters and verses because it made it flow easier. When I read the Bible it is always hard for me to understand and I usually don’t really get a lot from it unless someone explains it to me. But when I read it this way it became a lot easier to read.” – Freshman

“One thing that definitely stood out to me throughout the reading is that I understood the content better. It was easier for me to comprehend and understand what I was reading in story-form. After reading the entire book, I was able to connect the dots of the sequence of events in the first five books of the bible.” – Freshman

“Reading through the whole New Testament was really a cool experience because it’s something that I usually would never do…It fascinated me on how much of the New Testament is letters to certain different churches. I had known that there were books in the Bible that were letters but I had never known truly how many of them were letters and that we could learn a lot from them.” – Junior

“I’ve grown up reading the Bible, going to a Christian School, and going to Sunday school. I thought that I already knew most of what the Bible was about, little did I know that I would be learning more and more each book.” – Freshman

“I found it easier to read and stay engaged while reading the old testament in book form instead of in the Bible. I love to read and it felt like I was reading a chapter book and it was easier to understand because the Bible can be pretty confusing. Reading the Bible, it is disengaging for me and this version was not.” – Freshman