More Americans are buying Bibles they read less—if ever — and reading Bibles they didn’t buy because they’re dipping into verses here and there online. Yet, the Bible still has a hold on society, according to the findings in the 10th annual "State of the Bible" study from the American Bible Society and the Barna Group. And the report’s co-author, John Farquhar Plake, director of the Society’s Ministry Intelligence Team, points optimistically to soaring use of digital apps and audio Bibles.
“It’s a whole new ball game in Bible publishing,” says Plake. The report tallies a boom of 24 million new Bible app uses between January and June 2020 and Bible-related searches hit a five-year high during the pandemic "perhaps as people wondered what the Bible says about suffering and sickness.”
However, there’s a down note for print publishers. The report says, “Purchases of printed Bibles and other Christian books have experienced a marked downturn," according to Kristen McLean, executive director of business development at NPD. In the first two months of 2020, print Bible sales kept pace with the same period in 2019; however, the period from March 1 through May 2, 2020 saw a 35.9% drop in the category. Since May 2, sales of print Bibles have rebounded, but still lag behind 2019 by 17.6% overall., McLean reports.
The ABS report, drawn from surveys of U.S. adults by the Barna Group, is a free e-book packed with charts and formulas for calculating “engagement” with the Bible. The formulas mix frequency of reading with measures of respondents’ views on whether the Bible is a trusted and influential source guiding their lives and relationships with God and others. Still, the core of the report hinges on reading. A sample of key findings:
—In 2011, when the "State of the Bible" project began, 25% of respondents said they never use the Bible on their own. In the 2020 report, it’s 34%
—After several years of roughly 13.7% of people on average saying they use the Bible daily, the number dropped from 14% in 2019 to 9 % in the new report
— The changes aren’t due to lack of access. 77% of respondents say they live in a household with a Bible. And among those who don’t have a Bible at home, 46% say they used the Bible on a smart phone app in the past year.
— Scripture still draws attention. 59% of U.S. adults say they wish they used their Bible more and nearly seven in 10 agree (32% strongly, 37% somewhat) they are curious about what the Bible says.
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, found it surprising that in this time of sickness and social turmoil that “Scripture has not been turned to with the frequency you might expect. Meanwhile, streaming media use is up. Alcohol use is up. And all the places when we might read the Bible – at worship, in gatherings, in study groups – are missing. Everything is up for grabs with the notion of how we form our spiritual lives.”
Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, agrees, saying, “We have more and more input with less and less Bible input. All of our research shows personal Bible reading is very predictive of spiritual maturity across the board. It hurts someone’s development to miss out on the Bible.”