The American Bible Society has found that more Americans are “test driving the Bible” than ever before, according to the Society’s 11th annual study of whether, when, and why Americans open the Scriptures and how they say the Bible impacts their lives. The first two chapters of their free, downloadable State of the Bible 2021 e-book of findings was released Tuesday with more research to be published month by month this year.
John Farquhar Plake, director of Ministry Intelligence at American Bible Society and editor-in-chief for the report, says the research shows that 50% of American adults reported opening a Bible in 2020 at least once, up from 48% in 2019. And about half of those people say they turned to it more frequently during the past year of “pandemic and injustice, grief and rage” than in years past. Plake told PW this shows they find “resilience and hope” in the ancient text and that it is “relevant to the 21st century, especially in hard times.”
However, not all the news is rosy in the report, which is based on an online survey of 3,354 U.S. adults. David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, which partnered with the ABS for years in the research, wrote that a sizeable segment of society is “skeptical of the Bible and its influence,” indifferent to message, and “impervious” to its claims.
A sampling of the report's findings:
—54% say the Bible contains “everything a person needs to live a meaningful life.” This view has fallen significantly since last year when over two-thirds of adults (68%) named the Bible as an important source of wisdom.
—55% say America “would be worse off without the Bible,” a 5% jump over 2020. The survey asked about which Bible teachings people found are “essential to sustaining American ideals” and found more than seven in 10 associate the Bible with messages of faith, hope, and love but democracy was at the bottom of the list with only 44%.
—Only 11% of respondents say they use their Bible daily. That’s up from 2020 when it was 9% but still below the 14% who claimed this in 2019.
—In 2011, when the "State of the Bible" project began, 25% of respondents said they never use the Bible on their own, outside of religious services or study groups. It jumped to 34% in 2019. But in 2020, when lockdowns limited gatherings for worship or study, personal use of the Bible increased. In the most recent survey, only 29% of respondents say they never read the Bible.
—Six in ten Americans (59%) still indicate they prefer print or paper Bibles. This skews steeply by age with the youngest respondents preferring smartphone and tablet access.
—Fewer than 10% say the Bible “Helps me discern God’s will for my life” and barely one in four say they read it because it “Brings me closer to God.” Older respondents often cited seeking wisdom or comfort in the Bible. But younger ones often viewed Bible reading as a social or school obligation.
—Asked to rank the potential sources of comfort in life, family came first (43%) and prayer or meditation second (38%) and food was often named third. But the Bible came seventh, cited by only 23% of respondents, just below seeing a close friend but still higher than alcohol, marijuana, or prescription or recreational drugs.
Plake raises an open-ended question in the overall results: He writes in the report: “It’s clear that hearts are being softened to the Bible. But will this willingness to open Scripture—even if infrequently—evolve into a deeper engagement with the message? Or will middling Bible usage satisfy a need for “just enough?”