Afew months back, the American Bible Society released its latest “State of the Bible” survey. As has been the case over the preceding decades, the metrics that measure Bible engagement are increasingly trending downward.
Four in 10 Americans say they ever read the Bible outside church, and only two in 10 say they read it twice a year or less. Only 10% of all Americans read the Bible daily, and the sum of all the numbers reported in this latest report, according to ABS, represent “a major shift away from personal Bible reading.”
I don’t know a single Christian who wouldn’t be troubled by these numbers, but I fear we’ve grown calloused when we hear them because we just don’t know what to do about it. So what can we do to reverse these trends?
Here are a few recommendations:
Emphasize Bible study over topical study
There’s nothing wrong with topical teaching, and it can be done well. People need to know what the Bible says about marriage, gender, conflict, finances, and more. But if topical teaching or preaching is all we ever do, we may unintentionally create generations of people who are culturally literate while being biblically illiterate.
When done poorly, topical teaching and preaching can lead to proof-texting instead of a thorough exegetical study of the Scriptures. In reality, the Bible should always speak first and never be used as secondary material.
Be careful teaching application
We sometimes have a tendency when we preach and teach of not only providing a summary of all our research for that particular sermon or lesson, but of telling our listeners all the ways we think they should apply the biblical principles to their lives.
We run the risk of making (at least) two errors when we do this. First, we train our people that there’s no need for them to personally engage and interact with God’s Word because they know we’ll tell them everything they think they need to know. And maybe even worse, we risk playing the role of the Holy Spirit, who is the only one who can guide us into a right understanding of how God’s unchanging Word applies to the ever-changing situations that will arise in our lives.
Don’t get me wrong—good Bible teaching will walk people into a space where they learn how to apply God’s principles to their lives. We just need to be careful to leave the Holy Spirit space to speak to Bible learners, as well.
Read the Bible with other people
One of the easiest methods of Bible study has seemingly become a lost art: simply reading the Bible together out loud. Sometimes our good intentions to follow strategies, measure discipleship growth arcs, and present compelling lessons with impactful illustrations have the potential to complicate something God did not intend to be complicated: discerning His Word.
When was the last time you sat down with a group of other Christians, read a passage of the Bible out loud, and then asked each other, “What might God be trying to communicate to us through this passage?” It really could be that simple.
What works in one church context may not work in another. Regardless, we must continue to try something in whatever context we find ourselves to raise the level of biblical engagement. I’m not sure there’s a greater heirloom we can pass down to future generations of Christ-followers than the ability to ably handle the Word of God for themselves.