What happens when Wichita Falls church reads the Bible aloud every December? ‘It changes people’

Members of Western Hills Baptist Church in Wichita Falls know firsthand the truth of Romans 10:17: “Faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.” For the third consecutive year, the church will read the entire Bible aloud between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

“The Word of God will not return void,” said Patricia Ackley, who spearheaded the original effort with her husband, Lee, the church’s associate pastor. 

The reading begins on Dec. 26 and ends either late Dec. 31 or sometime Jan. 1, running daily from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and taking about 100 hours total. The church’s sound system amplifies voices so all can hear throughout the fellowship hall, where the reading occurs.

Participants sign up for time slots or to read certain books of the Bible, either using their preferred translations or Bibles supplied by the church. Members gather to support the effort. Visitors are welcome, too.

When certain time slots go unclaimed, others in the room step in, taking turns reading individually or in small groups, Ackley said. Those who feel less comfortable reading aloud may use Bible apps to read their sections of Scripture. Others simply sit quietly, listening and encouraging the readers.

“It’s important for a church undertaking this to be flexible regarding the needs of the congregation. We have some who cannot read due to vision problems or for other reasons,” Ackley said. “We never pressure anyone to read but encourage them to use audio Bibles or sit and listen.”

Sometimes whole families sign up for a chunk of time to read. The youth have a yearly midweek lock-in and participate, as well.

“That first year, we stepped out in faith … stressing that God’s Word will go forth as long as we have breath in our lungs.”

‘Great encouragement and great learning’

The Bible-A-Thon, as the church calls it, becomes a time of fellowship, with church members providing three free meals per day plus homemade snacks and treats. Churchwide response has been positive, with multigenerational participation, something member Jim Mitchell praised. Known to tear up at the event’s conclusion, Mitchell said the reading “crossed all generations—children, teenagers, middle-aged parents, and senior adults” and provided a “great time of fellowship.”

Reena Brookins brought her teen girls Bible study group to read for hours last year. Carl and Kym Thomas and their entire family attended most of the 2022 reading. “It was beautiful,” Ackley said of the family’s participation.

Methods vary. Some younger kids perform skits. Last year, member Ross Prebish even sang Obadiah to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme song, while his wife, Jennifer, not only paired up with another member to read Genesis but also prepared lunch.

Enthusiasm continues to grow, but the focus remains the same. 

“That first year, we stepped out in faith … stressing that God’s Word will go forth as long as we have breath in our lungs,” Ackley said. Often in the early days, a solitary reader kept the narration going. God will bring participants, she added, but “even when you are tired or alone in the sanctuary or surrounded by 60 people, it is about His Word.”

Said Western Hills Pastor Richard Allen: “It benefits the members. They really enjoy listening to the Word being read audibly all day. There’s great encouragement and great learning.”

The effect can be hard to explain, Allen said, but “14 hours a day hearing the Word of God encourages you. It changes people. A week of hearing nothing but the Bible read changes you.” 

Allen estimates that 70 percent of his congregation, which runs 75 on Sundays, participates at some level in the Bible-A-Thon.

‘A great movement for years to come’

Ackley said couples, youth, families, and Sunday school teachers began talking about the Bible-A-Thon in early fall.  

“We are excited to read the Word this year, and seeing others tell new members and visitors about the event is a blessing,” Ackley said, adding that the church will again announce the Bible-A-Thon on the local Christian radio station. Members will prepare extra food, welcoming anyone who wants to “experience the Word of God in a powerful way.” 

Ackley, a 52-year-old medical student, has long been involved at Western Hills, doing everything from directing vacation Bible school and authoring curriculum, writing Christmas plays and Easter programs, coordinating block parties, teaching adult Sunday school, starting the church’s Wednesday night meal program, and spearheading a special holiday meal and program for widows and widowers. 

Now with a busy medical school schedule, she has passed on most of those duties to others, except the widows’ banquet and the Bible marathon—the latter of which she said she hopes catches on in other locations.

“It would be great if this year, between Christmas and New Year’s, there were a lot of churches reading [through] the Bible,” she said, noting that God’s Word has the power to “spark a great movement this Christmas and for years to come.”

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