PHILADELPHIA — The American Bible Society has released its 10th annual “State of the Bible” report, which analyzes the Bible reading practices of Americans and their views about Scripture. This year’s survey found that only 9% of respondents read their Bible on a daily basis, the lowest figure in the decade that the research has been conducted.
“Despite nearly every individual in the U.S. having access to the Bible, engagement has decreased. That’s been a consistent trend over the past few years, and the trend has accelerated since January 2020 throughout the pandemic,” American Bible Society President Robert Briggs said in a statement. “The Church must transition from ‘survival’ mode back into ‘discipleship’ mode, and, yes, that’s going to take even more innovation.”
Two surveys were conducted nationwide, one in January and another in June, with the first surveying 2,010 Americans and the second polling 3,020 Americans. The Barna Group, led by longtime evangelical pollster George Barna, assisted with the first effort.
In January, when asked if America would be worse off, the same, or better without the Bible, 49% said it would be worse, 39% said it would be the same, and 13% said it would be better.
Participants were also asked if they agree with the statement, “The Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life.” 37% agreed strongly and 31% agreed somewhat. 32% disagreed with the statement.
When asked how often the participant personally reads the Bible on their own — that is, when not attending church services — only 9% said that they read it every day, the lowest figure in the 10 years that the American Bible Society has been conducting the survey.
“From 2011 through 2019, the percentage of respondents who claim to read the Bible daily has remained fairly steady, averaging 13.7%,” the report outlines. “A decrease of 5% in a single year is unprecedented.”
3% said they read the Bible four or more times a week, 10% said they read it “several times,” and 9% said they read it once a week.
9% of those surveyed said they read the Bible once a month and 8% said they read it three or four times a year. 11% said they read the Scriptures once a year and 34% said they never read the Bible.
Participants were then asked how their Bible reading habits compare to the previous year. 64% said that their practices are no different than last year, and 22% said they read the Bible more often than they used to. The American Bible Society found that those who already were reading their Bible once a week were more apt to answer that their reading habits had increased.
Of those who said that their practices were the same, 42% were those who never read the Bible.
Respondents also gave concerning answers in regard to their beliefs about the Bible. While 24% said that the Bible is the actual word of God and should be taken literally, 31% said that some Scriptures are “meant to be symbolic rather than literal.”
18% said that “[t]he Bible is just another book of teachings written by people that contains stories and advice,” and 15% said that “[t]he Bible is the inspired word of God but has some factual or historical errors.”
Researchers again asked about Bible usage from another pool of Americans in June — to see if the pandemic had affected the nation’s practices — and found a 2% decrease in Bible usage.
The American Bible Society also found that those who more regularly read their Bibles were more likely to turn to the Scriptures and prayer for comfort during the pandemic, while those who already spent less time in the Word turned to food, television or prescription drugs.
“While Scripture engagement has declined …, American Bible Society is not discouraged,” the organization said. “The ‘State of the Bible’ 2020 report shows a huge opportunity for the actively engaged Church: 67.8% of American adults or about 172 million adults are ‘Bible curious,’ meaning they want to learn more about Scripture.”
“Additionally, the data showed that in June 2020 more Americans were exploring the Bible for the first time compared to January 2020,” it noted. “Leaders might recognize that many people are interested in the Bible, but fewer have a relational connection to a Church that will help them become Scripture engaged.”