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American Bible Society cites top 2021 trends, previews 2022

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PHILADELPHIA (BP) – Americans are reading the Bible more frequently and benefitting from the practice, the American Bible Society (ABS) said in summarizing major findings from its 2021 State of the Bible report.

“Chapter by chapter, we have shown you data on how the Bible makes life better. Bible people are happier, more hopeful, more helpful, and better able to cope with stress. We hope that you can take this knowledge and run with it,” the ABS said. “People all around you want help. You can open this Book for them, the Book where they can meet the God who helps in times of trouble.”

In previewing the 2022 report, the ABS promised the most robust study ever, reaching those not apt to engage in online studies through a new partnership with the National Opinion Research Center. Evangelism practices, how Scripture impacts prosocial behaviors and beliefs, and how Scripture impacts intellectual humility and civility are also on tap, the ABS said.

Plans are also underway for a global State of the Bible report, although the timeframe has not been confirmed.

In summarizing the top trends from the 2021 report, the ABS said:

1) Americans are reading the Bible more frequently for the fourth consecutive year.

Nearly a fourth of U.S. adults (24 percent) have increased their Bible reading over 2020, the ABS said, noting that 12 million Americans read the Bible this year. That’s a 7 percent increase over 2020.

“We are all beginning to realize that, despite our best efforts to manage our own lives and fortunes, we are not ultimately in control. We need help,” the ABS said in its summary. “In times like these, we might turn to a promise like Psalm 46:1, ‘God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble’ (GNT). And we might look for more guidance elsewhere in the Good Book. This, in fact, is happening.”

2) Americans are increasingly open to Scripture engagement.

The ABS measures Scripture engagement in three categories, with a Movable Middle signifying those who don’t regularly engage in Scripture but remain open to doing so.

“The Movable Middle group ballooned from 66 million (26 percent) in 2020 to 95 million (37 percent) in 2021,” the ABS said. “While some of this comes from a mild (but concerning) drop on the Scripture Engaged side, the bulk of the increase comes from a 19-million-adult drop among the Disengaged.”

3) Scripture helps Americans handle stress.

While Scripture Engaged Americans are not exempt from stress, they are more likely to turn to prayer, meditation, or Bible reading for stress relief. Those who turn to Scripture are less likely to turn to alcohol, drugs or even television viewing, the ABS said.

Scripture Engaged people handle stress with prayer/meditation (70 percent), Bible reading (67 percent), talking with a family member (40 percent), and food (33 percent).

4) Scripture brings hope.

Researchers created a Hope Agency Scale, and found that Scripture Engaged Americans score higher on the scale than adults in general, registering 18 as compared to 15.

“The Bible is full of stressful situations, and yet it consistently offers a vision of a “preferred future,” researchers said. “It invites faithful people to trust in God and participate in the redemption God is bringing about.”

5) Scripture helps people flourish.

Researchers referenced the Harvard University Human Flourishing inventory, defining flourishing as a composite of happiness, life satisfaction, mental and physical health, meaning and purpose, character and virtue; and close social relationships. Scripture Engaged Americans score higher in every category of human flourishing.

6) Gen Z is curious but undecided.

The ABS describes Generation Z, ages 15-24, as less Scripture Engaged than all other age groups, more undecided about the Bible’s impact and importance, but highly curious about the Bible.

Among Gen Z youth, 81 percent say they are curious about Scripture, and 74 percent of Gen Z adults say the same. Nearly two thirds of Gen Z youth (64 percent) report desiring to read Scripture more.

7) Scripture engaged people make good neighbors.

Americans rooted in Scripture are more apt to volunteer, help strangers, donate money and respect others.

One-third of Scripture Engaged Americans (33 percent) regularly volunteer in their community, 56 percent give money to charity, and 60 percent help strangers.

8) The Bible Engaged are more generous givers.

Bible users are 55 percent more likely than non-Bible users to donate money to churches or charities, the ABS said, and those ranking as Scripture Engaged are 96 percent more likely to give than those described as Scripture Disengaged. Scripture Engaged Americans also give higher amounts, reporting a median of $500 compared to $100 for those in the Movable Middle and $0 for the Scripture Disengaged.

Among other top findings:

  • Digital Bibles deepen engagement.

While the majority of Bible readers prefer printed Scripture, those who are described as Scripture Engaged are about twice as likely to prefer reading the Bible on their smartphones or tablets (27 percent) as the Bible Disengaged (14 percent).

  • Many “Christians” don’t practice the faith.

Many who describe themselves as Christian don’t participate in the basic disciplines of their church, but seem to view the term Christian as a cultural descriptor.

Overall, more than half of self-identified Christians in every church tradition don’t practice their faith, the ABS said.

The 2021 online study included 3,354 complete responses from a sample of adults representative of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, including 91 Gen Z youth ages 15-17.