NASHVILLE (BP) — A significant rise in the number of adults looking to the Bible for answers this year gives the church a prime opportunity to draw more people to biblical truth, the American Bible Society (ABS) told Baptist Press.
John F. Plake, director of the American Bible Society’s ministry intelligence team, drew the optimism from the 2019 State of the Bible report showing an additional 18.1 million people searching for wisdom in Scripture than last year.
“Those people are curious about the Bible and they’re often in our churches,” Plake told BP. “They have questions about how to face life’s challenges and they’re turning to God’s Word for help. So I think that’s a great opportunity for everyone in the Bible cause to realize that people are looking to Scripture for wisdom for the 21st Century and all we have to do is close the gap.”
Categorized as Bible friendly and Bible neutral, the group totals 41.6 million Americans who are researching such areas as parenthood, relationships, grief and job loss, the study shows. Often, new readers will use electronic Bible versions and Google searches, Plake said.
“I think our job as the church is to know the questions that our society is asking and make sure that we’re standing there to provide biblical responses that are full of grace and truth,” Plake said. “We don’t know in a quantitative way exactly what’s driving this movement to the middle, particularly people moving out of the disengaged and into these more exploratory phases of Bible engagement. But we’re very grateful for it.”
ABS commissioned Barna Research for the study conducted Jan. 15–Feb. 7 with 2,013 interviews of adults online and by telephone, and released in April. The study tracked Bible engagement, Bible impact, religiosity and spirituality, perceptions of the Bible, Bible penetration, Bible literacy, the Bible and technology, moral perceptions and social impact, experience with trauma, perceptions of churches and charitable giving.
While the study is expansive, ABS considers among key findings:
— 81 percent of American adults see the church as a key place people can go to for help;
— 102.7 million adults interact with the Bible, often seeking practical advice in their modern lives;
— nearly 60 percent of American adults believe that the message of the Bible has transformed their lives.
Barna divided respondents into six categories gauging Bible use, including Bible disengaged, who interact with the Bible infrequently if at all; Bible neutral, interacting with the Bible sporadically; Bible friendly, interacting with the Bible consistently and perhaps seeing it as a source of spiritual insight and wisdom; Bible engaged, interacting with the Bible frequently and allowing it to transform their relationships with God and others; and Bible centered, interacting with the Bible frequently and seeing it transform their relationships and shape their choices.
Barna determined 5 percent of Americans are Bible centered, 19 percent are Bible engaged, 19 percent are Bible friendly, 9 percent are Bible neutral and 48 percent are Bible disengaged.
Numerically, 61.1 million Americans are engaged with the Bible, encompassing the Bible engaged and Bible centered categories. The ABS desires to see 100 million American adults engaged with the Bible by 2026, the nation’s 250th anniversary, Plake said. Churches can help attain that goal by reaching the 41.6 million who are seeking biblical answers, Plake maintains.
“They’re not far from the church. They don’t hate the church. They’re not far from God,” Plake said of the 41.6 million which he describes as the movable middle. “In fact they might be sitting next to us on a Sunday morning. … They’re movable because they’re already trying out the Bible, they’re curious to know more about what the Bible says and they’re in church.”
Engaging the movable middle could make America a better place, Plake said.
“Our hopes are that across the church, regardless of tradition or background, the Bible is something that really unites us,” he said. “And we want to invite all of our partners in the church and the Bible cause to rally around this desire to see 100 million Americans, or 40 percent of American adults, actively engaged in the Scripture by 2026. If we could by God’s grace see that happen, America would be a different place for our 250th anniversary.”
The complete study is available at no cost online at americanbible.org under the Bible Resources tab.