Monday, February 11, 2008

Are we reading the Bible more or less?

One of the staggering statistics in Rob's book are the numbers showing the decline in the sale of Bible reading notes over the past 20 years. In 1985 Scripture Union was selling 199,593 copies per issue (that's each quarter of the year). By 2000 that figure had halved to 98,380.

Church leaders often lament what is sometimes called 'biblical illiteracy' of their congregations. This is probably unfair. And it's probably true that sales of Bible reading notes aren't a surefire guide to Bible reading.

Having said that, however, I was interested to see that the Bible Society has done some research on Christian attitudes to the Bible and found that 35% of non-leaders read their bibles every day (you can do the maths for what that says about the proportion who don't). I'm not sure it's much of a comfort that 56% of non-leaders use the bible in their devotions 'frequently' (undefined).

SU and other bible reading note publishers might be heartened by the fact that 43% use notes of some kinds - though not much.

And we're all heartened by the fact that non-leaders do not find Richard Dawkins a threat to their confidence in the Bible - though, actually, I'm really not sure what that says about us at all. How many of those asked had heard of Richard Dawkins and why would the musings of a noted, high profile atheist make any difference to our confidence in scripture?

One of the findings in the executive summary caught my eye. 'The Bible is regarded as an important driver of spiritual growth; however its use in this respect should also be regarded as a corporate as much as an individual pursuit. People also need encouragement and assistance in developing their ability to understand and apply the Bible,' it says.

I find this very heartening. In the early church studying the scriptures was a collective activity because of literacy rates and because gathering together to support and encourage one another was the key to creating healthy Christian communities.. I think coming together to read the Bible and learn from one another is a key in our generation to growing not only healthy disciples but alsovibrant churches.

Last night we did a good deal of reading the bible and reflecting on it in groups, having had some input from the front (perhaps a little too much!). People shared their insights and i think found it a really helpful of understanding and applying the Bible. There was a real buzz about the place and a sense of engagement with God as well as the scripture.

We'll be doing it some more.


Unknown said...

Simon: the figures about the use of Scripture Union Bible guides, to which you've referred, suggest a haemorrhage of passion for God's Word by his people. And I think you're right to record that this is not fair signpost for biblical literacy and Bible reading. Yet the Bible Society research, of which Scripture Union was a partner, confirms what we already sensed: that today's generations of Christians don't automatically turn to the printed word as the prime source of information. (Witness the decline in sale of national newspapers since 1985 as well!) Which is why Scripture Union has spend more than a year developing WordLive - a Bible engagement tool for the generations who spend much of their lives in the internet community. Yes, we want them to read the Bible; but more, we want people to engage with God through the Bible and allow him to transform their lives through his Word. Now that's something every church leader would sign up to!
Oh, and the essential link is:

simon said...

Hey Richard - that seems like a good resource, especially as it's available to download and listen to when we're out and about. I'll probably recommend it and see what people at church think.