The percentage of Americans who describe themselves as “Bible Users” is still at a historically low level, but there’s a silver lining, according to the latest findings of the American Bible Society (ABS).
In the past year, about 10 million people whom ABS would have categorized in past surveys as the “Movable Middle” began reading the Bible—a small but promising shift—while those in the “Bible Disengaged” group shrunk slightly, ABS’ 2023 State of the Bible report reveals.
The percentage of Bible readers fell by about 10% after the pandemic and has stayed relatively flat since then. Some 39% of Americans are reading God’s Word, with nearly a quarter of Americans reading it at least weekly. Pre-pandemic, the percentage of Bible readers was around 50%, dating back to 2011.
“Our research this year delivers an urgent message for those ministering in America,” said John Farquhar Plake, ABS’ chief ministry insights and innovation officer. “Although it’s a relief that the number of Bible Users did not continue along its precipitous decline, there remains a pressing need to help spiritually engage an expanding Movable Middle—those individuals who are friendly to the Bible’s message but not actively reading and applying Scripture’s truths.”
ABS released the first chapter of its annual report this month, with a new chapter planned for release monthly through the end of 2023.
“Positively, Americans who are Scripture-engaged show significantly higher levels of hope than their neighbors,” Plake added. “Although our society faces challenges on many fronts, the Bible provides hope and help to those who explore its truths.”
In fact, what ABS calls a “persevering hope scale” (PHS) of 1 to 5, developed by researchers at five universities, showed that the scores among diverse demographic groups—by sex, age, ethnicity, region, etc.—averaged out to 3.8 with only miniscule variation among people groups. There was only one exception—the “Bible Engaged”—whose PHS score was 4.1.
“This was clearly the case in New Testament times, when the book of 1 Peter was written to Christians facing opposition to their faith,” the authors of the study wrote. “‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have’ (1 Peter 3:15). In spite of life’s challenges, believers displayed a persevering hope that was noteworthy, prompting questions about where it came from. This research suggests it is still true today.”
The 2023 State of the Bible report was compiled with assistance from the University of Chicago. The data drew from 2,761 online interviews with adults in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The remaining nine chapters of the study will report on how our mothers shape our faith; the Bible’s influence on human flourishing; Gen Z perspectives on the Bible, faith, and church; and the impact of emerging technology on Bible engagement habits.