Survey Shows Unprecedented Drop in US Bible Reading

Survey Shows Unprecedented Drop in US Bible Reading

The number of “Bible users,” defined as those who read the Bible on their own outside a church setting even as few as three or four times a year, took an unprecedented drop in the American Bible Society’s (ABS) “State of the Bible USA 2022” study.

The research team, which concluded its survey Feb. 14, queried a representative sample of English-speaking adult Americans. In recent years, the percentage of Bible users as defined by the study ranged from between 47%-49% of adult Americans. But this year, the number slipped to 39%. The survey noted the continued effects of COVID-19 shutdowns, social and political polarization, and economic uncertainty. But even taken into account, those cultural conditions don’t fully explain what looks like a sharp drop-off. 

“That means nearly 26 million Americans reduced or stopped their interaction with Scripture in the past year,” ABS said in its report.

“In a word, the current State of the Bible is ‘under-engaged,’” ABS said. “Perhaps the Bible has been neglected or simply taken for granted as people dealt with the challenges of reassembling their lives after a disruptive pandemic. A significant number of people say they ‘never seem to have enough time’ to read the Bible. But we also find that attitudes are changing. This year, more people say that America would stay ‘about the same’ if no one read the Bible.”

Among those whom the study would define as “Scripture Engaged”—meaning they consistently interact with Scripture and it informs how they live and relate to others:

  • More women (21%) were in that category than men (16%).
  • Those age 77 years and older were the most likely age group to be Scripture Engaged (31%).
  • African Americans (29%) were the ethnic group most likely to be Scripture Engaged.
  • Residents of small cities (5,000–30,000 population) were most likely to be Scripture Engaged, at 25 percent.
  • The South had the highest percentage (25%) of Scripture Engaged people.
  • By income, households earning more than $100,000 had the lowest level of Scripture engagement (14%).

In light of growing Bible illiteracy, Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, wrote in February at ChurchLeaders.com: “The Bible is ultimately a book of reality: it reveals God’s character and purposes in the world to us. It tells us who we are and our greatest need. Good preaching helps people yearn to understand the Bible this way. … While we can’t assume people love and know the Word, we can be clear in communicating its message and confident in its power to change lives.” 

Photo: robertharding/Alamy

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