By Bob Smietana
However, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible.
Less than a quarter of those who have ever read a Bible have a systematic plan for reading the Christian Scriptures each day. And a third of Americans never pick it up on their own, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
Small wonder many church leaders worry about biblical illiteracy, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.
“Most Americans don’t know first-hand the overall story of the Bible — because they rarely pick it up,” McConnell said. “Even among worship attendees less than half read the Bible daily. The only time most Americans hear from the Bible is when someone else is reading it.”
Almost nine out of 10 households (87 percent) own a Bible, according to the American Bible Society, and the average household has three.
But Bible reading remains spotty.
LifeWay Research surveyed 1,000 Americans about their views of the Bible and found significant splits in how familiar they are with the Christian Scripture. One in five Americans, LifeWay Research found, has read through the Bible at least once.
That includes 11 percent who’ve read the entire Bible once, and 9 percent who’ve read it through multiple times. Another 12 percent say they have read almost all of the Bible, while 15 percent have read at least half.
About half of Americans (53 percent) have read relatively little of the Bible. One in 10 has read none of it, while 13 percent have read a few sentences. Thirty percent say they have read several passages or stories.
Americans also differ in how they approach reading the Bible. Twenty-two percent read a little bit each day, in a systematic approach. A third (35 percent) never pick it up at all, while 30 percent look up things in the Bible when they need to. Nineteen percent re-read their favorite parts, while 17 percent flip open the Bible and read a passage at random. A quarter (27 percent) read sections suggested by others, while 16 percent say they look things up to help others.
Overall, Americans have a positive view of the Bible. Thirty-seven percent say it is helpful today, while a similar number call it life-changing (35 percent) or true (36 percent). Half (52 percent) say the Bible is a good source for morals. Few say the Bible is outdated (14 percent), harmful (7 percent), or bigoted (8 percent).
Americans are split over the nature of the Bible as a book. Four in 10 say it’s a book worth reading over and over, while 13 percent say it’s worth reading once. Twenty-two percent prefer referencing the Bible on an as-needed basis. Five percent say the Bible is a book not worth reading at all, while 19 percent are not sure.
A number of reasons keep Americans from reading the Bible, according to LifeWay Research. About a quarter (27 percent) say they don’t prioritize it, while 15 percent don’t have time. Thirteen percent say they’ve read it enough. Fewer say they don’t read books (9 percent), don’t see how the Bible relates to them (9 percent), or don’t have a copy (6 percent). Ten percent disagree with what the Bible says.
Overall, Americans seem to like the Bible but don’t have much urgency about reading it, said McConnell.
McConnell said Americans treat reading the Bible a little bit like exercise. They know it’s important and helpful but they don’t do it. The key for churches, he said, is finding ways for people to experience how reading the Bible can change their lives.
“Scripture describes itself as ‘living and effective,’ according to the book of Hebrews,” McConnell said.
“Those who have a habit of reading through the Bible a little each day say they have experienced this helpful, life-changing quality. Those who approach the book differently tend to say the Bible is positive but much less personal.”