Bible reading drops

Bible Reading Drops During Coronavirus Pandemic

By Emily Miller

People may be reading the news and “doomscrolling” through social media during the coronavirus pandemic.

But what they don’t appear to be reading is the Bible.

That’s according to the 10th annual State of the Bible survey released Wednesday (July 22) by the American Bible Society.

The number of American adults the American Bible Society considers “Scripture engaged” based on how frequently they read Scripture and its impact on their relationships and choices dropped significantly from 28% to 22.7% between January and June, according to additional data collected by the organization in June.

“What we saw between January and June was that 13 million people in America, who were previously really engaging meaningfully with Scripture, no longer were, and that was a serious drop-off,” said John Plake, director of ministry intelligence at the American Bible Society.

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Frequency of Scripture reading also dropped over the last year, with daily readers dropping from 14% to 9% and those who read the Bible several times a week, from 14% to 12%, the lowest number on record, according to the survey, conducted in January with Barna Group, a Christian research firm.

The decrease in Bible use tracks with what the American Bible Society has seen over the past decade of State of the Bible research, according to the director. In 2011, about 64 million people said they never used the Bible, compared with 87 million to 90 million today, he said.

“What we saw between January and June was that 13 million people in America, who were previously really engaging meaningfully with Scripture, no longer were, and that was a serious drop-off.”

“Frankly, there’s just a much larger percentage of the American population over the last 10 years that says they never use the Bible,” Plake said.

Most of that change has come in what the American Bible Society calls “occasional” Bible users or the “movable middle.” Those people are less likely than they were 10 years ago to open a Bible in search of answers to their questions, according to the research.

The number of people who regularly use the Bible — at least once a week — had held “fairly steady right up to COVID-19, and then COVID-19 has messed everyone up,” Plake said.

Women, who have led men in Bible engagement every year of the survey, now slightly trail behind men, he pointed out. He said that may be because of the extra demands that mothers in particular have faced during the pandemic, juggling working from home and helping children with virtual learning as workplaces and schools closed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Many churches have also moved online, he said, and that means people “can’t get together with their friends and study the Bible” the way they have in the past.

Plake urged church leaders to focus on the women in their congregations and communities who are “struggling in ways that might not make the headlines” and emphasized the importance of mentoring or meeting with church members in small groups to talk, pray and study the Bible together.

“I think the first thing is be assured that your role is critical in helping people maintain their faith and their deep connection to God,” he said.

“I think the first thing is be assured that your role is critical in helping people maintain their faith and their deep connection to God.”

“It’s easy to think, ‘Well, hey, they can stream a service anywhere,’ and many, many people have done that, but the reality is without our pastors helping us, without leaders in our churches helping us to stay connected, people struggle.”

The State of the Bible survey is an annual survey by the American Bible Society that examines “how adults in the United States related to the Bible, what questions they had about God’s Word, and what difference it was making in their lives,” according to the 2020 report.

This year, the American Bible Society and Barna Group surveyed 1,010 American adults online from Jan. 2 to 13 and 1,000 by phone from Jan. 8 to Feb. 11. The report states a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points at 95% confidence.

The American Bible Society repeated the survey between May 28 and June 10 to measure the impact of the pandemic, surveying 3,020 American adults online with a margin of error of 1.78% at 95% confidence.

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for Religion News Service



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11 thoughts on “Bible Reading Drops During Coronavirus Pandemic”

  1. Gayle Richardson

    I would say that my bible reading has gone up! How could it not in times like this thought I do resonate with moms that now are juggling schooling (when school in session). I pray that those that walked away understand that they are worse for it and come back to the only words that give true wisdom, hope, life, and breath.

  2. Disruption of habit trumps fear of disease. My pastor preaches on how covid-19 will teach people fear of God, but my perception is that although liberals are terrified of death even in places untouched by covid, Indiana Christians have very little contact with the disease or concern.

  3. I hope the writer, Emily McFarlan Miller, is not from a Leftest, Marxist, Anti-Capitalist organization or some tender hearts may be offended here. Please friends, in the future, read articles for the strength of the issue, not whether they belong to a Jim Wallis publication. Let us not be examples of what Noll said, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.”

    I run against the herd, I started learning Koine Greek in order to read the Book in it’s original language. Also, picked up the Septuagint. People probably will ask, “Septuagint ????” This is indicative of why people are not studying their Bibles more. This may sound ‘Elitest’ but I assure you, our christian leaders need to know the Septuagint and teach it to their flocks. You can now learn Koine Greek as a living language, and seminarians need to be taught this. They do not to be taught more on how to multi-task and expand your personal brand. If you want to be educated that way, please get an MBA, not an MDiv. Also, you are not a Dr. when you get an uncredited certificate from an unknown institute. Also, just because said Institue gives you an honorary doctorate because you sold many books does not qualify you for the title of “Dr.” I had a local pastor, whom I like, put in bold letters “Dr.” It bugged me to he..

    Mr. Zacharias was a brilliant author and communicator. He never needed to use the “Dr.” moniker.

    If leaders would be examples of meaningful Scripture reading, instead of the Battle for the Bible , and teach people how to read the beautiful genres of Scripture, we might see more engagement. The bible as we have it, is what the Lord gave us and we have to engage thoughtfully with challenging passages-but that is part of the beauty of it. I could write a book on these issues, but I digress.

    Scripture is not a textbook for science, marriage, business or how to be happy. It is not God’s love letter to mankind. It is much too demanding to use this description.Too many people have their guard up and try to spot out who is, or isn’t , teaching Scripture according to their version of “Inerrancy.” Wrong battle. I can’t even spell that word without looking it up. Can you imagine trying to grasp and explain the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy (I still do not know if I am spelling it correctly)? The challenge is getting people to pick up the Book and let it transform their lives. (Are you listening SBC?) If we focus on the wrong battle, we will be outflanked.

    I realize this email seems harsh, but I want to warn my brothers and sisters that we are in perilous and uncharted territory. We all need to wake up (note, I did not say WOKE). I am afraid we are going to take a hit this time around.

    Please, pick up this Book and read.

    OK, I am done with my rant and I feel better now.

    Peace to All.

    P.S. I do not have spell-check and am a horrendous speller of words. Please forgive.


  4. Just read the Book, the Living Word. Jesus is the word.
    And may we find that is enough. We need the Word more than ever.

  5. One thing that Christians are missing BIG TIME is their trusted teachers and pastors not teaching the Word rightly divided. I would estimate 90% of churches are not. Yes, 90%. When the Bible is rightly divided, it is the most freeing thing on the planet. Now that I understand it rightly divided, I have my (literally) lifelong questions answered. I sent my children to churches and schools that didn’t even come close to this. Prominent places in the Chicago area that many would be familiar with. I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a watered down Christian education. I even had to apologize to my children for raising them under false doctrine and false teachers. Praise God they didn’t miss the salvation message!

    You need to start with the difference in the gospels and Paul’s gospel and realize that God makes it very clear in His word that some things are for the Israelites and some things are for the Gentiles. Yes, we can learn from all of it but Christians need to stop beating up other Christians with scripture that doesn’t apply to them.

    1. MGR You may not want to share, but I was curious on your comment on hundreds and thousands of dollars “on a watered down christian education.” Surely all this money was not wasted?

      1. Vinnierants,

        No, not ALL the money was wasted. My children learned political correctness, neverTrump and how to engage the culture! I’m only (half) kidding. My main issue is with these institutions rightly dividing the Word. There were a lot of good things as well. Just didn’t get what I came for.

  6. Susan Vonder Heide

    People sometimes get intimidated by the Bible because nobody has perfect Bible reading proficiency but simply making it a habit to physically pick up one’s Bible every morning and read something, even if if it is just one previously underlined verse, is very helpful. Soon it is likely to be much more than a verse but even a verse is good if it is taken to heart. The worst thing to do is to think that since there is not time to do a thorough Bible study it is OK to do nothing. If one’s Bible looks too intimidating buy one with a pretty pink cover or something. They sell them.

    1. I must admit I, collect bibles,-hardbound, softbound, fake leather, ebook, study bible, no-longer-can-afford calfskin leather, Greek NT, Interlinear, Readers Bible, Septuagint, ESV, NIV, NKJV, audio and more. I spend more time collecting and buying than reading. :) Learning NT Greek is kind of exciting but difficult. I think I might have a problem with ADD,

  7. This is a late entry to the title of this piece. I do not think this is a well-measured fact.

    I know someone who persevered to read the Bible from Genesis through Revelation, without skipping those tough books in between, and finished reading the entire Bible in the five plus months of the pandemic. And this person did it while being locked down in a small apartment in New York City!

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