By Gillian Bethel
Fourteen-year-old Kim was comfortable with her life in a missionary family. True, at church she just went through the motions, but she “knew enough ‘Christianese’ to get by.” Although she had no personal relationship with God, she was satisfied to think of herself as a baby Christian. Now she comments that the baby hadn’t grown for the past eight to ten years!
Kim seldom read the Bible, but eventually a school homework assignment forced her to get more serious about it. She was required to read the whole book of Acts in a month—one chapter a day. At first it was a struggle, but when the assignment was done, Kim found she didn’t want to stop! She went on to read the whole New Testament on the same reading plan. She tells us the outcome:
“As I read God’s Word consistently, day by day, something amazing began to happen. Something inside me began to change. I began to love my family more. I began to look forward to fellowshipping with believers at church. I began to desire to live righteously. I began to recognize and forsake sins in my life. But the most important change is that I began to know and love God.
“For the first time in my young Christian life, I had a deepening, growing relationship with my God and Savior, my Creator. For the first time, I understood and believed that my life was held in the great and awesome hands of my kind and gracious heavenly Father. For the first time, I recognized what a terrible rift my sin could create between me and God, and for the first time that realization hurt.
“I felt like my eyes had been opened, like I was seeing the world in a whole new light. I was seeing my life through the clarifying, intensifying, purifying lens of Scripture.”1
Kim’s experience shows us that consistent, persevering Bible reading is what makes Scripture life-changing for us. It takes determination, though, because life often gets in the way. Recent statistics on Bible reading in America make that especially clear.
The pandemic years brought changes in yearly statistics that shocked the researchers at the American Bible Society (ABS). When the pandemic started, Bible readers in America increased to the highest percentage of the population since 2011. But to everyone’s surprise, the figure dropped as the pandemic progressed. By the end of 2021, it had declined from 50 percent to 39 percent, and it didn’t recover when the pandemic ended in 2022.2
What happened? The ABS reports that it wasn’t just occasional readers that dropped off, but 13 million of the most engaged Bible readers said they read the Bible less. The number of Americans who read the Bible daily had dropped by almost one-third by the end of the pandemic.3 Explanations are never one-size-fits-all, but one man’s story, though not related to the pandemic, offers insights.
Jason’s marriage was falling apart, making him anxious and afraid. Jason was used to God answering his prayers and “saving the day” in various situations, but this time He didn’t, and Jason’s wife divorced him. Jason says it shook his ability to trust God. He didn’t want to lose his comforting faith, but for longer and longer periods it felt like his faith wasn’t there anymore. He tried to save it by spending time in prayer and Bible reading, but without success. Scripture had become “dead” to him, so he quit reading it altogether. It felt like “the light was turned off” inside of him.
Time passed. One day, Jason picked up a music magazine and read an interview with a favorite rock musician. In the interview, this musician talked about his faith and a psalm he loved. The psalm was quoted in the article, so Jason started reading it. As he read, it spoke to his heart, and he began weeping. “The light turned back on,” and faith returned. Jason later recognized that he had been angry with God for not saving his marriage. Once he was honest with God about that, things changed, and now he and God are “doing pretty good.”4
The pandemic could easily have been like this experience for millions of people. Perhaps God didn’t answer prayers in the way they expected. Emotional stress would have built up as lockdown life became harder, friends and family died or became very sick, money became short, and the future uncertain. Bible reading may have become “dead,” and feelings of faith may have dwindled for some of these people, too.
In the parable of the sower, Jesus illustrated how affliction and the cares and stresses of this life kept the good seed of God’s Word from flourishing. See Mark 4:17-19. Perhaps the overwhelming stresses and fears of the pandemic were the rocky soil and weeds that choked out the desire to read God’s Word and stunted spiritual growth. Returning to regular Bible reading when the pandemic ended may have seemed uninviting, and many people didn’t—for these or other reasons.5
Is it safe to base our faith on feeling, or expect God to answer our prayers for everything to always turn out happily? No. Another statistic points us to the origin of these two pitfalls. According to research done by George Barna and the Christian University of Arizona, only 19 percent of Christians had a fully biblical worldview in 2021.6
What is a worldview? Barna defines it simply as “a set of beliefs that produce specific behaviors.”7 A biblical worldview aligns with Bible teaching and produces behavior consistent with that teaching. But many of us are not reading the Bible broadly enough to know what it teaches. We may be merely imposing our preferred beliefs onto it or just reading our favorite passages over and over.
Many Christians have adopted worldviews that mix several philosophies. One of these holds that the supreme goal of life is happiness. God is there to help with problems, but otherwise He’s passively in the background. This tends to foster the belief that God will stop bad things from happening to us if we ask Him, which simply isn’t biblical. If that’s our belief, it’s easy to lose trust in God during life’s turmoil, like Jason did.
If our worldview isn’t completely biblical, emotions or circumstances may derail our walk with God because we misunderstand faith, God, and the spiritual battle taking place in our world. We may then turn away from the Bible and lose our way spiritually.
Conversely, a biblical worldview can inform and protect our connection with God. Kim’s experience demonstrated that consistent, broad-ranging Bible reading is vital for learning about God and experiencing the new life He’s offering us. Reading the Bible like this is what enlarged her worldview, brought her into close connection with God, and helped to keep her there.
The Bible tells us that the times we’re living in will be marked by many challenges equal to or greater than the pandemic. Let’s make persevering, broad-ranging, daily Bible reading a priority. It will help us shelter safely in God through future challenges; then we can encourage others to do the same.
Since 1911, the American Bible Society (ABS) has been publishing an annual State of the Bible report, looking at Bible usage in America during the previous year.
We mentioned that by the end of 2021, their composite “Bible Users” statistic was down to 39 percent of the US population from a 50-percent high the year before, and it remained there in 2022. The detailed picture is even gloomier.
The Bible Users category includes reading frequencies ranging from daily to only three to four times a year. But reading the Bible so few times a year hardly qualifies as Bible use. Sadly, focusing on the “Bible Engaged” subgroup (people who read the Bible between four times a week and daily) reveals even lower figures. In 2021, it stood at 14 percent with only 10 percent of Americans reporting daily Bible reading.8
To put these percentages in perspective, Christianity Today informs us that roughly 26 million people had mostly or completely stopped reading the Bible in 2021.9
Notice that these figures are for Bible reading. We can be sure that the number of people who dig into Bible study is even smaller. Yet with the right tools and questions to ask, we could all be greatly enriched by actively studying the Bible daily.
Most observers expected the figures to rebound when the lockdowns were over and churches reopened, but to everyone’s dismay, they didn’t. According to the ABS, the latest figures (for 2022 but published in 2023) remain basically the same.10 Church attendance is also down from pre-pandemic levels by around a third.11
Commentators have associated Bible reading with attending churches that encourage it, so lack of church attendance may play into the continuing low Bible reading figures. Another possibility is that the distraction of digital media (gaming, texting, social media, on-demand TV, movies, news, etc.) is crowding out Bible study. These were also potential causes of the decline during the pandemic.
The Bible isn’t called the Word of God for nothing! It’s where God speaks to our personal needs and connects us with Himself. It’s where He informs us about the life-threatening conflict between good and evil and equips us for the challenges of everyday life.
Let’s not miss meeting God there daily!
Kimberly Cornelius, “How Reading the Bible Changed My Life,” Journeys of Grace, journeysofgrace.com, Feb. 4, 2019.
American Bible Society, State of the Bible USA 2023, Oct. 2023, p. 6.
Adam MacInnis, “26 Million Americans Stopped Reading the Bible Regularly During COVID-19,” Christianity Today, christianitytoday.com, Apr. 20, 2022.
Jason Gray, “I was Disappointed in God and Lost My Faith with Jason Gray,” Jan. 10, 2022, YouTube video, youtube.com.
NC Family Staff, “Do You Actually Have a Biblical Worldview?,” NC Family Policy Council, ncfamily.org, Jun. 18, 2021.
Adam MacInnis, “Report: 26 Million Americans Stopped Reading the Bible Regularly During COVID-19,” Christianity Today, christianitytoday.com, Apr. 20, 2022.
American Bible Society, State of the Bible USA 2023, Oct. 2023, p. 6.
See note 1.
Gillian Bethel is the associate editor of Last Generation magazine.