The Story: A new survey finds that few Americans are engaged with Scripture. Here’s a suggestion for how to change that trend.
The Background: For more than a decade, the American Bible Society has sponsored an annual survey of how Americans interact with Scripture. In the 2022 State of the Bible survey they noticed an unprecedented drop in the percentage of “Bible Users,” that is, Americans who use the Bible at least 3–4 times each year on their own, outside of a church setting.
In every study since 2018, Bible Users have accounted for between 47 and 49 percent of American adults. But in 2022, data showed a 10-percent decrease from the same time in 2021. That means nearly 26 million Americans reduced or stopped their interaction with Scripture in the past year.
Nearly 26 million Americans reduced or stopped their interaction with Scripture in the past year.
The survey team also looked at a subcategory of the “Scripture Engaged.” They defined “scripture engagement” as consistent interaction with the Bible that shapes people’s choices and transforms their relationships with God, self, and others. Only 19 percent of American adults qualify as Scripture Engaged.
The demographic categories that were most engaged with the Bible were women (21 percent, compared to 16 percent for men), seniors 77 years and older (31 percent), African Americans (29 percent) the widowed (25 percent) and married (24 percent), people living in cities with a population between 5,000–30,000 population (25 percent), and people living in the American South (25 percent).
What To Do: Reach out to a fellow Christian and ask him or her to join you in a Scripture engagement exercise called the “4-Ones Method.” Over the course of one week, you’ll read one short book of the Bible, consider one question, and write one sentence. One week, one book, one question, one response.
Here’s how to get started.
Begin by explaining the purpose of Scripture engagement.
We are more likely to commit to an activity if we understand its purpose. The purpose of engagement with the Bible is so that we hear and encounter God. If we don’t engage with Scripture we can’t fulfill our primary purpose, which, as J.I. Packer explains, is knowing God:
What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we have in life? To know God. What is the “eternal life” that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. . . . What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment than anything else? Knowledge of God.
The purpose of this exercise is to know God by encountering him in his Word.
Choose one (short) book of the Bible.
According to the State of the Bible survey, when Bible Users were asked to choose their two greatest frustrations with Bible reading, about one-fourth said, “I never seem to have enough time,” while a top answer for Gen Z (30 percent) and Millennials (26 percent) was “I don’t know where to start.” Overcome both objections by choosing a book of the Bible that can be read in 20 minutes or less.
If we don’t engage with Scripture we can’t fulfill humanity’s primary purpose.
There are 29 books of the Bible the average reader can read in under 20 minutes; 21 that can be read in less than 15 minutes; 16 that can be read in less than 10 minutes; and 8 that take less than 5 minutes.
Those books, and the number of minutes it takes to read them, are: Song of Solomon (20), Micah (20), Galatians (20), Ephesians (20), Esther (19), 1 Timothy (16), James (16), 1 Peter (16), Ruth (15), Ecclesiastes (14), Philippians (14), Colossians (13), Malachi (11), Zephaniah (10), Habakkuk (9), Jonah (8), Nahum (8), 1 Thessalonians (7), Joel (6), 2 Timothy (6), 2 Peter (6), Obadiah (4), Haggai (4), 2 Thessalonians (4), Jude (4), Titus (3), Philemon (2), 2 John (2), and 3 John (2).
For the first week (or first few weeks), it might be helpful to start with the shortest books from the New Testament. You can read the book together or on your own.
Ask one question about that book.
Since the purpose of this exercise is to better know God through Scripture engagement, focus on a simple question: “What do we learn about God from this book?”
Read the book with the goal of answering that question.
Write and share a one-sentence response.
The final step is to write out a one-sentence answer to the question about what you learned about God from reading the book—and then share that response. By committing to sharing the response with someone, it will ensure each participant takes the time to formulate a response.
The theory behind this method is that taking small actions—even making micro-changes—can help us to overcome the inertia of getting started and set us on a path to changing our pattern of behavior. Small actions, like the four steps of the 4-Ones Method, may seem trivial but they can help melt our resistance to change and help motivate us to further activity.
Keep in mind that the goal of this exercise is not to give someone a static approach for lifelong Bible-reading, but to push them toward an activity in which they will encounter God. As Chris Webb says, “When we open the Bible, it does not say to us, ‘Listen: God is there!’ Instead, the voice of the Spirit whispers through each line, ‘Look: I am here!’” The hope is that once you and your reading partner start engaging Scripture in a small way, you will discover what you are looking for—and seek more. We can provide the nudge to engage with the Bible, and rely on the Spirit to take it from there.