Scripture engagement remains down among Americans, but a widespread curiosity gives ground for evangelism, the American Bible Society said in releasing the first chapter of its 2023 State of the Bible study.
Only 47 million Americans, or about 18% of the adult population, are considered Scripture Engaged in the 2023 study, down from 49 million adults in 2022 and 71 million adults in 2020. Scripture Engaged individuals are those who read the Bible and whose lives are impacted by Scripture.
While Scripture engagement remains low, adults ranked in a category termed the Movable Middle grew to 76 million, up 10 million from last year’s analysis.
The ABS finds hope in the newest numbers.
“The Movable Middle is awash in curiosity, with more than two thirds (68%) “very” or “extremely” curious and only a smidgen (3%) not curious at all,” the ABS wrote. “Granted, there’s a difference between wondering and actively searching, but this is a start. Curiosity is a growth platform for Bible ministry in the U.S. How will we respond?”
While 138 million adults are ranked as Bible Disengaged — those who score lowest on the Bible engagement scale — the number is lower than the 145 million who were characterized as disengaged in 2022. And those who are disengaged see Scripture as increasingly central to their lives and impactful in their behavior.
‘Not as disengaged as last year’
“That leads us to say that, not only are there 10 million fewer Bible Disengaged Americans than there were last year, they aren’t as disengaged as they used to be,” the ABS said. “If the trend continues, we might see even more migration into the Movable Middle in 2024.”
A number of participants in the study registered frustrations in Bible reading. Including all three categories of Scripture engagement, 26% said they don’t have enough time to read the Bible, 17% don’t know where to start, 16% are not excited to read Scripture, 15% have difficulty relating to the language, 9% find the layout difficult to navigate and 8% find the stories confusing.
But those who do read the Bible cite positive motivations including wanting to be closer to God (47%), gaining wisdom for making life decisions (20%), for comfort (15%), learning God’s nature (9%), learning how to treat others (4%), a sense of duty (3%) and to fulfill class or Bible study requirements (2%).
The ABS encourages churches to engage members in Scripture by asking communities about their practices, motivations and frustrations regarding the Bible; sincerely listening to their answers and finding ways to help; making a positive case for the benefits of Scripture engagement in youth; showing people how to start reading Scripture; and creating or curating mood-based resources to engage those who rank as Bible Disengaged.
The ABS released its first chapter of the 2023 study on April 6 and plans to release subsequent chapters monthly.
Now in its 13th year, the State of the Bible annually looks at the Bible, faith and the church in America. The ABS collaborated with the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center in designing the study conducted online and via telephone to NORC’s AmeriSpeak Panel.
The 18-minute survey, conducted Jan. 5–30, produced 2,761 responses from a representative sample of adults 18 and older within the 50 states and D.C.
Download the report at sotb.research.bible.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Diana Chandler and originally published by Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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