Americans are fond of Bible but don’t actually read it, LifeWay Research shows

By Bob Smietana

LifeWay Christian Resources

Americans have a positive view of the Bible. And many say the Scriptures are filled with moral lessons for today.

However, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible.

Less than one-quarter of those who have ever read a Bible have a systematic plan for reading Scripture each day. And one-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 firsthand 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.”

Many copies at home

Almost 9 out of 10 households (87 percent) own a Bible, according to the American Bible Society, and many households have 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 5 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. One-third (35 percent) never pick it up at all, while 30 percent look up things in the Bible when they need to. Nineteen percent reread their favorite parts, while 17 percent flip open the Bible and read a passage at random. One-quarter (27 percent) read sections suggested by others, while 16 percent say they look things up to help others.

Those with evangelical beliefs are more likely (49 percent) to read a little bit each day than those without evangelical beliefs (16 percent).

Correlation to services

The more often Americans attend church, the more likely they are to read the Bible daily. Thirty-nine percent of those who attend worship services at least once a month read a bit every day, while only 13 percent of those who attend services less than once a month pick up a Bible daily.

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.

Overall Americans seem to like the Bible but don’t have much urgency about reading it, McConnell noted. One place Americans are still likely to hear the Bible read is in church.

A LifeWay Research survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors found most give out free Bibles to those who need them (86 percent), include reminders about reading the Bible in their sermons (86 percent) and include Bible readings in worship services (76 percent).

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 … life-changing quality.”