Study: 41.6 million Bible-curious Americans ripe for gospel, church

A significant rise in the number of adults looking to the Bible for answers this year gives the church a prime opportunity to draw more people to biblical truth, according to the American Bible Society (ABS).

John F. Plake, director of the ABS ministry intelligence team, drew the optimism from the 2019 State of the Bible report which showed an additional 18.1 million people searching for wisdom in Scripture than last year.

“Those people are curious about the Bible and they’re often in our churches,” Plake said. “They have questions about how to face life’s challenges and they’re turning to God’s word for help. So I think that’s a great opportunity for everyone … to realize that people are looking to Scripture for wisdom … and all we have to do is close the gap.”

Categorized as Bible friendly and Bible neutral, the group totals 41.6 million Americans who are researching areas such as parenthood, relationships, grief and job loss, the study shows. Often new readers will use electronic Bible versions and Google searches, Plake said.

“I think our job as the church is to know the questions that our society is asking and make sure that we’re standing there to provide biblical responses that are full of grace and truth,” Plake said. “We don’t know in a quantitative way exactly what’s driving this movement to the middle, particularly people moving out of the disengaged and into these more exploratory phases of Bible engagement. But we’re very grateful for it.”

Key findings

ABS commissioned Barna Research for the study conducted Jan. 15–Feb. 7 with 2,013 interviews of adults. The findings were released in April. The study tracked Bible engagement, Bible impact, religiosity and spirituality, perceptions of the Bible, Bible penetration, Bible literacy, the Bible and technology, moral perceptions and social impact, experience with trauma, perceptions of churches and charitable giving.

While the study is expansive ABS considers among key findings:

  • 81% of American adults see the church as a key place people can go to for help;
  • 102.7 million adults interact with the Bible, often seeking practical advice in their modern lives;
  • Nearly 60% of American adults believe the message of the Bible has transformed their lives.

Gauging Bible use

Barna divided respondents into six categories gauging Bible use, including Bible disengaged, who interact with the Bible infrequently if at all; Bible neutral, interacting with the Bible sporadically; Bible friendly, interacting with the Bible consistently and perhaps seeing it as a source of wisdom; Bible engaged, interacting with the Bible often and allowing it to transform their view of God and others; and Bible centered, interacting with the Bible frequently and seeing it shape their relationships and choices.

Barna determined 5% of Americans are Bible centered, 19% are Bible engaged, 19% are Bible friendly, 9% are Bible neutral and 48% are Bible disengaged.

Some 61.1 million Americans are engaged with the Bible, encompassing the Bible engaged and Bible centered categories. ABS desires to see 100 million American adults engaged with the Bible by 2026, the nation’s 250th anniversary, Plake said. Churches can help attain that goal by reaching the 41.6 million seeking biblical answers.

“They’re not far from the church. They don’t hate the church. They’re not far from God,” Plake said of the 41.6 million which he describes as the movable middle. “In fact they might be sitting next to us on a Sunday morning. … They’re movable because they’re already trying out the Bible, they’re curious to know more about what the Bible says and they’re in church.”

Engaging the movable middle could make America a better place, Plake said.

“We want to invite all of our partners in the church and the Bible cause to rally around this desire to see 100 million Americans, or 40% of American adults, actively engaged in the Scripture by 2026,” he said. “If we could by God’s grace see that happen America would be a different place for our 250th anniversary.”

The complete study is available at americanbible.org. (BP)