In 2011, the percentage of Americans who “used the Bible at least 3-4 times on their own, outside of a church setting” was around 50%. Again in 2012—around 50%. Then again in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021. Always around 50%.
But according to the American Bible Society, in 2022, that number dropped to 39%. And daily Bible reading dropped from 14% to 10%.
Dramatic. Precipitous. Unprecedented. Those are the adjectives being used by people commenting on this change. There was an 11% drop in the number of people in the US who sometimes (3-4 times a year) picked up a Bible (or looked at a digital Bible) and a 4% drop in those who read it daily.
What could possibly drive such a statistical decline? Let me suggest three possibilities:
A corresponding drop in church attendance. According to one survey, before the COVID-19 pandemic, 25% reported that they never attended religious services of any kind. That number increased to 33% in 2022. When Christians spend time with other Christians, they learn from other Christians how to nurture their spiritual lives, including the discipline of regular Bible reading. Furthermore, they hear sermons that encourage and model engagement with the Bible. One possible reason for the drop in Bible reading could be a corresponding drop in church attendance during this same period.
A decline in book reading. According to a recent Gallup survey, the average American read 12.6 books in 2022—down from 15.6 in 2016. Now, I’m personally skeptical that the average person actually read one book a month in 2022. But the fact that people reported reading fewer books than they previously reported still signals that book reading is on the decline. The Bible is a big (and let’s be honest, a sometimes challenging) book. If someone has never read any large book in the past, they may think they won’t succeed with a book as large and varied as is the Bible. The general decline in book reading could be another reason for a decline in Bible reading.
Distractions. There are more distractions now than ever before—including distractions to our eyes. Social media, news reports, on-demand television, texting, and video games are probably the main contemporary distractions. We could be using our eyes to read the Bible; instead we use our eye-time on the news (or gossip-news), or to keep up on what our friends (or “friends”) are posting. Distractions may be one more reason that Bible reading is currently on the decline in the United States.
The good news from the most recent American Bible Society State of the Bible report is that one-third of those surveyed reported that they are very or extremely curious about the Bible. Perhaps we who know and love the Bible can use this interest in history’s most influential book to introduce people to the One who gave us his Word.
This post and other resources are available at Kindle Afresh: The Blog and Website of Kenneth Berding.