Bible Engagement Blog: JumpIntoTheWord

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How to Ramp Up Bible Engagement

What is the single most important thing that can be done to ramp up Bible engagement?

Before we answer the question it may be helpful to review what the church has been doing to invite and encourage connections with the Bible:

From a distribution perspective – Bibles, Bible reading guides, Bible commentaries and dictionaries, daily devotions, reading plans and a host of biblical tools, media and resources have been printed and published. In addition to printed materials the Bible and related resources have been made available online and through audio and or visual formats like DVD’s, Apps, MP3’s, CD’s, and such. In fact the Bible is more accessible, in more formats, through more mediums, to more people, in more languages than ever before!

From an interactive perspective – churches, Bible colleges and agencies have facilitated and promoted the reading, singing, studying, discussing, dramatising, memorising, teaching and preaching of the Scriptures. There are films, games, seminars, billboards, workshops, museums, courses, competitions, plays, t-shirts, stained glass, tattoos, paintings, talk shows and other creative means employed to publicize, promote, proclaim, illustrate, advocate or communicate the Word.

But despite everything that has been done, Bible engagement in the Western world is in decline.

So what are we doing about the decline? Pastors are urging their congregations to read the Bible, church boards are praying about it, small group leaders are buying Rick Warren’s 40 Days in the Word, seminaries are promoting biblical studies courses, and Bible agencies are creating more products.

When things don’t go the way we want them to go we work harder, attempt something new, do what someone else is doing, or try to improve what we’ve been doing. Sometimes we make excuses, blame others or give up. But most of the time we fight the good fight. We strive to leverage social media, seek to better understand culture, work to overcome negative perceptions, harness technology, rebrand, innovate – anything to keep on keeping on.

The trouble is, more of what we’ve been doing produces more of the same results. Yes, there are mission agencies, Bible agencies, local churches and organisations with success stories – but in the grand scheme of things we have to face the facts – there are fewer Westerners engaging with the Bible today, compared to twenty years ago (e.g. a 50% decline in weekly Bible reading in Canada since 1996).

Which naturally leads us to ask, “Is there any hope?” Always! But we need a radical paradigm shift. We must stop thinking we can do something to improve Bible engagement and start calling on God to do what only He can do. We need supernatural intervention for a supernatural problem.

So what is it that only God can do to improve Bible engagement? Many things. But perhaps the most important thing is for God to save people from their sins and incline their hearts to Him.

Belief matters! When people love Christ they love His Word. A correlation of findings from Bible engagement studies reveals that most of the people who intentionally engage with the Bible are people who have embraced Christ by faith alone, i.e., Spirit filled children of God. Real Christians connect with the Bible because that’s what real Christians do (real Christians are spiritually inclined and constrained to live by the Bible’s precepts).

Here’s the bottom line: The decline in Bible engagement is primarily a relational problem – people aren’t connected to Jesus. “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” John 8:47 (ESV).

If people are not real Christians then the main task is not to get them to read/hear the Word (as helpful as that may be), the chief task is evangelism. In short, to ramp up Bible engagement we must focus on leading people to Christ.

© Scripture Union Canada 2014


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Trends Impacting Bible Engagement in Canada

Bible engagement, as with everything, is impacted for better or worse by a variety of structures, beliefs, factors and norms. Understanding the culture we live in is vital if we’re to effectively connect Canadians with Jesus and His Story.  So what are some of the trends impacting Bible engagement in Canada?

Individualism and Relativism

Canada is a “Me” society. Autonomy is the measure of most things. The majority of Canadians are focused on their personal aspirations and absorbed by their pleasures. What’s “right” is largely determined by “my point of view” and “what works for you”. Personal preferences and opinions trump truth. No single viewpoint is considered superior to another.

Church Attendance

Church attendance continues to decline. Weekly church attendance in Canada has fallen dramatically since its heyday in the 1950’s (53% in 1957, 24% in 1990, 21% in 2005). Only one in three young adults who attended church as a child regularly attend church now. Church attendance and Bible engagement rise or fall together.

Trends impacting bible engagment - religious attendance graphic - rev1

Atheism

Atheism has become a significant option to religion. In the 1960’s it was frowned upon by society, but today 15% of young Canadians classify themselves as atheists. Atheists are organized and connected. When the article, “Bible Reading in Canada” was published on the jumpintotheword blog, the Society for Atheists and Agnostics, as well as other atheists, tweeted the article to their networks. In just 36 hours more than 5,500 atheists downloaded the article! Why? They were celebrating the news about the decline in Bible engagement!

Immigration

Nearly 21% of the Canadian population (6.8 million people) are foreign born. In some cities visible minorities are actually the majority. More than 50% of the population of Canada’s largest city, Toronto, were not born in Canada. Most newcomers to Canada come from Asia. The largest visible minority in Vancouver, with 28% of the population, are from Chinese descent.

Community Cohesion

Ethnicity, divergent interests and different worldviews are increasingly isolating Canadians from their neighbours. Individualism is fostering private life at the expense of the community. Canadians are not really expected to know one another. Technology supports this trend. We read about the “gathering” of communities via the Internet, yet in most cases these people never meet in person.

Affluence

Canada is ranked sixth in the world for the highest quality of life and ranked ninth for purchasing power per capita. Since 1990 there has been a rising income inequality in Canada. Thirty-four percent of Canadians saw their wealth increase last year by about 14% while 38% of Canadians saw their wealth decrease by an average of 23%.

Trends impacting bible engagment - income inequality grahpic - rev1Rise of the “Nones”

Many Canadians are leaving religion in favour of a more individualized spirituality. The fastest growing “religious” group in Canada are people who identify their religious affiliation as “none”. The percentage of Canadians who identified themselves as having no religious affiliation is 24% (2011). In 1971 just 4% of Canadians were religiously unaffiliated. The rise of the “nones” cuts across all demographic groups and is evident among all age groups in all regions of the country. [Note: While “Nones” say they’re not affiliated to a religion, they’re surprisingly religious. Most of them do not identify themselves as agnostic or atheistic, 40% believe in God, 20% of them attend religious services annually, and more than 10% pray weekly]

Other Religions

Since 1981 there has been a 7% increase in the number of Canadians who belong to other religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. Taken together, one in ten Canadians adhere to these religions. Before 1950 there were virtually no Muslims in Canada (less than 0.01%). In 2011 there were more than 1 million Muslims (3.2%).

Trends impacting bible engagment - population by religion graphic - rev2Mainline Protestant Decline

Reshuffling of dominant denominations has occurred over several decades. Mainline Protestants (Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United) are no longer in the spotlight. Eastern Orthodox Christianity is growing. Protestant Evangelicals and Catholics, though polarized religiously from society, occupy the religious centre stage.

Worldview

Canadians value peace, order, tolerance, good government, healthcare and social equity. In large part Canadians have a strong liberal tilt on ethical matters and define morality by what justifies their lifestyle. Increasingly, and usually without the guidance of organized religion, Canadian society is dramatically reinventing, refining, or undermining (depending on your point of view) morality.

Technology

While Canadians have a love hate relationship with technology, 86% say technology makes them more efficient in the workplace and 74% say technology improves their quality of life. Eighty-three percent of Canadian households have home access to the Internet (2012) – nearly double the worldwide average.

Religious Behaviour

There is a widening divergence of religious behaviour between Canadians born inside and outside the country. Canadian born persons who do not attend religious services increased by 15 percent between 1985 and 2004 whereas there was no decline in attendance at religious services among first generation immigrants. Attendance at religious services is higher among Canadians born outside the country than among those born inside the country.

Education

In the 1970’s, by an eight point gap, Canadians with higher levels of education were less likely to have a religious affiliation than Canadians with lower levels of education. In 2011 this had narrowed to a two point gap – 23% of college graduates had no religious affiliation verses 21% of those without a college degree.

Social Media

On a per capita basis Canada has the most social networking users in the world. Nearly 50% of Canadians use social media at least once a month. Facebook has cornered the market – signing up 93% of Canadian social media users. Social media is changing the way people interact, but the implications and impact of these changes are not yet known.

Have your say. What would you add to the above list?

 Sources:

Angus Reid

eMarketer

Canadian Bible Engagement Study

Canadian Internet Use Survey

Forum Research

Fotolia Research

Gallup Poll

Gini Coefficient

God and Society in North America

Haemorrhaging Faith Study

Human Development Index

Parliamentary Information and Research Service

Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Statistics Canada General Social Survey

Statistics Canada 2011 National Household Survey

World Bank 

© Scripture Union Canada 2014


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Canadian Bible Trends in Light of Reading Trends

My colleague Roy Eyre, President of Wycliffe Canada, recently posted the following article. It’s a worthwhile read:

President’s Blog

Looking at Bible trends in light of reading trends

For several weeks, the Church in Canada has been reacting to the Canadian Bible Engagement Study that shows precipitous decline in Bible reading frequency. Any way you slice it, it’s alarming.

But let’s cast some further light on these statistics. Aren’t Canadians reading less in general? Isn’t literacy decreasing? Isn’t our culture becoming more oral? How much of this decline is actually specific to the Bible? Great questions for us to consider.

Literacy rates in Canada

Are Canadians losing the ability to read and write? A quick scan of a number of online resources shows:

  • No good studies have been done in the last 8 years. In fact, the Canadian government website uses 2003 figures.1
  • While literacy rates in Canada are officially at 99%, as of 2003 only “52% of Canadians aged 16 years of age and over had literacy scores in the Level 3 category or above. Level 3 is generally considered to be the minimum level of literacy required to function well at work and in daily living. This means that nearly half of Canadians had low levels of literacy.”1
  • As of 2006, 42% of Canadians are semi-illiterate, with the National stating that, “For the past 15 years there has been scarcely any improvement in Canada’s literacy rate.”2
  • There was little change in literacy rates at any level in Canada in the last decade.1

So it sounds like literacy levels are not what the pundits would like, but there hasn’t been a drop in literacy rates to correspond with the drop in Bible reading.

Reading rates in Canada

Are Canadians choosing not to read? The perception is of a long decline in reading rates and in the use of paper and printed materials. Remember the predictions that the computer would lead to a “paperless society”? Instead, more people are reading online, and we’ve seen e-readers saturate the market. Part of the misconception comes from the old problem that most surveys look at American trends. While reading in the United States is in decline, two Canadian reports in the last nine years show that actual reading rates in Canada have been stronger than expected.

  • Average weekly reading time by Canadians was unchanged between 1991 and 2005.3
  • While Americans’ reading rate declined between 1985 and 2005, Canadians’ reading rate remained virtually constant. For instance, consider:
    • 57% of Americans read a book in a 12-month timeframe, compared with 87% of Canadians.
    • Where one-half of Canadians read virtually every day, almost half of Americans only read an average of less than one book per year.3
  • In 2009, Canadian teenagers reported a level of reading similar to that of their slightly older American counterparts. (e.g. 47 percent of Canadian teenagers 15–19 years of age received a “great deal” or “quite a bit” of pleasure from reading.)4
  • The amount of time young people spend online does not mean that they have given up the practice of sustained reading—for studies or for leisure. In fact, people who are online also tend to be readers.4
  • A Canadian study using the Statistics Canada 2005 General Social Survey found that both heavy and moderate Internet users spend more time reading books than people who do not use the Internet.4

Perhaps reports of the death of reading have been greatly exaggerated.

Now, granted, it’s possible that reading and literacy have dropped like a rock in the years since these studies, but I submit that there is no statistical evidence of a decline in overall reading that would account for the drop in Bible reading. That of course is bad news, as we would love to be able to explain the study away.

The fact remains that Canadians are rapidly moving away from Bible reading and engaging with its life-giving message. Once we have faced reality with courage, we can begin to ask what we will do about the problem.

Roy Eyre is a student of leadership, design thinker, follower of Christ, husband and father. He has served as president of Wycliffe Canada since 2011. For more, see his full profile or read more of his President’s Blog and leadership blog.

Bibliography

http://www4.hrsdc.gc.ca/.3ndic.1t.4r@-eng.jsp?iid=31
http://www.excellenceinliteracy.org/facts.html
3 http://www.pch.gc.ca/eng/1290797114127/1290797724067
4 http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3340/2985

– See more at: http://www.wycliffe.ca/wycliffe/blog/post.jsp?presidents&euid=3db67a25-4c98-45d2-9#sthash.ittS4KWZ.dpuf


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The Goal

Bible reading isn’t an end in itself!

Really? Shouldn’t we be studying the Bible for all it’s worth? Isn’t the discipline of Bible reading profitable? Well, yes and no! According to the Scriptures we should be aiming for something more than just reading the Bible as a source of knowledge or inspiration.

Consider John 5:39-40: Jesus acknowledged that the Pharisees diligently studied the Scriptures, yet rebuked them for not coming to Him to find life. In other words, there is no value in Bible reading if the purpose of Bible reading, “to have life”, is neglected.

This is why Jesus rebuked the Pharisees: On the surface it looked like they were doing something good. But with all their reading, memorizing and studying the text, they didn’t know God. While they scrupulously obeyed the letter of the law, they didn’t get the spirit of the law. While they emphasized the importance of the Word, they failed to embrace the living Word. Yes, the Pharisees respected and venerated the Scriptures over everything else – but in so doing they were guilty of bibliolatry.

If Bible reading isn’t an end in itself, then what is? Philip Hughes, in his paper, Putting Life Together: Findings From Australian Youth Spirituality Research, suggests the goal is “transformational Bible engagement”. He uses this term to describe the goal as the change that happens to a person as a result of Bible reading. That is, the goal is to read the Bible to “shape each area of our lives” in order to conform to the life of Christ.Bible text on paper hole

When Hughes suggests the goal is to “shape each area of our lives” he’s drawing attention to the fact that true Bible engagement happens as God speaks to us, we listen, and He enables us to live out the Kingdom values Jesus spoke about and modelled.

So read the Bible, but not as an end in itself. Read it as a means to an end. Read it to find life and fullness of life in Christ (cf. John 10:10). Read it to see and know the Person behind the text. And read it to be like-minded, have the same love, to be one in spirit and of one mind with Christ (cf. Philippians 2:1-4).

 © Scripture Union Canada 2014