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