According to the Canadian Bible Engagement Study (May 2014), 55% of Canadians never read the Bible, 28% seldom read the Bible, 7% read it a few times a year, and 11% read it once a week or more frequently.
How do these statistics compare with Bible reading in the past? In the 1993 national survey by the Angus Reid Group, 20% of Canadians read the Bible once a week or more frequently. That means that weekly-daily Bible reading has gone down by 45% in the last 20 years.
Regular Bible reading is a rarity. In 1993 there were 9% of Canadians who read the Bible daily. This has dropped by more than 50% in the past twenty years to just 4% of Canadians reading the Bible on a daily basis.
The decline in Bible reading differs across denominational traditions. In 1993 eighteen percent of Catholics (English and French) read the Bible at least once a week or more frequently. By 2013 it had slumped to 5%. In 1993 nineteen percent of Mainline Protestants read the Bible at least once a week or more frequently. By 2013 it was down to 10%. Evangelicals have also seen declines. In 1993 sixty-one percent read the Bible at least once a week or more frequently. By 2013 it had fallen to 50%.
Many assume that the decline in Bible reading is age related. The common perception is that older people read the Bible more frequently and younger people are less likely to read it. This was true for weekly Bible reading in 1996 (12% for 18-34 year olds, 20% for 35-54 year olds, and 28% for those older than 55) but is no longer true today (10% for 18-34 year olds, 10% for 35-54 year olds, and 12% for those older than 55) That is, age is no longer a factor in Bible reading frequency.
[Note: The main observable reason why there is no discernible difference in weekly Bible reading across the age groups is because Boomers (who are now in the 55+ group) have, according to social surveys over the past few decades, largely parted company with the Bible and the church.]
Obviously, for those who place a high premium on Bible reading, the statistics are deeply distressing. The drop in Bible reading is more than simply a decline in a spiritual discipline. Bible reading is intrinsically tied to the spiritual health of the church and the slump is an alarming indication of how the foundations of Christian faith are being deeply eroded.
So is there something we can do to address the problem? Consider the following:
- confess sin, indifference and apathy
- recognize that 20th Century Bible reading guides/plans utilize modernistic approaches that don’t connect with post-moderns
- shift away from product and program driven Bible reading strategies to relational and interactive strategies
- develop new paradigms and approaches to Bible reading that are multi-sensory and transformative
- encourage on and offline innovation in Bible reading methods
- learn from grass roots movements that are successfully helping people read the Bible
- advocate for the virtues and benefits of Bible reading
- promote confidence in, community around, and conversations about the Word
- tell others about Bible reading resources and tools that work
- model communal Bible reading
- ask God to reverse the decline
Have your say. How can we encourage Bible reading in Canada?
Free download of the Canadian Bible Engagement Study at www.bibleengagementstudy.ca
© Scripture Union Canada 2014