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Canadian Bible Trends in Light of Reading Trends

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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.


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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  1. Pingback: Joel D. Black – 7 Tools To Help People Read Their Own Bibles

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