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How to Measure Bible Engagement


Since Bible engagement is crucial to the spiritual health and growth of individuals and communities (churches, schools, Bible agencies, ministries), it is helpful to understand “the conditions necessary for such growth to be sustained – to become permanent – and to continue” (Mark Forshaw, Global Scripture Impact).

Here’s how some key organisations/groups/agencies are measuring Bible engagement:

Barna Group – Collects data for the ABS State of the Bible study by using a four-part typology based on people’s view of and level of engagement with Scripture. A person is categorized/described as Bible engaged, Bible friendly, Bible neutral or Bible skeptic.

Biblica – Is initiating the development of a tool that will measure the Bible engagement elements of translation, access, literary form, reading holistically, context awareness, narrative understanding and story activation.

Canadian Bible Forum – A quantitative survey conducted by Angus Reid Strategies and a qualitative study conducted by The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada to measure why Canadians do or do not connect with the Bible. Findings reported in the Canadian Bible Engagement Study.

Center for Bible Engagement – Uses surveys to gather data from individuals to measure life transformation levels of weekly Bible engagement. It goes beyond simply usage statistics to consider attitudes and behaviors that significantly impact spiritual growth and a person’s relationship with God.

Global Scripture Impact (American Bible Society) – Seeks to measure Bible engagement by measuring the behavioural signs of ‘willingness’, ‘understanding’, and ‘action’ as indicators of people moving toward spiritual maturity/embodying Christ.

LifeWay Research – Conducts quantitative and qualitative research utilising question samples from the Transformational Discipleship Assessment (TDA) and the Transformational Groups (TG) research projects.

REVEAL – Researches the role of Scripture engagement in catalyzing spiritual growth. A set of survey items is used to look at what motivates people to engage with Scripture and how people are affected by their exposure to Scripture.

Scripture Union Canada – Uses the quantitative Measure of Reading/Connecting with the Bible literacy gauge and a qualitative assessment of how people are connecting with, coming alive to, are investing in, being submitted to, are reliant on, are receiving from, and acting in line with Christ and His Word.

Taylor University Center for Scripture Engagement – Conducts quantitative and qualitative research to measure frequency of interaction with the Bible, the extent to which a person has the Bible as a focal center in their spiritual life, the breadth of contexts whereby a person interacts with the Bible, kinds of interactions a person has with the Bible, and the views people have of the Bible. The tools used for the research are the Christian Life Survey, Christian Identity and Scripture Engagement Survey, Scripture Engagement Interviews, Scripture Engagement Field Interviews.

If you know about Bible engagement research that hasn’t been mentioned in this post, please share what you know.

© Scripture Union Canada 2015

2 Corinthians 4:5

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Bible Engagement SWOT Analysis

What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to Bible Engagement? The Bible Research Summit researchers and practitioners generated, in no particular order or categorization, these thoughts and comments:

  • God shows up in the divine reading of the Word
  • Bible engagement should help people encounter Jesus through the Scriptures
  • Political and theological views have a powerful effect on the beliefs and behaviours that impact Bible engagement
  • We need communities of encounter and enabling in order to foster Bible engagement
  • Good theology is essential for Bible engagement to survive and thrive
  • People live into the plausibility structures of different communities and agencies/churches developing/providing Bible engagement resources need to understand how this impacts the creation of resources
  • Religious communities profoundly influence how we engage with the Bible
  • Something more than Bible reading is needed to drive/shape reaching out to others
  • An encounter with Christ is a necessary and vital part of Bible engagement
  • Research reveals that engaging with the Bible correlates with a positive change in people’s lives
  • Bible engagement enables people to embody Christ authentically, in the world, as His agents of reconciliation and social transformation
  • The focus of Bible engagement should always be Jesus
  • Bible engagement often happens in “the valley”
  • The Bible is well engaged when a community understands the overall story and accepts the invitation to take up its own role in the great drama
  • Bible engagement changes an individual’s life – one’s direction, thinking and actions
  • Measuring the frequency of Bible reading doesn’t necessarily measure Bible engagement
  • Bible engagement should include a prophetic response to the times
  • Our actions and attitudes are measures of Bible engagement
  • Bible engagement restores, renews and equips people in community
  • The best thing the church can do, out of all the things they can do to facilitate spiritual health and growth, is to help people reflect on the Bible more than they do
  • Bible engagement is closely related to a life of reflection and community
  • The Holy Spirit is the inspiration and agent of Bible engagement
  • Confirmation of Bible engagement is seen in people’s lives when they are connected with, coming alive to, are tied to, are investing in, being submitted to, are reliant on, are receiving from, and acting in line with the One of whom the Bible speaks, Jesus Christ
  • There are differences in how people engage with Scripture, and Bible engagement varies across different stages on the spiritual journey
  • Bible engagement impacts one’s spiritual maturity more than every other discipleship attribute combined

Have your say. What would you add to the Bible engagement SWOT analysis above?

[These thoughts and comments are collectively attributed to: Chris Armas, Lizette Beard, Chad Causey, Steven Bird, Mark Forshaw, David Kinnaman, Nancy Lewis, Jason Malec, Lawson Murray, Pam Ovwigho, Glenn Paauw, Tyler Prieb, Angela Rogers]

© Scripture Union Canada 2015

2 Corinthians 4:5

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Working Definitions of Bible Engagement

In ongoing efforts to understand the nature and scope of Bible engagement, researchers and practitioners at the recent Bible Research Summit drafted the following three working definitions:

1. Bible engagement is encountering God/Jesus through a process/lifestyle of quality interaction in/with the Story as part of a lifestyle of living in and living out of the Story so that individuals and communities are transformed. [This is a cyclical process. That is, individuals and communities continuously reengage/encounter God/Jesus through a process/lifestyle of quality interaction in/with the Story as part of a lifestyle of living in and out of the Story].

2. Bible engagement occurs when the big Story of God/Jesus/humanity, motivated by its authority or its potential relevance (passion vs. scepticism), occasionally or through some habitual practice, which includes various media (e.g. reading, audio, groups, etc.) that contain Scripture content and an application of/resulting in a response to the Word which cultivates transformation in individuals and communities.

3. Bible engagement occurs when circumstances or posture inspired by the Holy Spirit combine to create desire to discover/explore the story of how God engages humanity through habitual seeking of the Word through various mediums (individual, group, audio, visual, written) resulting in transformation that is Christocentric/Christ-like.

Taken together, and simply stated, the three definitions identify Bible engagement as:

An encounter with God/Jesus

that is a motivated/inspired interaction with God’s Story

that includes various media

that involves an individual or communal activity/response/application

that cultivates/results in transformation


* The Bible Research Summit was hosted by the American Bible Society

* The goal of the Summit was to discuss the history, current practices and future needs of measuring Bible engagement

* The researchers and practitioners were:

Chris Armas – Code for the Kingdom

Lizette Beard – LifeWay Research

Steven Bird – Taylor University

Chad Causey – OneHope

Mark Forshaw – Global Scripture Impact

David Kinnaman – Barna Group

Nancy Lewis – REVEAL

Jason Malec – American Bible Society

Lawson Murray – Scripture Union

Pam Ovwigo – Center for Bible Engagement

Glenn Paauw – Biblica

Tyler Prieb – OneHope

Angela Rogers – Connection Media


© Scripture Union Canada 2015

2 Corinthians 4:5

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Bible Reading in Canada

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

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State of the Bible in the USA

What are the attitudes and behaviours of Americans toward the Bible? Here’s a summary of the current trends from the latest State of the Bible 2014 poll of a representative sample of Americans:

  • sceptical views about the Bible have doubled in the last three years
  • 56% of Americans are pro-Bible yet only 37% read it once a week or more
  • people say they’re not reading the Bible frequently because they “Don’t have enough time”
  • there’s a Bible in 88% of American homes
  • online Bible reading has doubled in the last three years
  • most people still prefer to read a printed Bible
  • a growing percentage of Bible readers look to the Bible to meet their needs (e.g. guidance, comfort, problem solving)
  • a declining percentage of Bible readers come to the Bible to connect with God
  • adults who believe the values and morals of America are declining are more likely to blame this on music, movies and TV than on a lack of Bible reading
  • 50% of adults feel the Bible isn’t influencing society enough

[About the State of the Bible study: An annual survey conducted by the American Bible Society and Barna Group on Bible reading and beliefs. The 2014 data was collected in January and February through telephone and online surveys of more than 1,000 adults 18 years of age and older from within the 48 continental states. Download the State of the Bible 2014 at http://www.americanbible.org/uploads/content/state-of-the-bible-data-analysis-american-bible-society-2014.pdf ] © Scripture Union Canada 2014

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