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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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Pondering His Precepts

Here’s a tried and tested daily Bible reading methodology that I’ve successfully used for three decades. Or for those of you who go back a few years, here’s how to have a daily “Quiet Time” with God:


  • Thank God for the opportunity to meet with Him
  • Ask forgiveness for sins of omission or commission


  • Look at the passage in context, i.e. study what comes before and after the text you’re reading
  • Avoid reading anything into the passage that may distort the intended meaning


  • Write out the passage using words that would enable a child to understand it


  • Ponder on every phrase and sentence
  • Find the main point
  • Look at opening and closing statements
  • Identify unique words
  • Locate points of emphasis
  • Pay attention to historical, cultural, social, political, or economic factors


  • Apply the passage to yourself
  • Beware of the paralysis of analysis (sometimes we become critical analysts of God’s Word rather than open hearted recipients)
  • Ask, “What does God want me to learn?” and “How does God want me to respond?”


  • Give God the honour and glory that are His due


  • Pray using the passage as the point of departure
  • Repeat the Word back to God
  • Ask God to help you be obedient to His Word


  • Put into practice what you learnt from God today
  • Share biblical insights with friends in your community of faith

[Based on “How to Have a Quiet Time”, Seize the Day: Meditations for the Year, 2002 by Lawson Murray]

© Scripture Union Canada 2013

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When the Going Gets Tough

TOUGH goingSomeone recently said to me, “I’m embarrassed to say this, but I have to admit that my Bible reading’s dry – I’m getting nothing out of it. I’ve been reading the Bible for fifty years and for the past two years it’s been a grinding routine.” “I know”, I replied. “Sometimes it can be a tough slog. I’ve had times when it feels like there’s nothing fresh.” We chatted for some time . . .

So how do we turn it around when we’re struggling to meet with God through His Word? What do we do when our expectations of hearing God speaking through the Scriptures are at an all time low? Here are some suggestions:

  • Mix it up. Sometimes we get in a rut. We read the same version of the Bible over and over again. Why not try a different version or a paraphrase? There are more than 800 English versions to choose from!
  • Connect with others. Personal Bible reading and reflection must be balanced with communal reading and reflection. Why? Because two are better than one. When one falls down the other can help pick him/her up (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
  • Open up. The Bible is good news for our lives. Are we reading it as such? Let’s be careful not to tame the Word or reduce it to the scale of our own ideas. Before reading the Scriptures we should ask God to unlock our minds to His transforming power (cf. Romans 12:2).
  • Use a reading guide. Be alert to the insights that come through others. Yes I know the Holy Spirit is the Teacher and instructs us directly from the Word, but He also works through human teachers to unpack the meaning of a text, challenge our prejudices and expose our blind spots.
  • Linger longer. We’re more likely to encounter God when we slow down. Most of us live with the tyranny of the urgent, but not God! To meet on His turf we must “be still” (cf. Psalm 46:10), which in context means “Enough! Stop trying to have control over things!”
  • Focus. There’s a tendency to read the Bible almost exclusively to find out what to do. We should rather read it to find out who we are and who we ought to be. Interact with the Bible like you would with a mirror. Look into it and ask, “Who am I? Who do You want me to be?”
  • Live it. God’s Word has a claim on our lives – a purpose. We should be living epistles. The litmus test of Bible reading is whether or not we’ve acted on what we’ve discovered. Bible reading must translate into a response. Imitate Jesus (cf. Philippians 2:1-11). Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (cf. Micah 6:8).

© Scripture Union Canada 2013

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Tailor Made

Bible study has to be tailor made. There’s no one size fits all.

When I was an undergraduate student in the seventies we gathered in small groups on the campus lawns, read a book of the Bible together, then marked up the text with our pencils – writing insights and questions in the margins. We used the insights and questions to share findings and fuel our discussions. We didn’t know it at the time, but Paul Byer of IVCF started developing a Bible study method along these lines in 1954. Paul’s method was later called the Manuscript Bible Study (MBS) and is extensively used by IVCF on college and university campuses today.

What works intuitively for university students may not work for children. Andy Deane, in his book, Learn To Study The Bible: Forty Different Step By Step Methods To Help You Discover, Apply And Enjoy God’s Word recommends the “Heart Monitor”, “Funnel It”, “Weather Report”, “Climb the Ladder”, or “Cross Thoughts” Bible study methods for children.

Andy’s methods are great, but there may be better Bible study methods for children geared to sports. Children at SU Canada’s sport camps or leagues receive God’s Game Plan (a sports themed Bible) and the Camper Playbook (a Bible Reading Guide). God’s Game Plan and the Camper Playbook have matching cover designs to visually remind children to use a reading guide when studying the Bible. The Bible study method recently developed for SU Canada’s sports ministry utilises a simple inductive five step approach built around sports terminology. The Sports Bible Study Method™ is:

  1. Warm Up – speak to God and invite Him to meet with you
  2. Jump In – carefully read the Bible text
  3. Dig Deep – think about what you’ve read and ask questions
  4. Do It! – apply what you’ve learned
  5. Huddle – chat to God and others


The Sports Bible Study Method™ works really well for sports ministry. Other methods like Lectio Divina, 4-K Method, Swedish Method, 5 Ps of Hearing God through the Bible, S.O.A.P Method and the E100 Challenge™ work really well for the contexts and people they’re designed for. Maybe you’ve used one or more of these methods. What’s ultimately important isn’t the Bible study method; it’s whether or not we’re engaging, internalising and incarnating the Word of God.

© Scripture Union Canada, 2012

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