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Bible Engagement Blog


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Trends Impacting Bible Engagement in Canada

Bible engagement, as with everything, is impacted for better or worse by a variety of structures, beliefs, factors and norms. Understanding the culture we live in is vital if we’re to effectively connect Canadians with Jesus and His Story.  So what are some of the trends impacting Bible engagement in Canada?

Individualism and Relativism

Canada is a “Me” society. Autonomy is the measure of most things. The majority of Canadians are focused on their personal aspirations and absorbed by their pleasures. What’s “right” is largely determined by “my point of view” and “what works for you”. Personal preferences and opinions trump truth. No single viewpoint is considered superior to another.

Church Attendance

Church attendance continues to decline. Weekly church attendance in Canada has fallen dramatically since its heyday in the 1950’s (53% in 1957, 24% in 1990, 21% in 2005). Only one in three young adults who attended church as a child regularly attend church now. Church attendance and Bible engagement rise or fall together.

Trends impacting bible engagment - religious attendance graphic - rev1

Atheism

Atheism has become a significant option to religion. In the 1960’s it was frowned upon by society, but today 15% of young Canadians classify themselves as atheists. Atheists are organized and connected. When the article, “Bible Reading in Canada” was published on the jumpintotheword blog, the Society for Atheists and Agnostics, as well as other atheists, tweeted the article to their networks. In just 36 hours more than 5,500 atheists downloaded the article! Why? They were celebrating the news about the decline in Bible engagement!

Immigration

Nearly 21% of the Canadian population (6.8 million people) are foreign born. In some cities visible minorities are actually the majority. More than 50% of the population of Canada’s largest city, Toronto, were not born in Canada. Most newcomers to Canada come from Asia. The largest visible minority in Vancouver, with 28% of the population, are from Chinese descent.

Community Cohesion

Ethnicity, divergent interests and different worldviews are increasingly isolating Canadians from their neighbours. Individualism is fostering private life at the expense of the community. Canadians are not really expected to know one another. Technology supports this trend. We read about the “gathering” of communities via the Internet, yet in most cases these people never meet in person.

Affluence

Canada is ranked sixth in the world for the highest quality of life and ranked ninth for purchasing power per capita. Since 1990 there has been a rising income inequality in Canada. Thirty-four percent of Canadians saw their wealth increase last year by about 14% while 38% of Canadians saw their wealth decrease by an average of 23%.

Trends impacting bible engagment - income inequality grahpic - rev1Rise of the “Nones”

Many Canadians are leaving religion in favour of a more individualized spirituality. The fastest growing “religious” group in Canada are people who identify their religious affiliation as “none”. The percentage of Canadians who identified themselves as having no religious affiliation is 24% (2011). In 1971 just 4% of Canadians were religiously unaffiliated. The rise of the “nones” cuts across all demographic groups and is evident among all age groups in all regions of the country. [Note: While “Nones” say they’re not affiliated to a religion, they’re surprisingly religious. Most of them do not identify themselves as agnostic or atheistic, 40% believe in God, 20% of them attend religious services annually, and more than 10% pray weekly]

Other Religions

Since 1981 there has been a 7% increase in the number of Canadians who belong to other religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. Taken together, one in ten Canadians adhere to these religions. Before 1950 there were virtually no Muslims in Canada (less than 0.01%). In 2011 there were more than 1 million Muslims (3.2%).

Trends impacting bible engagment - population by religion graphic - rev2Mainline Protestant Decline

Reshuffling of dominant denominations has occurred over several decades. Mainline Protestants (Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United) are no longer in the spotlight. Eastern Orthodox Christianity is growing. Protestant Evangelicals and Catholics, though polarized religiously from society, occupy the religious centre stage.

Worldview

Canadians value peace, order, tolerance, good government, healthcare and social equity. In large part Canadians have a strong liberal tilt on ethical matters and define morality by what justifies their lifestyle. Increasingly, and usually without the guidance of organized religion, Canadian society is dramatically reinventing, refining, or undermining (depending on your point of view) morality.

Technology

While Canadians have a love hate relationship with technology, 86% say technology makes them more efficient in the workplace and 74% say technology improves their quality of life. Eighty-three percent of Canadian households have home access to the Internet (2012) – nearly double the worldwide average.

Religious Behaviour

There is a widening divergence of religious behaviour between Canadians born inside and outside the country. Canadian born persons who do not attend religious services increased by 15 percent between 1985 and 2004 whereas there was no decline in attendance at religious services among first generation immigrants. Attendance at religious services is higher among Canadians born outside the country than among those born inside the country.

Education

In the 1970’s, by an eight point gap, Canadians with higher levels of education were less likely to have a religious affiliation than Canadians with lower levels of education. In 2011 this had narrowed to a two point gap – 23% of college graduates had no religious affiliation verses 21% of those without a college degree.

Social Media

On a per capita basis Canada has the most social networking users in the world. Nearly 50% of Canadians use social media at least once a month. Facebook has cornered the market – signing up 93% of Canadian social media users. Social media is changing the way people interact, but the implications and impact of these changes are not yet known.

Have your say. What would you add to the above list?

 Sources:

Angus Reid

eMarketer

Canadian Bible Engagement Study

Canadian Internet Use Survey

Forum Research

Fotolia Research

Gallup Poll

Gini Coefficient

God and Society in North America

Haemorrhaging Faith Study

Human Development Index

Parliamentary Information and Research Service

Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Statistics Canada General Social Survey

Statistics Canada 2011 National Household Survey

World Bank 

© Scripture Union Canada 2014


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Inviting Non-Bible Readers to Read the Bible

How do we invite non-Bible readers to read the Bible? Here are six important things we need to think about and do:

Nurture trust. Some people are innately suspicious of the Bible but may consider reading it if they trust the person who shares the Story with them. Dan Kimball, in a discourse on speaking to emerging generations, says, “So our first big challenge . . . is to regain our voice by earning the trust of our hearers . . . teach the trustworthiness of Scripture” and not “by talking just one-way”.

Serve others. Jesus came among us as one who serves (cf. Luke 22:27). Coupled with the issue of trust is the problem of power and control. Christians should be servants of the world rather than its masters (cf. Luke 22:26). Actions speak louder than words. When Bible readers live the Story, non-Bible readers will be enticed to read the Story. In particular, Christian leaders should be seen to be compelled, not to build big churches or make names for themselves, but to look out for the poor, show compassion (cf. Isaiah 58:10) act justly, and walk humbly (cf. Micah 6:8).

Book

 

Cultivate interaction. Due to the electronic culture and the awareness that all communication is interactive, a two-way flow of information is encrypted into people’s brains. In what Leonard Sweet describes as “the Age of Participation” it is unlikely that non-Bible readers will read the Bible if we do not cultivate ways for them to interact with it. People need to be helped to connect with the Story in relationally interdependent frameworks where there is a participatory flow of imaginative reason and metaphor.

Communicate contextually. Our language has to be right. Non-Bible readers are unlikely to read the Bible if our syntax doesn’t fit with the culture. Communities of faith must share the Story in ways that address real issues in real time with appropriate symbols and prophetic metaphor delivered in a multisensory and user-friendly manner.

Build community. Reading, learning, and living out the Bible within the relational networks and presence of a Christian community is essential because people need the strength of friendships and the practices of a faith community to adequately overcome sin and lead transformed lives.

Use new media or technology. In addition to face to face interactive communities, screen to screen connexity is a vital component in cultivating Bible engagement. For effective Bible reading and reflection to occur, community has to be developed both in church gatherings and through the internet. Flexible use of time and space is required. We must harness media and technology to reach anyone, anywhere, anytime, and in every possible way.

Have your say. What would you add or subtract from the comments above?

© Scripture Union Canada 2014


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In Community

Among the highlights of my early adulthood were the times spent lying on the campus lawns at the Johannesburg College of Education while reading and discussing the Scriptures with fellow students. We had no program, no leaders guide, and no set time for our meetings. No one told us to do it. We simply had a desire to get together, open the Scriptures, read and debate. It was organic, compelling, and Spirit empowered. Along with, and spawned out of our Bible reading and discussion, we provoked and encouraged one another to love and good deeds. Our campus lawn meetings usually lasted for a few hours. Generally we’d read a whole book in one sitting (we chose the shorter ones). To this day I still remember our lively deliberations as we reflected on the prophecy of Hosea.

The Bible reading and discussions on the campus lawns resulted in significant outcomes. It deeply informed our faith development, and for many, clarified God’s calling on our lives. Several members of the group have served, or are serving, as full-time vocational missionaries, pastors, evangelists or teachers in Singapore, Egypt, South Africa, USA and Canada.

One of the characteristics of the church should be community. Yet individualism is often deeply entrenched in the church. Bible reading and reflection are a case in point. A strong person centred approach is the hallmark, particularly of Evangelicals. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with personal Bible reading and reflection – far from it. But it is to say that the fullness of Bible engagement comes into being when we read the Bible in community. This shouldn’t surprise us. God is shaping me as a person; but more importantly He is calling, gathering and forming us as a people. We’re in Christ together. That’s why life with God, by definition, is life shared with God’s people.

So what does this mean in practice? How do we do Bible engagement in community? Here are three suggestions:

  • Read, discuss and live out the Bible at the dinner table. Families should crack open the Bible together. The starting place for reading the Bible in community should be the home. God placed us in families. One of my highlights most every evening is reading and chatting about God’s Word with my wife, mother-in-law and children.
  • Read the Bible in a Bible reading small group. Now there’s a unique concept! Many church small groups are program centered or needs oriented but rarely Bible-centric. Imagine a small group where the primary focus is reading and listening to the Scriptures. Why not give it a try – it changed my life!
  • Read the Bible publicly. The norm for most Christians, historically and biblically speaking, is listening to God’s Word. Some local churches have strayed from these roots. When we gather to worship, the Bible should be read “not as information, not just as instruction, but as a summons to assemble together” Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams.

We’ll leave the final word to Richard J. Foster: “Wherever we are located within that all-inclusive community, we have the great privilege of seeing the Scripture through the eyes of the whole community . . . How boring life would be if we listened only to our own insights! How narrow our vision would be if we limited it only to our own understanding! How sad it would be if we missed out on what God has for all of us by failing to listen to how God speaks at various times and in various ways through parts of the whole.”

© Scripture Union Canada 2013


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Pensees and Questions

What will the shape of Bible engagement be in the years to come? Here are some pensees and questions for consideration:

  • Are there imaginative new ways to fuse the dramatic and creative arts with the Word? How can artists who respect the power of truth be encouraged to give creative expression and visual beauty to the Word?
  • We have migrated from Gutenberg to Google. How do we continue to facilitate connections with the Bible so that engagement becomes more than words and images on a screen?
  • Should the Bible be liberated from the constraints of individualism? What new formats might better facilitate communal Bible reading, exploration and reflection?
  • What types of formats, presentation styles or delivery systems of the Scriptures are best suited to communal hermeneutics?
  • How can Bible engagement tied to screen to screen connexity be fused with face to face community?
  • What can or should be done to invite non-Bible readers, both as individuals and in community, to engage with the Bible?
  • How can the profile of the Bible be raised both inside and outside the church?
  • Is there a way to develop online contextualised illustrated display Bibles as public exhibits of how we value the Scriptures?
  • Should we be seeking progressive ways to promote the primacy of the Scriptures? What are the descriptors for this generation that best communicate a high view of the Scriptures?
  • How might hypertext be better used to invite engagement with the Bible? How can we leverge the internet so that more people engage the Bible in ways that result in meaningful encounters with Christ and life transformations?
  • What are the best ways, in today’s context, to invite children and youth to hook up and interact with the Bible so that they ultimately choose to hold a biblical world view?
  • Concerning the Western tendency to compartmentalize and dichotomize: How can we better develop resources to help people engage the Bible with both their heads and their hearts?
  • How can the Bible be shared in real time with suitable symbols and prophetic metaphor?
  • What improvements need to be made with delivery systems so that the Bible is accessed in more multisensory, interactional and user-friendly formats?
  • Would it be helpful to publish a Bible that shows by its formatting what literary genre is primarily being used?
  • How do we teach/educate people to read the Scriptures in context? Is there a way to wean people from manipulating the Bible for selfish or skewed agendas?
  • What are the ways to improve reaching anyone, anywhere, anytime with the Bible?
  • How can we do the above so that favourable conditions are created for divine-human encounters?

What questions or pensees do you have about the shape of Bible engagement in the future?

© Scripture Union Canada 2013