There have been quite a few surveys in recent years looking to better understand the ways that American Christians do and don’t put their personal faith into practice. Every time I hear of a new survey, I never know if I’m going to be pleasantly surprised or just depressed by what it reveals about the American church. Well, a new survey this month provides some food for thought, and some good cause to hope that a lot of Americans do make the Bible a central part of their religious life.
The survey in question was undertaken by the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture and contributes a hefty batch of new data to fuel the ongoing discussion about Christianity in America. The Bible in American Life Report contains a lot of fascinating detail, particularly about how American Christians interact with the Bible.
The complete 44-page report is worth reading in full, but they’ve nicely summarized some of the most interesting findings. What jumps out at you from this list of findings (quoted from the survey report)?
- There is a 50/50 split among Americans who read any form of scripture in the past year and those who did not. Among those who did, women outnumber men, older people outnumber younger people, and Southerners exceed those from other regions of the country.
- Among those who read any form of scripture in the past year, 95% named the Bible as the scripture they read. All told, this means that 48% of Americans read the Bible at some point in the past year. Most of those people read at least monthly, and a substantial number—9% of all Americans—read the Bible daily.
- Despite the proliferation of Bible translations, the King James Version is the top choice—and by a wide margin—of Bible readers.
- The strongest correlation with Bible reading is race, with African Americans reading the Bible at considerably higher rates than others.
- Half of those who read the Bible in the past year also committed scripture to memory. About two-thirds of congregations in America hold events for children to memorize verses from the Bible.
- Among Bible readers, about half had a favorite book, verse, or story. Psalm 23, which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd…” was cited most often, followed by John 3:16.
- Bible readers consult scripture for personal prayer and devotion three times more than to learn about culture war issues such as abortion, homosexuality, war, or poverty.
- There are clear differences among Bible readers consulting scripture for specific reasons. Age, income, and education are key factors.
- Those reading the Bible frequently consult it on culture war issues more than two times the rate as those who read it less frequently.
- Less than half of those who read the Bible in the past year sought help in understanding it. Among those who did, clergy were their top source; the Internet was the least cited source.
- Among Bible readers, 31% read it on the Internet and 22% use e-devices.
- Bible reading differences among religious traditions followed predictably the historic divides between Protestants and Catholics, and between white conservative and white moderate/liberal Protestants. However, reading practices defy some stereotypes about certain groups.
(Be sure to read the complete report for the full context behind these highlights.)
I’m struck by the popularity of the King James Bible (it’s popular with Bible Gateway visitors, but not quite to the extent that this report found in broader American culture); and by the (pleasantly higher than I would’ve expected) percentage of Americans who regularly read and even memorize Scripture. That the Internet is the least popular source for finding help in understanding the Bible is a surprise, although it’s reassuring to hear that Christians are turning to trusted clergy with their Bible questions.
What else stands out to you, either from these highlights or from the rest of the report?