Home Voices Biblical Literacy by the Numbers, Part 1: The Challenge

Biblical Literacy by the Numbers, Part 1: The Challenge

How Well Do American Christians Know Their Bibles? Hint: Not Well.

There is no excuse. It’s not as if we don’t have access. The average American—Christian or not—owns at least three Bibles. Even those who don’t have one in their home can download it free to their smartphone or “steal” a Gideon Bible from a hotel room. The Word of God is more available than ever. People have died to bring us what has led to modern translations of Scripture, yet we are dying from lack of knowledge.

Part of a Larger Problem

Bible illiteracy isn’t an isolated problem, though; it’s part of a larger pattern of low spiritual engagement that must be addressed. They are all related.

Simply put, we have a biblical literacy deficit in part because we have a spiritual maturity deficit. Plenty of research shows the correlation between spiritual maturity and reading the Bible. If you want spiritually mature Christians, get them reading the Bible. That’s a statistical fact, but more importantly, it’s a biblical truth.

Most Christians desire maturity. Our research shows 90 percent of churchgoers agree with the statement, “I desire to please and honor Jesus in all I do.” Almost 60 percent agree with, “Throughout the day I find myself thinking about biblical truths.” Most of us desire to please Jesus, but few of us bother to check with the Bible to find out what actually pleases Jesus.

Reading and studying the Bible are still the activities that have the most impact on growth in this area of spiritual maturity. As basic as that is, there are still numerous churchgoers who aren’t reading the Bible regularly. You simply won’t grow if you don’t know God and spend time in His Word.

So, yes, Bible illiteracy is a big problem. But Bible engagement is a key part of the solution.

Some Stats on Bible Reading to Consider

Americans read the Bible on occasion—churchgoers a little more. In the 2019 Lifeway Research study noted above, we learned the following about our Bible reading habits among church attendees. They indicated that they read their Bible as follows:

32% – Every day

27% – A few times a week

12% – Once a week

5% – At least once a month

12% – Rarely or never.

There are a couple of interesting takeaways from this study. Almost 60% of churchgoers open our Bibles at home during the week at least once. And for every person who is reading his/her Bible every day (32%), someone isn’t… at all or at best a few times monthly (28%).

The Ubiquity of the Bible

The English language Bible continues to be the most popular book in our world. Every year, about 20 million Bibles are sold in the United States. Over nine out of ten American homes (92%) have a Bible. Among those homes, the average Christian home here in the U.S. has nine Bibles. The Gideons alone have passed out more than 2 billion Bibles.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and leads the Stetzer ChurchLeaders podcast. Ed is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.