Home Youth Leaders Articles for Youth Leaders The Definitive Research: Why Paper Bibles Are Best

The Definitive Research: Why Paper Bibles Are Best

Years ago, students stopped carrying their Bibles to church …

… and started carrying smartphones with Bibles loaded into them.

Some people argued with fervent emotion that this was a problem that needed to be solved.

Some people sought other creative ways to leverage that technology.

Me? I didn’t care. I stayed out of it.

At least, until I found substantive data that proves one side of the debate.

New research makes it clear: A physical Bible is a far superior tool for your students to use.

My friend Timbo over at Student Ministry Central unearthed this landmark study out of the University of Stavanger in Norway, and it was exactly the kind of research that I knew I had to share with you.


(Nerd alert. This section is technical. Feel free to skip to the results.)

Researches gathered a large group of 10th grade students and divided them into two groups. Each group had students of various reading levels and each group’s average reading level was equal.

Students in both groups were given identical texts to read—a fiction piece and a nonfiction piece. The only variable in play was that students in the first group read the text from an actual book, and students from the second group read from a PDF on a screen-reader (similar to a Kindle or iPad).

Afterward, all of the students were tested on their comprehension.


Students who were given the physical books performed significantly better on their evaluations than those who read the PDF. The disparity was equal across the fiction and nonfiction texts.

Hang on, that’s not even the best part:

Both groups were equally able to recall the texts they’d read; the difference was that students who read from the screen were much less likely to comprehend the meaning behind the words.

If you work with students, the takeaway here is clear:

Students will comprehend the meaning of Scripture better if they read it in an actual, physical Bible.

The remarkable thing about this revelation is that I’m not some anti-technology fuddy-duddy trying to hammer my own Neo-Luddite agenda down your throat.

I was fully agnostic toward the entire debate until I saw the real, actual facts.

Now, with this new information, our ministry will be making some subtle but meaningful changes as we move into the new year.

Students will spend more time touching Scripture.

I’m acknowledging the fact that I probably can’t make every single student bring her Bible every single week. That doesn’t mean we can’t put them in contact with a Bible every single week.

During our teaching time, students will feel the pages of their Bible as they seek a verse instead of merely reading it on a screen.

Same goes for our small groups. Bibles everywhere!

I’m going to be praying over a stack of yellow highlighters.

Every student will get a yellow holy highlighter*, and I’ll encourage them to use it at home as they spend time in Scripture. After all, you can’t really use a highlighter on an iPhone.

*”Holy Highlighter!” sounds like something Robin might say to Batman.

I’ll encourage parents to find and display their student’s Bible.

Many of my students already prefer to use their physical Bible, at least, if they can find it. I’m going to enlist the assistance of all of our parents to help find those missing Bibles and to place them somewhere conspicuous—like right in the middle of a pillow.

I will carry a Bible when I speak.

For the last six months, I’ve become an iPad preacher. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I do want to set a physical example for students.

I probably won’t do away with the iPad, but I will read Scripture from my Bible instead of from my touchscreen.

Now it’s your turn!

Does this data change the way that you’ll do youth ministry? I’d love to hear what might be different for you in 2014. Leave a comment and let me know what you’re thinking.

I’d also love for you to share this post with a few friends, but then I always love it when you do that.