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American Bible Society survey finds 'unprecedented drop' in Bible reading

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There has been an “unprecedented drop” in the number of Bible users in the United States since last year, according to a report released by the American Bible Society.

The 2022 State of the Bible report, released Wednesday, based its findings on responses collected from a survey of 2,598 U.S. adults conducted in January. The 12th annual report asked Americans a variety of questions about their Bible use and their thoughts on its role in society. 

A preface to the report also highlights changes in the percentage of Bible users in the U.S. over time. The American Bible Society defines Bible users as “those who use the Bible at least 3-4 times each year on their own, outside of a church setting.”

After reaching a high of 53% in 2014, the share of Bible users among the U.S. adult population consistently remained between 48% and 51%. Just last year, 50% of Americans were Bible users. However, in 2022, Bible users in the U.S. accounted for just 39% of the adult population, the lowest in more than a decade.

The State of the Bible report described the 11% decrease as an “unprecedented drop in the percentage of Bible users in the United States.” When applied to the U.S. population as a whole, the figure suggests that the number of Bible users in the U.S. dropped from 128 million in 2021 to 103 million in 2022.

The group labeled Bible users consisted of Americans who read the Bible outside of church as infrequently as three to four times a year to those who use the Bible daily. Ten percent of U.S. adults use the Bible daily, while 4% use it four to six times a week, 7% consult it two to three times a week, 5% read the Bible once a week, and 7% read it once a month.

More than half (60%) of Americans use the Bible less than three to four times a year. A plurality (40%) of those surveyed never read the Bible on their own, while 12% read it less than once a year and 8% look at it once or twice a year.

The State of the Bible report also demonstrates what the American Bible Society describes as a “major decrease in Scripture Engagement,” which is defined as “consistent interaction with the Bible that shapes people’s choices and transforms their relationships with God, self, and others.” The estimated number of Scripture-engaged Americans dropped from 64 million in 2021 to 49 million in 2022. At the same time, the estimated number of Bible disengaged Americans rose from 100 million last year to 145 million this year.

The survey also inquired about respondents’ Bible reading habits. The overwhelming majority (78%) of those surveyed indicated that their Bible reading “stayed the same” over the past year, as 13% reported an increase in Bible reading and the remaining 10% saw a decrease in their Bible reading.  

When asked “how do you think our country would be without the Bible,” specifically referring to a hypothetical scenario where “nobody read the Bible at all,” a plurality of respondents (45%) indicated that they thought the U.S. would be “worse off” without the Bible. This is a noticeable decrease from last year, when 54% of those surveyed believed that the U.S. would be “worse off” without the Bible.

Forty-one percent of respondents contended that the country would be “about the same” without the Bible, an increase from the 33% who said so in 2021. The share of Americans who think the U.S. would be “better off” without the Bible remained flat at 14% in both 2021 and 2022.

In 2022, the elderly were the group most likely to believe that the U.S. would be “worse off” without the Bible, with 64% of the oldest Americans agreeing with that statement. A majority of baby boomers (57%) and a plurality of those in generation X (46%) also predicted that the U.S. would be “worse off” without the Bible.

Millennials were the least likely group to see an absence of the Bible as making the U.S. “worse off.” Thirty-one percent of millennials subscribed to that belief. A slightly higher share of Generation Z (39%), the youngest group of American adults, told pollsters that an absence of the Bible would make the U.S. “worse off.”

Overall, nearly half of respondents (49%) agreed either “strongly” or “somewhat” that “Bible reading is an important component of a child’s character development,” while an additional 27% disagreed either “strongly” or “somewhat” with that analysis. At 47%, the oldest respondents constituted the largest share of respondents who “strongly agreed” that Bible reading played an important role in a child’s character development.

Thirty-three percent of baby boomers “strongly agreed” that Bible reading was important to a child’s character development, along with 28% of those in Generation X, 19% of millennials and 20% of those in Generation Z.

Forty-nine percent of adults also agreed with the statement proclaiming that “the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life.” Once again, elders were far more likely than their younger counterparts to “strongly agree” with that statement. The share of elders who “strongly agreed” with that statement was measured at 44%, followed by 34% of baby boomers, 31% of Gen Xers, 22% of Gen Zers and 19% of millennials.

Additional chapters of this year’s State of the Bible report are expected to be released throughout the year. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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