Americans’ Bible engagement dramatically declining amid COVID-19: survey

Unsplash/Priscilla Du Preez

The coronavirus pandemic has affected Americans’ Bible engagement, with the number of U.S. adults who read Scripture declining drastically amid the outbreak, a recent study found. 

According to the State of the Bible 2020 report released by the Barna Group and the American Bible Society, U.S. adults who say they read the Bible daily dropped from 14% to 9% between early 2019 and 2020. 

The study, which looked at 2,010 responses from January and 3,020 responses from June, found that the proportion of Americans who read the Bible daily also fell to fewer than one in 10 (9%), the lowest number on record during the 10 years of the State of the Bible research study.

Additionally, those considered “Scripture engaged” by ABS dropped from 28% to 22.7% between January and June, according to additional data collected by the organization in June, after months of quarantine, church closures, and limited relational activity due to COVID-19.

However, "churched respondents," or those who have attended a Christian church service within the past six months, were significantly more likely to be Scripture engaged.

“This study supports the idea that the church plays a significant role in benefiting people’s well-being and Scripture engagement,” said John Farquhar Plake, ABS director of ministry intelligence. “To increase Scripture engagement, we must increase relational connections with one another through the church. The pandemic — and now this survey — have shown that when relational church engagement goes up, so does Scripture engagement, but when it goes down, Scripture engagement drops with it.”

Two of every five Americans (38%) strongly or somewhat agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on their ability to worship and serve God. Interestingly, Americans who lost loved ones to the virus were more likely to increase their Bible use.

About half (49%) of Americans with a family member living in their household who died of coronavirus said they increased their use of the Bible; some 36% of those with a neighbor who died of the virus increased their Bible use, and 33% of those with a close personal friend who died increased their use.

Additionally, when asked if they believed the COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened their faith, nearly half (47%) of practicing Christians strongly agreed, while an additional 38% agreed somewhat. Those who were hospitalized with COVID-19 were 29% more likely than average to desire more Bible use, and those infected with the virus were 24% more likely to desire increased Bible use.

Based on the study, American Bible Society president and CEO, Robert Briggs, said it’s evident the American Church must focus on discipleship in the coming months. 

“Despite nearly every individual in the U.S. having access to the Bible, engagement has decreased,” he said. “That’s been a consistent trend over the past few years, and the trend has accelerated since January 2020 throughout the pandemic. The Church must transition from ‘survival’ mode back into ‘discipleship’ mode, and, yes, that’s going to take even more innovation.”

However, an earlier study from The American Enterprise Institute found that nearly two-thirds of American Christians are uncomfortable with returning to in-person worship services over coronavirus concerns.

“People are equivocating and uncertain about whether they feel comfortable attending,” said Daniel Cox, who oversaw the study, to The Associated Press and Religion News Service.

“We're seeing among laypeople a significant amount of discomfort in going back to formal in-person religious practices.”

Numerous studies have documented how the faith of American Christians has been impacted by the virus, which has led to the deaths of over 143,000 people in the United States as of Thursday, according to statistics from the Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

A study by the University of Chicago Divinity School and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that more than 60% of American believers of all faiths feel that the pandemic is a sign that God is telling humanity to change how it's living.

Additionally, a recent LifeWay Research study documented increased interest in the subject of the End Times during the coronavirus pandemic. According to the study, nine out of 10 surveyed pastors viewed the End Times prophecies of the Bible as being showcased in current events.

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