Study: Over half of churchgoers find Bible ‘challenging’ when reading on their own

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Over half of Protestant churchgoers have difficulty understanding Scripture when they read it on their own, highlighting the need for communal Bible study, a new report revealed. 

A new poll from LifeWay Research, in partnership with Explore the Bible, found that 57% of Protestant churchgoers say the Bible is “challenging” when read alone.

However, nine in 10 churchgoers agree they can usually understand how a passage of Scripture is relevant to them, and four in five express confidence in their ability to help others with doubts about the truthfulness of Scripture.

“Churchgoers are ready to defend the Bible as true and as a faithful moral standard,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “But most admit they stumble on understanding the specific meaning as they read.”

The survey of 1,002 American Protestant churchgoers conducted Sept. 20-27, 2019, also highlighted churchgoers’ attitudes toward Bible study. The poll found that 93% say they enjoy exploring a passage of Scripture to understand its meaning.

“Reading and studying as an individual is important, but we need others to help us think through what we discover,” said Dwayne McCrary of Explore the Bible. “Studying together also allows us to gain insights from others that move us forward in our study as well.”

Notably, the study also found that about four in five churchgoers say the Bible can have multiple meanings for different readers, and 30% say they accept some truths of the Bible but don’t accept all of them.

“For a religion claiming a basis in God’s Word, it’s surprising to see this many practicing Christians giving their own word priority in their beliefs,” said McConnell. “In a world filled with constant changes, it’s hard for some to accept the biblical claim of an unchanging source of truth.”

A separate report from the Barna Group, a social research firm focused on religion and public life, found that U.S. adults who say they read the Bible daily dropped from 14% to 9% between early 2019 and 2020 amid the coronavirus outbreak. 

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, American Bible Society 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.”

While the importance of community among Christians is well-documented, 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.

Ed Young, pastor of Fellowship Church located in the Dallas area, told The Christian Post that while the issue of reopening is “complex,” it’s important to weigh the hype of the pandemic against the spiritual costs.

“Look at our culture. There is so much going on right now spiritually, especially among young people facing depression, anxiety, and attempting suicide,” he said. “I have counted the cost of not opening our church versus opening, and I believe that risk and faith go hand in hand. I believe it’s critical to reopen churches.”

Young, whose church reopened immediately after Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s stay-at-home order expired, stressed the importance of “using common sense and following CDC guidelines” when it comes to reopening. 

“Options are important,” he clarified. “I am very much a proponent of having different doors of the church open, whether they be physical doors or digital doors.”

Still, he cited Hebrews 10:25 (“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near”) to encourage congregations to meet physically. 

“Something supernatural happens when we gather physically in a house of worship,” Young said. “I believe the risk of not coming together is greater than the risk of meeting."

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