The switch to online services during the pandemic may have affected how much people delve into God’s Word as new research by the American Bible Society has revealed a drop in Scripture engagement.
The organization’s 10th annual State of the Bible survey reveals that engagement with Scripture has declined since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Last year, a third of US adults (35%) said they never use the Bible outside of church service or mass, a figure that remained unchanged in January of this year. But by June, a few months after the pandemic started to grip the US, that proportion had fallen to 31%.
The number of Americans saying they use the Bible daily also fell from 14% last year to below one in ten (9%) today – the lowest figure on record since the first State of the Bible survey 10 years ago.
Researchers also found a direct link between engagement and people taking part in relational church activities like mentorship programmes and small group Bible studies.
Those who did not participate in any relational activities with their church averaged 66 out of 100 on ABS’ ‘Scripture Engagement Scale’, with participation in one such activity increasing average Scripture engagement to 89 points, and participation in two or more discipleship activities scoring at over 94 on average.
Over a third of Americans (38%) agreed that Covid-19 had negatively impacted on their ability to worship and serve God. But nearly half (47%) of practising Christians said the pandemic had strengthened their faith.
The study further found an increased engagement in Scripture among those who had been infected with coronavirus, who were 24% more likely than others to desire reading the Bible more. This rose to 29% among those who were actually hospitalized with the virus.
Around half (49%) of respondents who had lost a family member to coronavirus said they had read the Bible more, compared to 33% of those who had lost a close personal friend.
The American Bible Society said the overall decline in Scriptural engagement was possibly down to church closures because of Covid-19 restrictions.
American Bible Society president and CEO, Robert Briggs, said the findings suggested that churches need to be even more innovative now.
“Faith communities have demonstrated incredible resilience, innovation and empathy through the pandemic. But this survey reveals that a big opportunity still remains for Christian organizations to make an impact on Scripture engagement,” he said.
“Despite nearly every individual in the U.S. having access to the Bible, engagement has decreased. 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.”