The Bible. We tweet it, believe it, preach it, argue about it. But the stats suggest we’re not reading it, or at least, reading it less often. Evangelical Alliance’s survey in 2011 found only 38 per cent of those 16-44 read their Bible every day compared to 69 per cent of those over 65. Perhaps yes, those over 65 will often be retired and may also have more time on their hands, but the results for those aged between 44 and 65 were much higher, suggesting there is a generational decline, which supports other studies both in the UK and across the western world.
It would be easy to assume we don’t hold the Bible in such great authority as previous generations, but the evidence doesn’t suggest this. Most show young millennial Christians still believe the Bible to be the word of God. So why aren’t we reading it?
Problem 1: The rise of technology
Don’t get me wrong, I love technology, but there are some potential drawbacks.
First, while the access we now have to a whole host of translations is all kinds of awesome, I wonder if we’ve become spoilt. We’ve got so much access that we’re at risk of de-valuing it, especially when that access is free. The less we value it, the less we are inclined to read it.
Furthermore, why bother trying to read difficult passages of the Bible, when you can listen to one of the world’s top preachers read and unpack it for you? With podcasts, blogs, articles and vlogs abounding about the Bible online, why on earth would you chose the hard route and unpack it yourself?
And then there’s our brains. The digital world is literally changing the way our brains work. Our brains are demanding higher levels of stimulation to keep our attention as our digital culture becomes more and more visual and ‘bite-size’. Hence, the often dense text of the Bible can be difficult for our decreasing attention spans to cope with. Additionally, studies have shown we read differently online to how we read offline. Online, we scan through a page, looking for the relevant information. Offline we use our deep reading skills, but scientists are increasingly finding us using our scanning skills offline, too. If we fail to use our deep reading skills reading the Bible online, it becomes fragmented, losing the flow of stories and meaning verses are read out of context.
Problem 2: Discipline and authority are out, busy is in
Spiritual disciplines are definitely not on trend, and while that is partly a reaction against becoming too ‘religious’, there’s a reason why we see Jesus practicing many of them – see how many references the gospels make to Jesus retreating to be alone in prayer.
Studies have also shown that millennials have a different view on authority compared to previous generations, often trusting their peers more than their parents. I suspect this echoes millennials views of leadership to some degree; as a generation we’re less inclined to listen to those who tell us “you should”, and some of those in leadership have picked up on this so are telling us what to do less and less.
Yet both of these cultural shifts are happening within another – the culture of ‘busyness’. The standard answer to: “How are you?” now seems to be: “Busy, thanks.” And we are busy, with long working hours, full social calendars, travel, fitness routines, life’s general admin, plus, of course, all the noisy distractions of the digital world. So in the chaos of the day, Bible reading falls to the bottom of the list.
Problem 3: Poor Bible reading habits
Think of your favourite book. Now imagine you decided you were only going to read a page a day, but not necessarily in order – you might actually read some of the pages towards the back before you read the ones at the front. Imagine yourself reading half a page from one chapter and half a page from another chapter. You’d soon get bored because you’re missing the overall sweep of the story, you’d lose the context of what was happening around it especially if you were reading it for the first time.
Yet this is exactly what we do with the Bible; we dip in and out, flit from book to book, cherry-pick verses, we don’t enjoy the story or read it in its context. And let’s remember the Bible is literature, it’s been crafted to evoke emotion, to stir our hearts, portray things in particular ways. We need to read the Bible in bigger chunks and in context.
None of these problems are unsolvable. I’m not trying to get you all to ditch your tech or berate yourselves for your lack of willpower. As well as this coming from a place of what I’ve observed in my job, this comes from a place of personal experience where Bible reading has been, and sometimes continues to be, a struggle. We must be aware though that Bible engagement is an increasing problem, and recognise what’s stopping us, because otherwise we’re in danger of our Bibles simply collecting dust on a shelf.
Want to find out more about millennials and faith? Read the latest research from the One People Commission here.