By Mark A. Taylor
Americans are less engaged with the Bible than ever, according to research released by the Barna Group last week. The trend is “toward biblical skepticism,” Barna President David Kinnaman reported.
The report shows, for example, that only a third of Americans agree strongly with the statement, “The Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches,” down from 48 percent in 2011. Only 45 percent agree with this statement: “The Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life,” down from 53 percent in 2011.
“With each passing year, the percent of Americans who believe that the Bible is ‘just another book written by men’ increases,” Kinnaman said. “So too do the perceptions that the Bible is actually harmful and that people who live by its principles are religious extremists.”
What can local churches, Christian leaders, and Christian ministries do to reverse this trend? For starters, let’s make sure we lift up the Bible in all the church’s activities and gatherings. We can communicate the relevance and truth of the Bible by how we use it, how well we explain it, and how much effort we give to studying it.
A few suggestions:
1. Keep the Bible central. While making sure that church programs, ministries, and decisions are based on biblical principles, regularly quote Scripture to demonstrate how. Leaders can show members and visitors that the church’s actions are based on biblical precept, not simply the initiative of some individual or group.
2. Evaluate your church’s Bible-teaching quotient. Take time to analyze:
• How much Scripture is read or quoted in worship services?
• How much time is given to Bible teaching in children’s classes, Vacation Bible School, and youth groups?
• How much Bible are people learning in small groups? And if small groups are created mainly to foster community instead of teach Bible, what other ministry of the church gives people biblical grounding?
• Do groups study the Bible or mainly books written about the Bible?
• How much preaching and teaching is scattershot topical instead of starting with Bible passages themselves?
• Has the church created or fostered personal discipleship settings where Christians challenge each other face-to-face with how to apply Bible principles to everyday challenges?
3. Start with leaders to build Bible knowledge. Ask:
• How much are church staff members studying the Bible? Is there regular challenge or opportunity for brushing up on Bible understanding among all staff members, not just the preachers and paid teachers?
• How is the local church deepening and developing the Bible knowledge of elders, small group leaders, and other volunteer Bible teachers?
It’s a remarkable thing to claim that God exists and that he has communicated his will and his story through manuscripts that have survived the ages. We have the opportunity—and responsibility—to show that the claim is true.
The best first step is to reconsider how much our people study, understand, remember, and apply the Bible.