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The state of the Bible in 2017

Report finds older Americans, women most likely to be regular readers


Jill Herr starts each day by reading the Bible. It’s a habit she’s kept for several years with her husband before they go to work, and one she says keeps her grounded.

“Just to read about God’s love for people and the direction for individuals’ lives,” she said, “ and direction for my own life, too.”

The Castle Rock woman has been a regular churchgoer since she was 15 years old but said within the past two decades, reading the Bible has grown her faith even more.

The devotions, she said, are a critical part of her daily life.

At 61, Herr is more likely to remain devoted to regularly reading the Bible than those from other generations — specifically millennials and members of Generation X. And as a woman, she’s more likely to regularly read the Bible than her male peers.

That’s according to the 2017 State of the Bible report commissioned by the American Bible Society and conducted by California-based Barna Group. Researchers issued phone interviews with approximately 1,000 adult Americans and took online surveys from another 1,028 adults between Jan. 20 and Feb. 2.

They found that about half of respondents are “Bible users,” meaning they read or listen to the Bible on their own at least three or four times a year. That figure has remained constant since the annual survey began in 2011.

But they also found that nearly one-third of adults said they never read, listen to or pray with the Bible — a 5 percent increase from 2016. Among the sample group, results showed women, older Americans and people living in the South are most likely to be Bible users.

The data wasn’t surprising, said Reg Cox of the Lakewood Faith Coalition, an organization that creates partnerships between the faith-based community and local governments, schools, neighborhoods, nonprofits and businesses.

“The survey just seems to line up with some of the things that myself and Christian leaders across the metro (area) have experienced,” he said. “I think that there’s some shifts or decreases in biblical knowledge.”

A lower rate of Bible readership among young people is a trend seen across the metro area.

“That’s what we’ve experienced in our church. Millennials are not just going to automatically give any kind of credence to faith. They’re open to sort of all ideas,” Cox said.

In response, churches focus on providing service projects or missions for members to be involved in, Cox said, stating social justice issues are one thing that repeatedly draw people in, rather than simply reading them a new Bible story each Sunday morning.

Anne Jefferies, who does public affairs work for her Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Lakewood, also said there is a degree of lower readership among her church’s young membership, but many youths are still actively engaged with the Bible.

The church offers morning seminary classes before high school-aged youths leave for school, she said, and attendance remains strong.

“So we are reading the Bible and talking about the Bible on a daily basis with those youth, in addition to weekly activities,” she said. “We can’t force any of them to do it, so it is an option, but the majority of our youth participate.”

Jefferies and her family study the King James Version of the Bible along with the Book of Mormon as part of their LDS faith. They strive for daily devotionals, lasting 30 minutes to an hour, she said.

“My reading daily supports me in becoming a better person in my home as well as in my community,” she said.

Jefferies predicted the generation gap in Bible readership is a result of millennials’ busy lives, she said, traveling for work and raising children. Her theory was backed up by the State of the Bible report, which found more than 50 percent of the respondents who saw a decrease in their Bible readership last year named busy lives as the top reason.

But Jefferies also believes many millennial LDS members are raising their children to read the Bible daily, true to the church’s continual encouragement to do so, she said.

“They know that children follow what their parents do,” she said.

Herr suspected that those, regardless of age, who don’t read the Bible “don’t understand all of the life that it contains.”

Still, she isn’t worried about the future of the holy book.

“I believe there’s a revival to God and his word coming,” she said, “and that it will just be something that will sweep across all the generations.”


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