Did you hear?
Teenagers are reading books more than other generations.
So… why aren’t they reading the Bible?
For that matter, should they be?
(Maybe that’s a question we haven’t asked in a while.)
Contrast that with how 58% wish they read it more, even though 86% view it as sacred literature.
This probably doesn’t surprise you.
Still, sometimes it’s sobering to look at the actual numbers.
All of this is according to a 6-year study by Barna in partnership with the American Bible Society. They recognized several other trends, including:
- Students who dropped off in their reading said that the top reason was they were simply too busy with life’s responsibilities to regularly engage God through the Bible.
- Youth who increased their Bible reading in the past year said it was because they came to understand it as an important part of their faith journey.
So let’s address the “should they be reading the Bible” question.
When I was growing up, my dad shared with me that as a teenager he had a hunger for reading the Bible but was told by the clergy in his life that he shouldn’t pick it up. “This is a sacred book that only a priest can make sense out of,” it was explained to him. Decades later after I was born and had gone into ministry (which was a controversial topic for many years between he and I), my dad ironically chose to take more personal steps in his faith and really own what it means to follow Jesus. He whispered to me over lunch one day, “I want to read the Bible, but I’m embarrassed that I don’t know what to do with it.”
In contrast, today’s teenagers are growing up in a culture where access (if not permission) to everything seems to be “a given.” They can find a song in a minute on their phones that it would’ve taken years for a record collector to locate in previous eras. Maybe having similar access to the Bible or being around people who copy-and-paste the latest theological debates waters down a fire to prioritize it.
Does someone in the Google era of finding answers only when you need them really “need” to read the Bible?
I know my answer to the question, but the real issue may be your answer… or an answer from parents of those teens.
Less than half of students said that they saw their parents reading the Bible. This is worth noting because Barna noted that teens whose parents read the Bible regularly are more likely to read it themselves.
I’d also wonder how often youth workers or pastors read the Bible beyond message prep. Are we asking students to go somewhere we don’t regularly go ourselves?
One perspective on it worth noting is through Ed Stetzer who emphasizes that reading the Bible is more about discipleship than about “reading the Bible”:
We’re in a season where a lot of people are realizing that we aren’t making as many disciples out there as we would like. Our LifeWay Research studies show a lack of discipleship among many evangelical Christians, and so people often wonder, what’s the answer to that? Issues such as preaching, missional living, and belonging to a covenant community are all part of the solution. But I think there’s no question that an essential element is leading God’s people to consistently engage God’s Word through reading, studying, and memorizing it. Biblical illiteracy is prevalent, and personal commitment to God’s Word is the only real answer…
Evangelicals in our country are just not sure of who they are or where they’re going. I think they need to engage the Scriptures to find the answers. Perhaps what Evangelicals need most right now is a strategy for biblical literacy.
I don’t have all the answers, but there are a few things I’m regularly doing:
- I want to be on my own journey of time with God through the Bible. I’m just as afraid of accidentally becoming legalistic about this as I am of saying, “I won’t read the Bible because I’ll become legalistic.” I need to be brutally honest about how tempted I am both ways.
- I need to anchor my students to something that is engaging to them. This month we’re going to go through the “Back To School” LIVE Curriculum. A new school year brings lots of new opportunities, and so by making the most of these new opportunities I hope to help them see the value of choosing God’s ways so they then ask, “How do I actually do this?”
- I hope to put the right Bible in the hand of each student. There are some great options out there that might work for any kid, be it a full Jesus-Centered Bible, Pierced: The New Testament or the Simple Truth Bible.
Bottom line, I know we need a strategy. That’s the beginning of mine.
I’d love to hear yours, if not also your thoughts on this.
Thank you for loving students!