03 The Bible Among Key Demographics

The Bible Among Key Demographics


The Bible Among Key Demographics

As we’ve seen, older adults are more likely than Gen-Xers and Millennials to engage with the Scriptures, but differences in Bible beliefs and practices crop up between other population segments, too. When researchers group people together according to faith practice or Christian tradition, or by ethnic identification, variations emerge.

Part III parses the Barna-American Bible Society data along key demographic lines. A few things to notice:

  • Practicing Christians maintain strong beliefs and robust reading habits when it comes to the Bible.
  • Catholics and Hispanic Americans read the Bible less frequently than other groups, but engage with the Scriptures in other ways.
  • African Americans tend to be highly engaged with the Bible, maintaining “high” views of the Scriptures and reading them more often than white and Hispanic adults.

Practicing Christians and the Bible

Barna defines “practicing Christians” as self-identified Christians who say their faith is very important in their lives and who have attended a worship service within the past month. These folks make up about one-third of the total U.S. adult population.



Regardless of generation, practicing Christians tend to have both higher views of Scripture and more frequent Bible reading habits than the U.S. norm.

Practicing Christians and the Bible By Generation




Practicing Christians come from a variety of faith traditions. The largest of these are Catholic, mainline and non-mainline, a category that includes such denominations as Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God and other Pentecostal or Charismatic churches, and non-denominational congregations. Non-mainline attenders make up the largest share of practicing Christians.

By Faith Tradition


Ethnicity also seems to be a factor in Bible engagement: Black Americans are more likely than whites and Hispanics to be engaged, and less likely to be skeptics. (They are also more likely to be practicing Christians.)

By Ethnicity

Practicing Christians

A majority of Americans chooses “Christian” when asked to identify their religion. Most of these self-identified Christians, however, do not consider their faith a high priority or regularly attend church. Only about one-third of the total U.S. population is a “practicing Christian,” who say their faith is very important and attended at least one worship service within the past month.

When it comes to beliefs about the Bible, practicing Christians are quite different from adults who do not practice Christianity (including those who identify as Christian). They are twice as likely as other adults to choose one of the top two “high” views of the Bible (81% vs. 41%), and nine out of 10 say it is either the actual or the inspired word of God (91%).

The Best Definition of the Bible Practicing Christians vs All Other US Adults

Practicing Christians are also more likely than other Americans to say the Bible contains everything one needs to know in order to live a meaningful life (90% vs. 57% among adults who do not practice Christianity).

As one might expect, those who practice their Christian faith read the Bible more than other adults—much more, in fact. Seven in 10 report reading the Scriptures at least once a week—more than three times the percentage of other Americans (22%)— and three in 10 say they read every day. There are some ethnic, generational and denominational differences among practicing Christians, however, which are examined in later section.

How Frequently Americans Read the Bible Practicing Christians vs All Other US Adults

Combining Bible belief and reading habits, we find that practicing Christians are much more likely than those who do not practice the faith to be Bible engaged (37% vs. 9%) or Bible friendly (47% vs. 33%).

Bible Engagement in America Practicing Christians vs All Other US Adults

Within the practicing Christian community there are some differences between the generations, but overall this group stands in stark contrast to their age cohorts in the general population. In Part IV we take a closer look at generational differences among all U.S. teens and adults and among practicing Christians.


Practicing Catholics—who say their faith is very important in their life and have attended Mass within the past month—seem, at first glance, to engage less with the Bible than other practicing Christians. But it may be more accurate to say they engage differently.

When it comes to beliefs about the Bible, practicing Catholics (86%) are much more likely than the national average (68%) and non-practicing Catholics (68%) to hold an orthodox view that it is the actual or inspired word of God.

The Best Definition of the Bible Practicing Catholics

Barna defines “Bible readers” as people who report reading the Scriptures at least three to four times a year. Under this definition, two-thirds of practicing Catholics (64%) are Bible readers, compared to just over half of all U.S. adults (54%) and just one-third of non-practicing Catholics (32%). Nearly nine out of 10 practicing Christians overall—a group that includes both Catholics and Protestants—are Bible readers (86%), which indicates that more practicing Protestants than practicing Catholics read the Bible three or four times a year or more.

Practicing Catholics read the Bible less frequently than practicing Christians as a whole, but they hear the Bible read aloud about as often as all practicing Christians. Nine out of 10 practicing Catholics (91%) hear the Bible at least monthly, which is on par with all practicing Christians (94%) and nearly three times as often as non-practicing Catholics (35%).

In addition, two out of five practicing Catholics (39%) report reading the Scriptures within the past week in a liturgical text such as the Liturgy of the Hours or a Lectio Divina resource. This is a greater percentage than among all practicing Christians (31%), non-practicing Catholics (3%) and U.S. adults overall (18%).

Bible Readers Practicing Catholics

Q&A with Sir Mario Paredes

Mario J. Paredes, K.G.C.H.S., is a member of American Bible Society’s Board of Trustees and former Director of ABS Catholic Ministries. He is Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Board for Catholic Association of Latino Leaders (CALL) and serves as president of the North American-Chilean Chamber of Commerce of New York and vice president of Gabriela Mistral Foundation. He was created Knight Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in 2012.

Hispanic Americans*

Fifteen percent of Hispanic Americans qualify as Bible engaged, which is slightly below the national average of 18 percent. They are more likely than the U.S. norm, however, to be Bible friendly (46% vs. 38%). They are less engaged than average not because of belief—in fact, they are more likely to hold a “high” view of the Scriptures, as seen below—but because fewer Hispanics report reading the Bible every day (12% vs. 14% among all U.S. adults) or multiple times per week (4% vs. 5%).

In general, Hispanic Americans have a high opinion of the Bible: Seven in 10 (72%) say that it is the actual or inspired word of God, and more than half (59%) believe it is true in all it teaches. In fact, on both counts Hispanics actually have a “higher” view of the Scriptures than is true of non-Hispanic Americans. And the non-Christian Hispanic population maintains more respect toward the origins and authority of the Bible than is true among other non-Christians in the U.S.

How Frequently Americans Read the Bible Hispanics vs All US Adults


* Hispanic America: Faith, Values and Priorities (Barna, 2012) is a collaboration of Barna Group, American Bible Society, The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and OneHope.

The Best Definition of the Bible Hispanics vs All US Adults

Are Hispanic Americans really less Bible engaged than the overall U.S. population? In fact, by controlling for denominational differences, Hispanic Protestants (31%) are statistically on par with non-Hispanic Protestants (29%) when it comes to being Bible engaged. Among Catholics, whether they are Hispanic (8% engaged) or non-Hispanic (7%), Bible engagement tends to be lower. So the real differences lie not in ethnicity per se, but in religious affiliation. Hispanics (68%) are more likely than the general population (19%) to be Catholic, and Catholics overall are less likely to be Bible engaged.

The Bibles Influence on US Society Hispanics vs All US Adults

When it comes to the intersection of the Bible with culture, Hispanics in America are a bit more skeptical than the general population about the role of the Bible in U.S. society. They are less likely to say it has too little influence on culture (42% vs. 51% among all U.S. adults) and more than one-third say its level of influence is just right (35% vs. 28%).

However, when it comes to believing the sufficiency of the Bible’s contents as a guide for meaningful life, Hispanic Americans have a higher opinion than the general population. Seven in 10 agree the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life (71%), compared to about twothirds of all Americans (68%).

Most Hispanics don’t see the Bible merely as a book of valuable teachings (a view that is becoming more common among the general population); they see it as the very word of God. If anything, Hispanics’ high regard for the Scriptures suggests that they could be “tipped” toward Bible engagement more readily than non-Hispanics. The foundation of belief is there. What’s missing is a clear understanding of how and why the Bible can generate personal and community transformation.

Q&A with Rev. Bonnie Camarda

Reverend Bonnie Camarda has been Divisional Director of Partnerships for The Salvation Army of Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware since 1999. She is at the heart of The Salvation Army’s initiatives to form fruitful partnerships with area business leaders, government leaders, prospective donors, fellow social service organizations and individuals looking for spiritual guidance and hope. She has degrees in Business Administration and Administrative Science, as well as a Masters of Divinity. Rev. Camarda is highly involved in her community, and in Hispanic and other faith organizations.

African Americans

African Americans read the Bible more frequently and hold “higher” views of the Scriptures than whites or Hispanics.

Eight out of 10 black adults (82%) hold an orthodox view of the Bible (that it is the actual or inspired word of God), compared to seven in 10 Hispanics (72%) and two-thirds of whites (67%). Half of black practicing Christians (49%) believe the Bible is the actual word of God, compared to 38 percent of all practicing Christians and just one-quarter of all U.S. adults (24%).

In a similar vein, African Americans report reading the Bible more frequently than Hispanics or whites. More than half of all black adults (55%) say they read the Bible at least once a week, compared to one-third of Hispanics (35%) and whites (34%). Eight out of 10 black practicing Christians (79%) read the Bible once a week or more often, outstripping the larger practicing Christian segment (70%).

The Best Definition of the Bible Ethnicity and Faith PracticeHow Frequently Americans Read the Bible EthnicityBible Engagement in America Ethnicity


Since black adults read the Bible more often and hold “higher” than average beliefs about the Scriptures, it stands to reason that they tend to be more Bible engaged—and that is indeed the case. They are nearly twice as likely to be Bible engaged (29%) as Hispanics (15%) and whites (17%).

Yet, as Bishop Claude Alexander reveals in an interview with Barna on the following pages, some leaders within the historically Black Church have witnessed a diminishment of the Bible’s authority in recent years. The data does not yet reflect this phenomenon; for now, the Bible remains a powerful spiritual icon in the African American community.

Q&A with Bishop Claude Alexander

Bishop Claude Alexander has served as the senior pastor of The Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, for 26 years. A graduate of Morehouse College, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, he has exercised leadership in various civic and religious capacities. He serves on the boards of Charlotte Center City Partners, Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, Christianity Today, the Mission America Coalition and the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops. He is also the vice chairman of the GordonConwell Board of Trustees.

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