04 The Bible For Every Generation

The Bible For Every Generation


The Bible for Every Generation

As far back as the 1990s, Barna Group’s founder, George Barna, was thinking and talking about generational differences. In The Frog in the Kettle, published in 1990, he examined the generational views of Elders (born 1945 and before), Boomers (1946 to 1964) and the generation he called “Baby Busters” (1965 to 1983), today more commonly called Gen-X.

In the tradition of George Barna’s pioneering work, Barna researchers have continued to observe and document overarching differences between the four adult generations alive in the U.S. today. Part IV takes a closer look at Millennials ages 18 to 31, and at younger teens as well.

Overall, Millennials are less religious and more skeptical than older Americans—and their views on the Bible reflect these tendencies. Yet there is more that unites the four generations than divides them. Barna research confirms the central role this revered text has for most Americans. A majority in each generation believes the Bible is a sacred or holy book. Millions within each age group report reading the Scriptures in the last week.

Despite these similarities, the youngest generations are charting a new course related to the Bible. Here are some of the changes being forged by young adults:

  • Less sacred. While most people identify the Bible as sacred or holy, the drop-off among Millennials is striking.
  • A negative brand. Non-Christian Millennials hold ambivalent and sometimes extremely negative views about the Bible.
  • Lower engagement. The younger the person, the less likely he or she is to read the Bible.

Finally, practicing Christians in each age group are highly engaged with the Bible, and are more similar to each other in their views about the Scriptures than they are to their peers in the general population. Among practicing Christians, fidelity to the Bible remains strong.

Millennials and the Bible Two Extremes

From Generation to Generation

Against national trends, practicing Protestants of all ages hold the Bible in high regard and devote significant time to its study.

The average time spent reading is 20 minutes for teens and 30 minutes for adults, including Millennials. Together, practicing Protestants read the Bible more than 2 millions hours each year.

From Generation to Generation

What Younger Generations Believe

Young adults and teens, as a group, share a fairly “high” view of the Scriptures and tend to hold the Bible in high regard—not just as a historical document or set of useful teachings, but as a divinely inspired book. Two out of three Millennials (61%) and seven in 10 teens (70%) hold one of the three views of the Bible that fall within historic Christian orthodoxy, with a plurality in each group believing “the Bible is the inspired word of God and has no errors, although some verses are meant to be symbolic rather than literal” (34%).

However, roughly one in five teens and one in three Millennials believe the Bible is not divinely inspired. Eleven percent of Millennials and 8 percent of teens say “the Bible was not inspired by God but tells how the writers of the Bible understood the ways and principles of God,” and an additional one in four Millennials (23%) and one in seven teens (14%) take the “lowest” view: “The Bible is just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories and advice.”

These beliefs come into stark relief when seen through the lens of generation. Overall Millennials and teens continue, along with older Americans, to see the Bible as sacred—but they are less likely to do so than older generations. The contrast is most obvious between Millennials and Elders: Young adults are twice as likely as Elders to say the Bible is “just another book of teachings written by men” (23% vs. 11%) and half as likely to believe it is the actual word of God (16% vs. 31%). But Millennials’ younger counterparts, teens 13 to 17, are more similar in belief to their Gen-X parents—which makes sense, as teens living at home tend to be under greater parental influence than young adults out on their own.5

The Best Definition of the Bible


Skepticism about the Bible is more common among younger Americans than among Boomers and Elders. Yet once again there are bright, countercultural trends among practicing Christians, and remarkable consistency across age groups. The share of practicing Christians among teens (30%) and Millennials (19%) are a smaller proportion than among older generations (29% Gen-Xers, 36% Boomers, 45% Elders), but their beliefs about the Bible are quite similar to older practicing Christians’.

The Best Definition of the Bible Practicing Christians

In a 2014 nationwide study of Millennials, Barna asked participants to identify which statement comes closest to their personal beliefs about the Bible. A plurality of all Millennials (30%), including non-Christians, says it is a useful book of moral teachings. Practicing Christian Millennials are most likely to say it is “the inspired word of God” (22%), followed by a tie between “a useful book of moral teachings” (21%) and “the inerrant, infallible, living word of God” (21%). A startling 27 percent of non-Christian Millennials would go so far as to say they believe the Bible is “a dangerous book of religious dogma used for centuries to oppress people.” But one in five takes a slightly less antagonistic approach, dismissing the Bible as simply “an outdated book with no relevance for today” (19%).

Millennials' Descriptions of the Bible

The Bible as a Guide for Life

In the same survey, Millennials were asked where they learned or discovered absolute moral truth. Nearly four in 10 practicing Christian Millennials (39%) say the Bible is their main source of moral truth, followed by the church (16%) and their parents (14%). For non-Christians, parents serve as the main source of moral truth (28%), followed by their feelings (16%) and experiences (13%). Only 7 percent of non-Christians say the Bible serves as a main source of moral truth in their life.

Millennials' Sources of Moral Truth


In the general U.S. population, younger generations are less convinced than older adults about the Bible’s sufficiency as a guide to a life of meaning. About one-third of Millennials (32%) says the Bible contains everything one needs to know to live a meaningful life, compared to two out of three Elders (61%) and more than half of Boomers (55%). This is an enormous disparity and, unless there is a dramatic shift among Millennials, their perceptions point to what will eventually become the majority view.

Among practicing Christians, on the other hand, generational differences on this question are significantly slimmer. Practicing Christian Millennials, who say their faith is very important and attend church at least once a month, are much more like their older sisters and brothers in the faith than like their generational counterparts outside the Church. In every age group, practicing Christians are strongly convinced of the Bible’s sufficiency.

The Bible Contains Everything a Person Needs to Know to Live a Meaningful Life

Special Report

Teens & the Bible

Teens read the Bible less frequently than older adults—but some teens read more frequently than others. Six out of 10 African American teens (59%) are Bible readers (that is, they read the Bible at least three or four times a year), compared to half of Hispanic youth (51%) and only four in 10 white teens (42%). Three-quarters of black teens also say the Bible has a lot (44%) or some (30%) influence on their lives, compared to two-thirds of Hispanics (64%) and fewer than six in 10 whites (57%).

As one might expect, when it comes to the Bible’s influence, practicing Protestants (98%) and Catholics (97%) are far more likely than their peers who are non-practicing Christians (55%) or of another or no faith (26%) to say the Scriptures have at least some influence on their lives.

But that doesn’t mean they always feel good when they read it.

What They Feel

In the 2015 “State of the Bible: Teens” study commissioned by American Bible Society, Barna discovered significant differences between how teens and adults feel after reading the Bible. Researchers asked survey participants who had ever read or heard the Bible read aloud to identify the primary emotion they experienced the last time they engaged with the Scriptures. By and large, teens are less likely than both Millennials and U.S. adults overall to report positive emotions and more likely to report negative feelings. In fact, only one in six teens (18%) reports no unfavorable emotions, compared to more than half of all adults (54%). Instead, teens say they felt confused (28%), overwhelmed (19%) or bored (19%).

Teens and the Bible

Teens who practice Christianity report more favorable emotions than their peers after having read the Bible—but, in some cases, more unfavorable emotions, too. Practicing Protestants are more likely than average to report feeling encouraged or inspired (30% vs. 22% among all teens) and practicing Catholics are more likely to say they felt peaceful (42% vs. 28%). However, more Catholics (39%) than teens overall (28%) report feeling confused, and more Protestants say they felt overwhelmed after reading or hearing the Bible. These mixed emotions indicate an area of need and a window of opportunity for leaders who can help teenagers interpret the Scriptures and apply what they understand to their lives and relationships.

Barna also asked teens to identify the woman who has a book in the Bible named after her and they are nearly as likely as adults to choose the correct answer, Esther (52% vs. 57%), and more likely than Millennials (41%) to do so. Six in 10 teens (61%) are also able to identify Isaac as Abraham’s son, which is on par with U.S. adults (59%) and better than Millennials (54%). All in all, teens prove to be at least as Bible literate as many adults and often more literate than twentysomethings.

Biblical Literacy Among Teens

Teens’ comparative familiarity with the Scriptures is likely due to the fact that a higher proportion of them (26%) compared with Millennials (19%) are practicing Christians who continue to regularly attend church. If they follow in the footsteps of older Millennials, however, a significant number will drop out of church involvement, at least for a time, during their 20s. (Barna asked teens if they plan to attend a church after high school: 70 percent of practicing Protestants and 56 percent of practicing Catholics say it is “very likely.”)

But their current connections to a faith community represent a window of opportunity for deepening Bible engagement— and Part V explores some ideas for how to make the most of the opportunities.

How Younger Generations Engage

Millennials and teens read the Bible less frequently than older adults, but practicing Christian Millennials are again more similar to older Christians than they are to their age cohort more generally. Practicing Christian teens read the Bible less frequently than older practicing Christians, but more often than their age group in the general population: One-third reads at least once a week, compared to only one-quarter of all U.S. teens.

How Frequently People Read the Bible Practicing Christians vs All Americans


How Millennials Read the Bible

Bible reading among Millennials is primarily a solitary activity; the majority says they most often read the Bible on their own. This is even truer for practicing Christians, nearly two-thirds of whom say they most often read the Bible “by myself.” When they do read it with other people, it is generally at church: Half of practicing Christian Millennials say they are most likely to engage with the Bible by hearing it read aloud at church.

How Millennials Engage with the BibleHow Millennials Approach the Bible

Millennials engage with the Bible in a number of ways while they read—from praying regularly about what they’re reading, to reading along with a devotional, to making notes and underlining verses. Practicing Christian Millennials, in particular, make use of a number of reading methods and resources. Common practices include reading it as part of a one-year plan to read the entire Bible, reading it in conjunction with a liturgy or prayer and memorizing Scripture (and reading it with a commentary or Bible resource.

When they do sit down to read, how do Millennials approach the text? And what do they read most often? Practicing Christian Millennials say they are most likely to approach reading the Bible as they feel led by the Spirit (48%), followed by from front to back (41%) and in search of a specific verse or verses (40%). Other common approaches include reading one book at a time (39%), with a devotional (35%), chronologically (36%) and as part of a guided plan (such as a one-year plan, 33%).

Those who engage with the Bible less often—specifically, non-practicing Christian Millennials—are most likely, when they do read the Bible, to pick it up in search of a specific verse or verses (29%). They also read as they feel led by the Spirit (23%) or one book at a time (23%). They are less likely to read from front to back (20%), with a devotional (16%), chronologically (12%) or as part of a guided plan (16%).


Why Millennials Read (and Don’t Read) the Bible

For Millennials who do read the Bible, what motivates them to read? Most Bible readers (who read at least three to four times a year) in every generation say they read because doing so brings them closer to God. However, Millennials (21%) are more likely than both younger (6%) and older Bible readers (15%) to say their main motivation is they have a problem to solve or they need direction. This represents an important window of opportunity for ministry, as Randy Petersen explores in a special report, “When Life Stops Making Sense.”

Like most Americans, young adults and teens wish they read the Bible more often. More than half (56% of Millennials and 62% of teens) say so, compared to 62 percent of all adults. The desire appears to be most prevalent among practicing and non-practicing Christians, though even a significant number of non-Christians— whom one might assume have little motivation to pick up a Bible—desire to read it more often than they do.

While most Millennials desire to read the Bible more, they are more likely than older adults to say their Bible reading decreased over the past year. It’s unclear why this is the case among teens, but because Millennials are the adult generation most likely to drop out of church involvement, this also makes them more likely to push pause on spiritual disciplines like Bible reading. As we saw in Part II, about one in six adults who reports less frequent Bible reading (17%) attributes the decrease to their disconnection from a church community.

Desire to Read the Bible

Among Millennials who reported an increase in Bible reading in the 2014 study, the most common cause for the increase was an understanding that Bible reading is an important part of their faith journey (41%). Other significant contributors included seeing how the Bible changed someone they know for the better (31%), a significant life change (29%), downloading the Bible onto a smartphone or tablet (29%), going to a church where the Bible became more accessible (28%), having a conversation with a Christian friend (27%), following media conversations about religion and spirituality (26%), watching The Bible miniseries on television (24%), joining a group that uses the Bible (22%) and having someone they know ask them to read the Bible together (19%). The number who selected each of these as contributing factors to their increase in Bible engagement is striking: Even the lowest-rated reason—having a friend ask them to read the Bible together—was chosen by nearly one in five Millennials who upped their engagement.

Bible Use Increased Decreased or Stayed the Same

Reasons For Increased Bible Engagement

Among Millennials who reported a decrease in Bible engagement, the main culprit is simply lack of time. A plurality of all Millennials (39%) and a majority of non-practicing Christian Millennials (49%) say the main reason they haven’t read the Bible as much is because they got too busy with life’s responsibilities. This is less of a factor for non-Christians, who stopped reading simply because they stopped believing: Nearly half say the reason they decreased their Bible engagement is because they became atheist or agnostic (46%), while another 20 percent say they decided to leave church altogether.

Reasons For Decreased Bible Engagement

Another factor for non-practicing Christians is a negative life experience, such as losing a job, the death of a loved one, etc. Presumably for this group, the negative experience shifted their views or priorities. About 13 percent say so explicitly—that “a difficult experience in life caused me to doubt my faith.”

Aside from not having enough time to read the Bible (19% of all Millennials, 33% of practicing Christians, 22% of non-practicing Christians), what other frustrations do Millennials feel toward Bible reading? For non-practicing Christians, it is often a lack of desire: about one-fifth say they just don’t feel that excited about reading it (19%). They also find the language difficult to relate to (17%) and don’t always understand the background or history of the Bible (11%).

Frustrations with Bible Reading

For practicing Christians, they most often feel the latter two frustrations: They don’t understand the background or history of the Bible (13%) or they find the language difficult to relate to (13%). For non-Christians (aside from just not reading the Bible, 42%), their primary frustration is that they don’t feel excited about reading it (15%).

When they have trouble understanding the Bible, or come across a passage they don’t agree with, where do Millennials go for guidance?

Resources For Understanding the Bible

Practicing Christians are most likely to go to a pastor or church leader for help (45%). They also pray about it (44%) or do some research on the passage in commentaries or study guides (40%). A smaller number go online to read what other people think about those passages (25%).

Non-practicing Christians are most apt either to research the passage in commentaries or study guides (27%) or to pray about the verses (27%). About one-quarter (24%) goes online to see what others think and one-fifth asks a pastor or church leader. Non-practicing Christians are much more likely than practicing Christians to say they don’t feel like they have to believe every part of the Bible (22% vs. 8%), and very few say the troubling verses make them doubt God (8%).

Among non-Christians, the most common response to a problematic passage in the Bible is to ignore it and move on (34%).


Engagement Across Generations

A combination of beliefs and reading frequency leads us, of course, to Bible engagement. As we found in Part 1, Bible engagement in the general population contracts with each successively younger generation. In 2016, Millennials (11%) are half as likely as Elders (25%) to be Bible engaged and twice as likely to be Bible skeptics (26% vs. 13%). And because of their low reading frequency, teens are even less likely to be Bible engaged (7%).

Yet Bible engagement is strong across all age demographics of practicing Christians—with the exception of practicing Christian teens who, while surpassing their peers overall, are less likely to be Bible engaged compared to older practicing Christians, thanks to their lower reading frequency.

Bible Engagement in America 2016 Practicing Christians vs All US Adults and Teens

Q&A with Rev. Rob Hoskins

Rob Hoskins was born to missionary parents, which is where his passion to spread the truth in God’s word began. He has served with OneHope for more than 26 years, and has been president since 2004. Rob is an ordained general-appointed missionary of the Assemblies of God and currently serves as Chair of the Board of Trustees at Oral Roberts University.

Millennials & The Bible “Brand”

As Barna explored at length in Making Space for Millennials,6 the generation as a whole tends to be hyperaware of marketing messages, images and branding—which caused us to wonder, How do young adults view the “brand” of the Bible? In the 2014 national study of young adults commissioned by American Bible Society, researchers found significant differences, when it comes to the Bible’s brand, between practicing Christians, non-practicing Christians and non-Christians.


Word Associations

Presented with a list of words to describe the Bible, choices vary according to Millennials’ beliefs and practices. Practicing Christians’ top five choices reflect a belief in the Scriptures’ veracity and divine origins: fact (63%), testimony (53%), sacred (52%), historical (47%) and revelation (46%). Non-practicing Christian Millennials are more likely to choose words that treat the Bible more as an artifact, a witness to a religious tradition and its beliefs: historical (47%), symbolic (42%), sacred (38%), testimony (37%) and story (33%). And non-Christian Millennials prefer words that place the Bible within the realm of other religious books or cultural legends, such as story (50%), mythology (38%), symbolic (36%), historical (30%) and even fairy tale (30%).

Best Descriptions of the Bible

Brand Messages

When asked to choose what they believe are the top two or three main messages of the Bible, a plurality of Millennials point to “There is only one God” as the top contender (39%). Their second choice is the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (35%). And rounding out the top three is a narrative storyline, that “humans are sinful and require forgiveness and redemption” (32%). As on other questions, non-practicing Christians reflect the choices of the generation overall, though they slightly prefer the Golden Rule (42%) over the message of one God (38%). Non-Christian Millennials’ top three answers are the same as non-practicing Christians’, but in a different order of preference. They point to the Golden Rule as the Bible’s primary message (36%), followed by the narrative of redemption, “Humans are sinful and require forgiveness and redemption” (35%) and the statement “There is only one God” (32%).

Main Messages of the Bible

Such similarities between non-practicing Christians and non-Christians indicate that these are the primary messages “outsiders” hear about the Bible from culture or from Christians and the Church. It is encouraging that such positive themes—and, indeed, a gospel summary—continue to be absorbed by the broader culture.


Today’s Market

Beyond its sweeping themes, what does the Bible have to say about the pressing issues of our day? Most Millennials agree the Bible encourages some positive human behaviors—among them, forgiveness (78%), patience (76%) and generosity (75%)—and discourages some negative human activities—for example, war (49%), slavery (46%), prostitution (61%), gambling (59%) and pornography (56%).

There are a few issues, however, on which Christian and non-Christian readings of the Bible diverge. On the question of social justice, seven in 10 practicing Christians are convinced the Bible encourages it (69%), while non-Christians are less persuaded: Only 41 percent say the Bible encourages social justice; 17 percent say it discourages it; 18 percent think the Bible is silent on the topic; and one-quarter isn’t sure what the Bible has to say about social justice.

Similarly, Christian and non-Christian Millennials are not on the same page when it comes to what the Bible says about one of society’s most contested issues: same-sex relationships. Practicing Christians (1%) are less likely than non-Christians (5%) to say the Bible encourages same-sex relationships; more likely to say it discourages them (87% vs. 57% of non-Christians); and three times less likely to say the Bible is silent on the issue (12% vs. 38%).

Perceptions of Those Who Read The Bible in Public


The Bible in Public

In the 2014 study of Millennials and the 2015 study of teens, Barna asked what young people think when they see someone reading the Scriptures in public. Among the wider U.S. population, teens and young adults express mildly positive or neutral feelings, while practicing Christians report much more positive responses. As might be expected, a non-Christian’s reaction to someone reading the Bible in public is less enthusiastic than a practicing Christian’s. In fact, the primary feelings non-Christians experience are alienation and distance. Non-Christian Millennials say they assume the Bible reader is politically conservative (22%); that they don’t have anything in common with the person (21%); that the person is old fashioned (17%); or that he or she is trying to make a statement or be provocative (15%). Fewer than one in 12 indicate any kind of positive response, such as encouragement (7%) or joy (7%). And only 9 percent say they feel curious about what’s in the Bible when they see someone reading it—a finding that may disappoint Christians who hope reading in public could spark interest in the Bible.

It’s interesting to note, however, that about one in 10 practicing Christian Millennials expresses guilt or various kinds of alienation that are more in keeping with their generational cohort than with practicing Christian teens. These mixed emotions likely point to the social cost, explored in the Introduction, that young adults face in order to remain faithful.

One common way young adults engage with the Bible in a digital age is to post scripture passages on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Unsurprisingly, practicing Christians are the most likely to do so: A combined 81 percent have posted Bible verses online in the past year.

But what do others think when people post scripture passages? Similar to seeing people reading the Bible in public, the practice evokes primarily positive emotions among practicing Christians and ambivalent or negative emotions among non-Christians. The most common responses from Christians are to feel encouraged and inspired. Just over one-third finds it bold (in a good way). Non-practicing Christians generally have positive reactions to seeing scripture posted on social media, though they are more moderated than practicing Christian Millennials.

The most common response among non-Christians, however, is to say it bothers them if the verses are used naively or out of context (33%). Three in 10 find it irritating. Many assume the poster is judgmental or trying to evangelize. Of all the responses, non-Christians are least likely to feel inspired or encouraged when they see such posts. Such responses indicate that, like public Bible reading, the practice is primarily an encouragement to fellow insiders but may potentially turn off non-Christians.

Perceptions of Those Who Post Scripture on Social Media


The Future of the Brand

Overall, practicing Christian young adults maintain a high opinion of the Scriptures’ brand and message for today’s culture. Nonpracticing Christians are less positive, but hold mostly favorable views of the Bible.

Non-Christian Millennials, however, hold ambivalent or sometimes quite negative views of the Bible—and of those who read it. For many non-Christian Millennials, the Bible’s “brand” is negative. And the depth and range of their perceptions signal difficult challenges ahead for young adults who still believe in the Bible. As Bible skepticism increases in their generation, Christian Millennials will have to face these criticisms head on and wrestle with the implications for their own beliefs.

Thankfully, when it comes to the Scriptures—more than many other areas of their faith—Millennial Christians are starting off on comparatively solid ground.

The Good News

Many Christians and Christian leaders are concerned about the next generation of Christians—and for good reason. There is certainly a well-documented trend of Millennials leaving church or turning away from faith. However, Barna research on the Bible gives church leaders some very good news about the Good Book: Active young Christians are holding true to historically orthodox beliefs about the Bible. In many ways, their commitment to the Scriptures is a rebuke to stereotypes of younger Christians.

Practicing Christian Millennials are the countertrend among their generation. On each of the questions studied in this chapter—in every survey Barna has done on the Bible in the past six years—practicing Christian Millennials align more closely with practicing Christians of all ages than they do with their generational peers. They affirm traditional views of the Bible as the actual or inspired word of God. They look to the Bible as their primary source for moral truth. They see it as a meaningful guide for life.

Not only are their beliefs on the Bible more closely aligned with older generations, their engagement is as well. Millennials are even more likely than Gen-Xers to read the Bible every day. They are proud to read the Bible in public and often share passages of scripture on social media.

These practices aren’t always appreciated by others in their generation. Many Christians might hope that Bible-based films or sharing verses online would reach non-Christians, but the research suggests the opposite. Non-Christians tend to be more skeptical of Bible-based films and often feel turned off or alienated by seeing scripture shared via social media. On the other hand, in the rare cases when non-Christians increased their Bible reading in the past year, they often did so as a result of seeing how engagement with the Scriptures changed someone they knew. Such responses emphasize the importance of meaningful relationships and evidence of life transformation.

Practicing Christian Millennials are living against the cultural grain of their generation. Church leaders must recognize the difficulty of this posture and appreciate the pressure young adults experience as Millennials of faith. An important part of ministering to young Christians is equipping them to live their faith well within a skeptical culture—a topic we explore in depth in Part V.

Special Report

The Bible in a Post-Christian Context

In a multiphase research project commissioned to assess the state of Christianity and religious faith in Scotland, Barna discovered several interesting trends countering the overall move toward secularization. Scotland, like most European countries, is shifting away from its historically Christian heritage toward a post-Christian, non-religious culture. And what researchers discovered there offers insights to leaders concerned with how the U.S. Christian community can continue to flourish, and to advocate for the Bible, in a post-Christian context.

Transforming Scotland: The State of Christianity, Faith and the Church in Scotland (Barna, 2015) is a Barna report produced in partnership with Transforming Scotland and the Maclellan Foundation.

While about three in 10 U.S. adults are practicing Christians, only one in 10 Scots qualifies under Barna’s definition (says his or her faith as very important and has attended a worship service in the past month). Among younger generations, the proportions are even slimmer. And yet, Scottish adults under the age of 45 (23%) are twice as likely as older adults (12%) to say “faith has transformed my life,” and less likely to say faith “has not made much of a difference” (39% vs. 48%) or “has been helpful but has not greatly transformed me” (34% vs. 43%). Since it is comparatively rare for young Scots to have been raised in church, this data indicates that young adults who have a religious faith embrace it by choice rather than by inheritance or cultural default.

Interestingly, young Scots in the general population are more likely than older adults to hold an orthodox view of the Bible (that it’s the actual or inspired word of God; 36% vs. 29% among all adults), even though they are less familiar with the Scriptures. They also express greater interest in finding out what wisdom the Bible might offer for their lives.

Interest in Learning From the Bible

In addition to studying the opinions and perspectives of Scots, Barna assessed two groups of Scottish churches to identify best practices for thriving faith communities. “Baseline churches” represented the norm of church communities in Scotland, while “growing churches” demonstrated substantive, outside-the-norm growth. The goal was to identify what differences, if any, distinguished these two groups of churches by interviewing both church leaders and congregants.

Expository Approach to Teaching the Bible

Barna identified 10 characteristics of growing churches that are markedly different from baseline churches. Among these is a conscious, deliberate focus by church leaders on Bible-rich, expository preaching. Eight in 10 leaders of growing churches say it is “completely true” that their approach to teaching the Bible is expository (83%), compared to one in 12 baseline leaders (8%).

Along with a systematic approach to Bible teaching, growing church leaders (39%) are also more apt than baseline leaders (17%) to use stories and testimonies to make biblical teaching more relevant to their congregation’s lives. They also more consistently marry biblical principles to life application, according to both leaders (83%, compared to 57% baseline) and the people in their congregation (62% vs. 34% baseline). These teaching strategies seem to bear fruit: More than half of people in growing churches (55%) say “the Bible teaching I receive in my church is relevant to my life”; only one-quarter of baseline churchgoers says so (27%).

Teaching that is relevant and rich in biblical content also appears to foster positive outcomes in people’s lives. Those in growing churches (59%) are more apt than baseline members (36%) to report that “attending church has helped me understand the Bible better.” Twice as many growing church leaders (70%) as baseline leaders (33%) say “discipleship, Bible teaching and worship at our church help attenders to develop a biblical worldview.”

In what areas of their lives do congregations feel the greatest impact of their church’s Bible teaching? Most notably, two-thirds of people in growing churches say their church’s Bible teaching and engagement has helped them grow closer to God (65%), compared with fewer than half of baseline churchgoers (45%). They are also somewhat more likely to say Bible teaching has helped them be more confident about sharing their faith (34% vs. 26%).

The apparent impact of expository Bible teaching on the growth of faith communities points to the importance of a solid biblical foundation for churches in a post-Christian context. And young Scots’ interest in the Bible may signal a growing hunger for the gospel among younger generations who have had less exposure to the Church. In an ironic twist, an overall move toward a post-Christian, secularized culture may create greater interest in Christianity and offer Christians more opportunities to share their faith with a curious, receptive audience.

Previous Section

The Bible Among Key Demographics

Read Section
Next Section

Deepening Bible Engagement

Read Section