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The Barna Group conducted research commissioned by the American Bible Society that uncovers surprising facts about the role the Bible plays in the lives of teens and the attitude they take toward God’s Word.
According to the 2016 Teen State of the Bible research, a majority of teenagers in the United still have a reverence for the Bible, but their views about what it actually means to them has evidently been influenced by many of today’s secular influences that they have been subjected to via the public schools, the media and the entertainment industry.
The following are the top 10 discoveries researchers divulged from the data they collected in May from more than 1,000 participants between the ages of 13 and 17.
View of those reading Scripture in public
Barna found that when it comes to perceptions of how reading the Bible in public is taken, most teens see it as a positive thing.
“When they encounter others reading the Bible, teens most commonly say they are happy to see other Christians around (37 percent), they are grateful to see that sacred books are still important to people (36 percent), and they feel encouraged (33 percent),” Barna research divulged. “At the other end of the spectrum, one in 10 teens (10 percent) say it makes them think the person is old-fashioned.”
Frequency of Bible reading
Even though most youth pastors would like to see higher numbers, a good majority of American teens today own a Bible and read it on a regular basis.
“A solid majority — seven out of 10 teenagers (69 percent) — personally own a Bible,” Barna reports. “Forty-four percent of teens read the Bible at least three or four times a year, and one in four (25 percent) say they read the Bible at least once a week; this includes 3 percent who report daily Bible reading, 11 percent who report reading Scripture several times per week and 11 percent who read it once a week.”
The percentage of American adolescents who read the Bible less frequently is slightly lower.
“One in 10 (9 percent) read the Bible once a month, and an additional 1 in 10 (10 percent) report reading the Bible three or four times a year,” the study found. “Just under two in five in 10 teens (37 percent) say they never read the Bible. Not surprisingly, teens from non-Christian faith groups and those who say they are atheist or agnostic are most likely to say they never read the Bible (67 percent).”
Time spent in God’s Word
Many leaders of Christian youth groups would be pleased to find that a majority of teens average reading the Bible at least 15 minutes every time they sit down with the book.
“Three in 10 teens (31 percent) spend less than 15 minutes reading the Bible, 36 percent spend 15 to 29 minutes, another one in five (22 percent) spend 30 to 44 minutes, and one in 10 (10 percent) spend 45 minutes or more reading the Bible in one sitting,” the numbers show.
Main motivations for reading the Bible
Barna discovered that a key motivator for Bible reading is growing closer to God.
“When presented with a list of five possible reasons for reading the Bible, half of Bible readers (54 percent) say they read Scripture because it brings them closer to God,” those conducting the study informed. “Other reasons include obligation or knowing you are supposed to (12 percent), the need for comfort (8 percent), having a problem or needing direction (6 percent), and reading for school (10 percent). One in 10 (11 percent) say they read for some other reason.”
Preferred Bible format surprising
Even though there is an increasing percentage of teens who read the Bible on an electronic device in this digital age, most still choose to spend time in God’s Word the old-fashioned way with a hard copy of the holy book — with most acquainting themselves with Scripture through the spoken Word at church.
“Among those considered Bible readers (read the Bible at least 3-4 times a year), the most common interactions with the Bible include hearing it read in a worship service or Mass (87 percent), reading on their own from a print version of the Bible (70 percent), or attending a small group Bible study (50 percent),” the study revealed. “When it comes to interaction with digital formats of the Bible, 46 percent of teens have used their cell phone or smartphone to search for Bible verses or Bible content, and about one-third say they have downloaded or used a Bible app on a smartphone (33 percent) or used the Internet to read Bible content (35 percent).”
The numbers might not be as high as interaction with paper versions of the Bible, but electronic alternatives are slowly but surely catching up.
“With the explosive growth of digital technology and mobile devices, usage of all of these digital formats has increased since 2015, with the most drastic being an increase in 13 percentage points in those that engaged with Scripture via their smartphone or cell phone (33 percent to 46 percent),” researchers noted. “One out of six teens (16 percent) report listening to an audio version of the Bible, and the same proportion (16 percent) listened to a podcast of Bible teaching.”
Bible compared to other books considered sacred or holy
Despite predominant multicultural teachings in the schools that all religions reveal truth and provide a way to some sort of god or spiritual enlightenment, an overwhelming majority of American teens still regard the Bible as the primary holy book.
“The vast majority of teens (86 percent) choose the Bible as the book that comes to mind when they think of sacred literature or holy books,” Barna explained. “However, this is a statistically significant drop in three percentage points from 89 percent in 2015. While Christian teens are more likely than average to mention the Bible, even the majority of teens (61 percent) who do not align themselves with the Christian faith mention the Bible more often than other sacred literature.”
The percentages of those believing other religious books to be sacred are significantly lower.
“About one in six teens consider the Koran (17 percent) and the Torah (16 percent) to be sacred literature or holy books, [with 11 percent believing this about the Book of Mormon],” the statistics indicate. “About one in eight teens (12 percent) say they do not consider any books sacred or holy — another statistically significant increase of four percentage points since 2015.”
Personal beliefs about the Bible
With most teen believing that the Bible has spiritual power or religious significance, it was found that a considerable percentage of them see the Word of God as a valuable resource for life.
“[I]t comes as no surprise that about half of teens (47 percent) strongly agree that the Bible is a source of hope,” the experts at Barna impressed. “Practicing Protestants (96 percent) and practicing Catholics (67 percent) are in stronger agreement with this sentiment than non-practicing Christians (44 percent) and teens from other faith and no faith groups (18 percent).”
Even though a declining percentage of American teens use the Bible to lead their daily lives, it is still by far the most tapped-into religious or spiritual resource for guidance.
“About a third of teens (35 percent) believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life,” researchers added. “This is a statistically significant drop in six percentage points since 2015. Teens were also asked whether they agree that the Bible, the Koran and the Book of Mormon are all different expressions of the same spiritual truths. Roughly one in 10 (11 percent) teens express strong agreement with this statement.”
God’s literal or inspired Word?
Teens participating in the survey were less likely to believe that the Bible is God’s literal Word than they were to regard the Bible as being inspired by God — with frequent uses of symbolism.
“A plurality (30 percent) says the Bible is the inspired word of God with no errors, though some verses are meant to be symbolic,” Barna divulged. “The next most-common belief is that the Bible is the actual Word of God and should be taken literally, word for word (20 percent).”
Lower percentages of teens share the view that man is least somewhat responsible for producing the content of the Bible.
“One in six (16 percent) say the Bible is the inspired word of God with some factual or historical errors,” the research group continued. “One in five (19 percent) say it is just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories and advice; this is a statistically significant increase in five percentage points since 2015. The final option — the Bible is not inspired and tells how writers understood the ways and principles of God — is preferred by 7 percent of teens. About one in 10 (9 percent) say none of the options represent their belief about the Bible.”
Should the Bible have a greater influence on society?
As expected, more teens who proclaim themselves to be Christians adhere to the belief that the Bible should serve as a greater guide for the behavior and mindset of Americans.
“A strong majority of practicing Protestants (86 percent) and a slight majority of practicing Catholics (54 percent) believe the Bible has too little influence on society,” those analyzing the date said. “Non-practicing Christians are more likely than average to say the Bible has just the right amount of influence (34 percent), while non-Christians, including atheists and agnostics, are more likely to say the Bible has too much influence (33 percent).”
The growing secular influence in society was enough to bring the compiled percentage of teens believing that the Bible should be more influential in America well below the 50-percent mark.
“Overall, two in five 13- to 17-year-olds (40 percent) believe the Bible has too little influence on American society today,” the results read. “One-quarter (25 percent) believe the Bible has just the right amount of influence on society, and 17 percent believe the Bible has too much influence (compared to just 13 percent in 2015).”
Will Bible reading make politics more ethical?
With the November presidential election just around the corner, teens were asked whether the Bible influences the decisions made by America’s top political leaders, and most said it is unlikely.
“Two-thirds of teens say they are following the current presidential campaign (15 percent very closely, 50 percent somewhat closely),” researchers pointed out. “Just one in three teens (33 percent) say the Bible influences their opinion of the candidates running for president. This may seem low, but teens were also asked whether they thought politics would be better if politicians read the Bible on a regular basis.”
However, many teens do not discount the power that the written Word can have on the decisions of political leaders.
“Overall, a much higher percentage — a little over half — of teens (53 percent) think politics would be positively impacted by increased Bible reading,” it was stressed. “However, it’s important to note that this is a statistically significant drop in nine percentage points since 2015 (62 percent).”
Interpreting the results
As the director of the teen study, Barna Group President Kavid Kinnaman confirmed the continuing importance and impact the Bible has on American youth and society.
“In an increasingly secular culture, the Bible remains a highly regarded and well-read text among the vast majority of American teens — most of whom believe it to be sacred,” Kinnaman asserted. “And the fact that so many still consider it a source of hope and guidance is reason for great optimism for church leaders and parents alike.”
He emphasized how Christian parents and leaders must tap into and utilize modern technology to secure youth in the Word of God today.
“The explosive growth of digital technology and mobile devices presents a unique opportunity for Bible engagement among the generation quickest to adopt new technology,” Kinnaman insisted. “Though a majority of teens still read the Bible in traditional hardcopy form, digital Bible formats are becoming increasingly popular. As youth pastors and leaders across the country continue to invest in the spiritual formation of teens through encouraging Bible reading and engagement, embracing these new technologies and encouraging their use will be central to that goal.”
The research guru reminds Christians across the country how crucial it is to get and keep America’s youth rooted in the Bible.
“The research also tells us that teens care deeply about the relevance of the Bible to the world in which they inhabit,” Kinnaman stressed. “In a tumultuous political season, many teens believe the Bible can provide moral guidance. The more youth pastors and leaders can make the Bible and its teachings relevant to challenges of today, the more they will simultaneously encourage engagement.”
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