The Bible Reading Habits of Youth
New research shows 70% of young Australians never read the Bible.
Youthworks College has recently joined up with a number of other youth ministry organisations across Australia* to fund new research into how young people engage with the Bible and what influences them to do so.
The first stage of the research** looked over existing research data to trawl it for information on the Bible reading habits of young people. Among many other observations, previous research has indicated the following details:
- 4% of 13-24 year olds read the Bible very frequently, 15-20% occasionally, and 70% never at all.
- Of those young people who attend church, more than half of them read the Bible only occasionally or never. 29% of those who see religious faith as important in daily life never read the Bible.
- It is very likely that young people who read the Bible have friends or parents who also read the Bible.
Three key barriers that keep young people from the Bible have been revealed:
- They have questions about the meaning of the text that remain unattended to and unanswered
- They would like more involvement and class or group discussion in religious education to express their own thoughts and hear other opinions
- Students respond more positively when the emphasis is on topics which affect their lives and contemporary society
Research on the consequences of reading the Bible noted that: "Bible reading is not a major factor in attitudes to world peace, care for the environment or national security. It is more closely related to the personal values and attitudes which have to do with the inner life and people’s relationships to others close to them". Similarly, it is interesting to note that young people do not see the issue of the environment as related to religious faith.
Researchers Philip Hughes and Claire Pickering suggest that "if religious faith becomes part of the human story about [how] to change the ways we live so that the human species (and many other species of animals and plants also) survive, then it may become very significant to people".
In the next stage of the research a number of focus group interviews will be conducted with young people across the country. One of the aims of this new research is to explore what young people are thinking the Bible is for – are they approaching it as a book of history, or a book of morals, a source of personal encouragement, a set of narratives to shape a worldview or the record of salvation history? The hope is to be able to look at what young people are expecting the Bible to deliver and correlate this with their attitude to and use of the Bible.
Please pray that the information that will be gathered will be helpful in developing ministry strategies and resources that will effectively engage Australian young people with the Bible.
We know of course that Bible reading won’t save you. The Pharisees were world-champion Bible readers. Yet their unwillingness to put their trust in Jesus meant that all of their study was of no benefit to them (John 5:39-40). We do know however that the Holy Spirit speaks in and through the Scriptures according to the promise of Jesus (John 16:13; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:210-21). Therefore we, and all people, not least Australian young people, would do well to pay close attention to them (2 Peter 1:19).
When the Kings and Queens of England are crowned, they are presented a copy of the Bible with the words, “Here is wisdom; this is the royal Law; these are the lively oracles of God”. Please pray that Australian young people would engage with this wisdom, hear the voice of God, and find life in Christ.
* Stage 1 of the research was initiated and funded by the Bible Society of South Australia. Research partners for stage 2 include Bible Society SA, Scripture Union, Salvation Army and the Lutheran Church. The research is being conducted by Philip Hughes and Claire Pickering of the Christian Research Association.
** Hughes, P. & Pickering, C. (2010). Bible Engagement among Young Australians: Patterns and Social Drivers. Unpublished research report.