Bible Reading in America

Each year, Barna conducts an annual State of the Bible survey, in partnership with American Bible Society, to examine behaviors and beliefs about the Bible among U.S. adults. The results this year show that, despite shifting cultural trends, Americans still read the Bible.

Among the study’s findings were the following:

1. Half of Americans Are Bible Users

Overall, about half of Americans are “Bible users”—that is, they engage with the Bible on their own by using, listening to, watching, praying or using Bible text or content in any format (not including use at a church service) at least three to four times a year (48%). Bible use has remained relatively consistent since 2011.

2. Bible Use More Likely Among Boomers, City Dwellers and Southerners

City dwellers (53%) and small town or rural (49%) residents report higher use of the Bible than do adults who reside in the suburbs (42%). Above-average use can also be found among residents of the South (55%), particularly compared to the other regions: the Northeast (42%), the West (44%) and the Midwest (49%). Millennials (47%), Gen X (45%) and Elders (48%) are slightly less likely to use the Bible than Boomers (51%).

3. Two-Thirds of Americans Express Bible Curiosity

Two-thirds of Americans (66%) express at least some curiosity to know more about what the Bible says, including one in three (29%) who express a strong desire. A similar number of adults (63%) are interested in knowing more about who Jesus Christ is.

4. Half of Americans Ponder How the Bible Applies to Life

Just over half of adults who used the Bible in the past week (53%) say they give a lot of thought to how it might apply to their lives. Although the number of those who think deeply about scripture in this way is statistically on par with 2017, it has slipped since 2011 (61%). Those with higher levels of Bible engagement are predictably more likely to say they give a lot of thought to the Bible’s application.

I think these findings offer both encouragement and support for small publishers and indie authors. If you are writing and producing Christian books, then, most likely, your books are helping people understand and apply Biblical principles to their lives.

So, be encouraged. Half of all Americans still read the Bible (at least occasionally) and two-thirds are curious about the Bible. Half who read the Bible ponder how the Bible is applicable to their own lives.

What great information to encourage your marketing efforts. You can use this knowledge in your marketing messages to whet people’s appetite for more information. Use phrases in your marketing that raise people’s curiosity in an area where they already want more information. This will hook their attention. A few examples include:

  • Find out how John’s Gospel can change your life.
  • Are you familiar with the eleventh commandment?
  • Discover what Jesus said about pain and suffering.
  • Did you know that the Bible says…

Of course, you will tailor your own phrases to your subject matter.

It is encouraging to know that people in America are still hungry for God’s word and his message. This means that there is still a demand for Christian books that help people learn and grow and get to know God and his Word better.

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Photo courtesy of Ben White.

Are You Staying True to Your Calling?

I have often heard it said that the church is one of the most segregated institutions in the United States. I sometimes wonder if the Christian publishing industry is helping or hurting this issue.

I recently met an author who wrote a Christian novel set in Africa. When she tried to pitch the idea to editors and literary agents for a traditional Christian publishing contract, they told her they did not think they could sell a novel set in Africa—that setting was not a popular read.

So, feeling called of God to produce the novel, the author independently published her story. Her cover art contained a picture of an African-American man and woman. This author then began showing the published book to other Christian publishing industry experts to talk about marketing the book. She got the same message from almost every expert.

She was told to not expect to sell many copies of her book due to the cover art including African-American people. The experts advised that she take off the images of the people on the cover to help the book sell better.

As this author relayed this story to me, it made me think that, for the most part, the traditional Christian publishing industry is not concerned about racial integration in the body of Christ. Rather, publishing houses are a business. As a business, their top priority is profit. The one question they ask when considering a book is, “How many copies can we sell?” If they don’t think it will sell enough copies to meet their financial requirements, they pass it up.

Traditional publishing’s mission is not about challenging the status quo and daring people to confront difficult issues within the body of Christ. After all, some of the largest Christian publishing houses are now owned by secular publishing conglomerates. Rather, traditional publishing houses are businesses. As such, they focus on the bottom line.

I am thankful for Indie publishing. While indie authors and publishers need to be wise in their publishing and marketing efforts, how many copies a book will sell does not need to be the foremost priority. Rather, indie authors and publishers can be led by their mission and what God is calling them to do.

Interestingly, a new study by the American Bible Society showed that African-Americans are more engaged with the Bible than any other group. Among this racial group, 71 percent are friendly toward or engaged with the Bible compared to just 58 percent of all Americans. If Christians of non-African heritage will be turned away by this author’s book’s cover, she may still have a vibrant audience in among African-American Christians.

What about you. Have you gotten off track? Has your attitude become one that mainly focuses on the number of books you can sell rather than on staying true to your mission and the calling that God has placed in your heart?

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Photo courtesy of John-Mark Smith.

Desire: A Tool for Book Promotion

Desires. We all have them. We may desire to lose weight, exercise more, be better at time management, or read the Bible more.

Interestingly, a recent study by Barna revealed that reading the Bible more is a desire of many Americans. In fact, the study found that about six in 10 American adults (61%) of people surveyed reported that they desire to read the Bible more than they currently do.

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As a Christian author producing materials that seek to help people live in closer relationship with God, this study reveals that there is a need for what you offer. Of course, we all know that reading a “Christian” book does not equate with reading the Bible.

However, your Christian book can draw your readers to read the Bible. You can help your readers meet this desire. It’s a win-win situation. You can use readers’ desire to read the Bible more to draw them to your books, and then your books can encourage your readers to read the Bible more.

Marketing is about letting your audience know how you can meet a need in their life. If your audience desires to read the Bible more, let them know that your book contains Biblical truth and encouragement from God’s word. You can do this with marketing messages for your book that include phrases like:

  • Learn what the Bible has to say about…
  • 10 Things the Bible says about…
  • Grow in your faith through applying Biblical truth about…

Your book can then help your readers spend more time in God’s word. You can encourage your readers to do this in your book. Here are four ways:

  1. Incorporate scripture into the passages in your book.
  2. Provide scripture references at the end of your chapters for further reading on the topic you discuss.
  3. Provide an “Additional Reading” section in the back of your book listing Bible passages that relate to what your book discussed.
  4. Encourage your readers to sign up for your email newsletter and, in this resource, provide scripture passages on a regular basis for your fans to read.

Interestingly, the Barna study found that most people attribute their growing use of the Bible to a realization that Scriptures are an important part of their faith journey (67% of study participants). So, this means that anytime your book helps people understand that knowing what the Bible says is important in their faith journey, you are helping your readers to grow and act on their desire to read the Bible more.

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Photo courtesy of I’m Priscilla

Why Reading the Bible Matters

If you are an author or publisher producing Christian books, the Bible is important to you. After all, your books are meant to encourage people on their journey with God, and the ultimate guide for this journey is the Bible.

In fact, no other book has had a greater impact on history than the Bible. No book has sold more copies. The average American household owns four Bibles. However, they usually sit unread on the shelf.

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Studies show that in one generation the number of occasional Bible readers fell by 20 percent—the equivalent of about 700 people per day. In fact, fewer than 20% of Americans read the Bible outside of church. If this trend continues, by 2040 two-thirds of Americans will have no meaningful connection with the Bible.

In an effort to reverse this trend, the Institute for Bible Reading was launched last month on November 15. A team of executives from the Bible publishing industry came together to form the Institute for Bible Reading (IFBR), an organization focused on combating the silent crisis of Bible disengagement. The group is committed to changing the prevailing assumptions and practices around Bible reading, which they claim perpetuate a hyper-individualized and fragmented Bible-reading experience.

IFBR’s mission is to give people tools and frameworks that fundamentally change the way they read the Bible so it can achieve its mission and become the story that defines their lives. The group plans to launch a major campaign to introduce new Bible reading practices for the church soon.

I applaud the efforts of IFBR. The Bible is extremely important book. It is our greatest source of spiritual food. Regular consumption is required to be a healthy growing follower of Christ. As authors and publishers, we need to be regularly feasting on the Word of God in order to be able to feed and provide guidance to others.

If you care about Bible engagement, you should check out the Institute for Bible Reading. It may be a resource that you can offer the people who read your books and are in need of some resources to begin to read and understand God’s Word better.

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