An assessment of Americans' interest in Bible reading is revealing a surge among those in the "movable middle," with 10 million more exhibiting interest now from a year ago.
A report from Kentucky Today shows that the American Bible Society found 76 million Americans in that "middle" category, which rests between the 138 million who are "disengaged" from the Bible, and the 47 million who are "engaged."
"The Movable Middle is awash in curiosity with more than two thirds (68%) 'very' or 'extremely' curious and only a smidgen (3%) not curious at all," said ABS. "Granted, there's a difference between wondering and actively searching, but this is a start. Curiosity is a growth platform for Bible ministry in the U.S."
That 76 million figure was up from 66 million a year ago, although during the pandemic it surged to 95 million briefly.
The results are from the first chapter of the ABS' 2023 State of the Bible survey. Other chapters will be released periodically for the remainder of 2023.
The report said 47 million Americans, 18% of the adult population, were ranked as "Scripture Engaged." That was down slightly from 2022.
The report added, "While 138 million adults are ranked as Bible Disengaged - those who score lowest on the Bible engagement scale - the number is lower than the 145 million who were characterized as disengaged in 2022. And those who are disengaged see Scripture as increasingly central to their lives and impactful in their behavior."
The ABS continued, "That leads us to say that, not only are there 10 million fewer Bible Disengaged Americans than there were last year, they aren't as disengaged as they used to be. If the trend continues, we might see even more migration into the Movable Middle in 2024."
Those who don't read the Bible as much said they faced obstacles in having time, knowing where to start, not being excited, having difficulty with the language and finding stories confusing.
"But those who do read the Bible cite positive motivations including wanting to be closer to God (47 percent), gaining wisdom for making life decision (20 percent), for comfort (15 percent), learning God's nature (9 percent), learning how to treat others (4 percent), a sense of duty (3 percent) and to fulfill class or Bible study requirements (2 percent)," the report said.
According to Decision Magazine, John Farquhar Plake, an ABS spokesman, explained," Our research this year delivers an urgent message for those ministering in America. Although it's a relief that the number of Bible Users did not continue along its precipitous decline, there remains a pressing need to help spiritually engage an expanding Movable Middle--those individuals who are friendly to the Bible's message but not actively reading and applying Scripture's truths."
He continued, "Positively, Americans who are Scripture-engaged show significantly higher levels of hope than their neighbors. Although our society faces challenges on many fronts, the Bible provides hope and help to those who explore its truths."
The study itself explained, "This was clearly the case in New Testament times, when the book of 1 Peter was written to Christians facing opposition to their faith. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15). In spite of life's challenges, believers displayed a persevering hope that was noteworthy, prompting questions about where it came from. This research suggests it is still true today."