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Research: Factors that Help and Hinder Bible Reading

Updated: Jun 10




One of the first questions the Center for Bible Engagement (CBE) sought to answer was “Why do so many people own Bibles, but so few read them?” This question, addressed in our white paper (2006), marked the beginning of CBE’s deep investigation into Bible engagement and spiritual growth. Our initial findings on Bible reading habits, although aging, are consistent with national surveys and are still relevant today.


The Bible remains the bestselling book of all time. According to the Barna Group, nearly nine out of 10 Americans own a Bible, averaging 4.4 per household (Barna, 2013). Even though Americans are fond of the Bible, they aren’t actually reading it on a regular basis (Lifeway, 2017). In fact, 39% of American adults engage with the Bible only three or four times a year (Lifeway, 2023). 


So, what prevents people who own Bibles from reading them? The following provides a summary of CBE’s research on Bible reading habits and the factors that hinder and help Bible engagement.


About the Study

In the early 2000s, CBE conducted a 113-question survey with 8,665 respondents from across the United States. Nearly all of those surveyed (99.7%) said they were followers of Jesus Christ with 75% saying they had been followers for more than 10 years. When asked their religious preference, one out of three respondents indicated they were Baptist, and the most common response was “Other.” Those who chose this category typically indicated they were Bible-believing, non-denominational, and/or evangelical.


Factors that Hinder Bible Reading

Consistent with national surveys, we found Bible ownership almost universal among our survey sample. Nearly all respondents (99.9%) owned Bibles, with 4.5% owning one Bible and the majority (50.5%) owning three to five Bibles. Relatively few respondents (20.8%) read the Bible as a family growing up. 


The vast majority of respondents indicated that the Bible was relevant to their everyday lives (98.7%) and was their life authority (96.7%). However, only one-half read the Bible daily, with another 37% reading it more than once a week, but not daily. Only two out of five respondents had read the entire Bible. When asked what hindered their Bible reading, most participants indicated they were “too busy.”


We found disconnects between how people view the Bible (as a life authority) and how they read and study God’s Word. In free-form text responses, respondents gave 11,025 reasons for not reading the Bible (such as feeling overwhelmed, distracted, or tired). The following quotes illustrate this theme: 

 

My own lack of priorities and not scheduling a special time to do that. 

 

A crazy schedule. No good excuse! So basically not making good use of my time and making things that shouldn't be a priority over engaging the Bible. 

 

Heart issues can also keep someone from reading the Bible. While some may run to God and to the Scriptures, others run in the opposite direction when faced with discouragement or anger over unanswered prayers:  

 

If I am discouraged . . . or struggling with a situation then sometimes I just don’t want to go there. 

 

My own feelings of inadequacy. 

 

Past anger at Father. 

 

A lot of confusion right now about other people's "Christian behavior" and where God is when He promises His love and attention. 

 

A minority of believers said they found the Bible difficult to understand and didn’t know where to begin. Others cited a lack of accountability as a hindrance to engaging with Scripture. For some believers, connecting with an appropriate plan or study guide could provide the key to establishing a Bible-reading habit. 


Also noteworthy was who reported hindrances to Bible reading. For example, many respondents who mentioned a lack of accountability as a Bible engagement barrier had followed Christ for more than 10 years. Three-fifths of those who said they didn’t know where to start had been following Christ for at least 20 years. Everyone who mentioned they had difficulty understanding the Bible had been believers for at least three years, and half had followed Christ for more than 20 years. Clearly, Bible-reading challenges weren’t isolated to new believers. The following quotes illustrate responses related to these themes: 

 

Being alone in doing it. Other people engaged in "studying" the Bible is the key to keeping me an active Bible reader. 

 

Making time to get everything done . . . I think it would help to find someone to be accountable to besides myself. 

 

I think one of the main issues is that I don't always know the best way to go about reading the Bible and having it apply/affect my life. This along with time and energy . . . however none of these are good, just excuses. 

 

Difficulty interpreting the real meaning. 

 

Not having a translation or notes . . . without these the Old Testament is hard for me to understand. 


These responses are similar to those CBE collected in new research. In 2024, we surveyed over 800 Our Daily Bread Ministry (ODBM) constituents in Brazil to see how to support Bible engagement among believers and prompt spiritual growth (CBE, 2024). Believers there said they wanted to learn more about the Bible, but “heart” barriers, such as a lack of routine, forgetfulness, and prioritization issues prevented them from connecting regularly with God’s Word. 


Figure 1: Heart Barriers among Brazil Believers


Many believers need help developing core disciplines so that they can break down personal barriers. 

   

Factors that Help People Read the Bible

Support and guidance are critical in helping people engage with the Bible; however, they’re not the only variables involved. In our 2006 study, we found that frequent and consistent Bible reading is associated with the following factors: 

 

  • Baptizing later in life. For every year of age older when baptized, respondents were 2.5% times more likely to read the Bible daily. Those respondents that were baptized as an infant were less likely to read the Bible on a daily basis (46.9%) compared to sample members who were baptized later in life (49.4%).

  • Family Bible reading. If the family of the respondent read the Bible while growing up, the respondent was significantly more likely to read the Bible at least once a week and to read the Bible all the way through.

  • Attending Sunday School. There was a highly significant relationship between attending Sunday School and how often the respondent read the Bible. Those respondents who attended Sunday School were more likely to read the Bible daily.

  • Studying the Bible in a group. Participants in group Bible study were far more likely to read their Bible on a daily basis (56.1%), compared to those who did not participate (41.1%). 


  • Studying the Bible in a group and alone. Participants who liked both group and personal study read the Bible more often than those who preferred group study.    


  • Having an accountability partner. Having an accountability partner was associated with more days and more time spent reading the Bible.   

                       

  • Having a spiritual mentor. Respondents with a spiritual mentor read the Bible significantly more than their counterparts without a mentor.  

 

  • Owning more than one Bible. For each additional Bible owned, respondents were 35% more likely to read the Bible daily than not at all. 


  • Using a journal. Respondents who used a journal were significantly more likely to read the Bible at least four times a week, compared to those who did not use a journal. 

  

  • Following a reading plan. Following a Bible reading plan was significantly more common among people who read the Bible five to seven times a week than those who read less frequently. Seven out of ten respondents who used a Bible reading plan read the Bible daily, compared to only a little more than one-third of those who did not follow a plan.  

 

  • Using a Bible study guide. Those respondents who read the Bible more often were significantly more likely to use Bible study guides. 

 

  • Reading in the morning. Those that preferred to read the Bible in the morning were significantly more likely to read the Bible five to seven times per week, compared to people who preferred to read in the evening. 

 

  • Making Bible reading a high priority. Respondents who made reading the Bible a high priority in their life were significantly more likely to read the Bible seven times a week.  


  • Memorizing Bible verses. For each additional Bible verse respondents had memorized in the past year, the probability of reading the Bible daily compared to not at all increased by 69.7%. 


  • Developing a Bible reading plan. Respondents who felt that only a specific place was important for remaining consistent in Bible reading read less than those who believed a specific time, a specific plan, or all three (time, place, and plan) were important.  


Conclusions 

Unique among world religions, Christianity is about a relationship that God desires to have with each of us. For the relationship to grow and mature, it must include regular two-way communication where believers hear from God (through Scripture) and talk to Him (through prayer). Although people have a desire to read the Bible, many struggle to overcome personal barriers, such as a lack of time or understanding. With support and guidance, however, they can overcome these barriers to connect to God’s Word, hear His voice, and begin to grasp how wide and deep His love is for us all.


See related CBE research:


See related topics from Our Daily Bread Ministries:

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