According to newly published research, one in five Millennials (18-35 year olds) in the UK read, listen to or engage with the Bible at least weekly. This is just one of the statistics that shatter a prevailing media narrative that young people are entirely disinterested in and disengaged from Christianity.

Digital Millennials and the Bible[1] was produced by Barna group for the Bible Society in England and Wales, who commented,

We expected to find widespread scepticism or even hostility towards Christianity and the Bible among those unconnected with the Church. Yet this study uncovered that attitudes are more likely to be neutral than negative among young people.


What do Millennials feel about Church and the Bible?

As the table below shows, the greatest proportion of 18-35 year olds say they feel fairly or very positive towards Christianity. In the end, only 15% of this age group would have negative feelings towards Christianity. Between these responses there is the challenge of indifference: 39% said they felt neither positive nor negative about Christianity.

According to the Transforming Scotland[2] research Scotland is an even more benign environment: it found almost half of Millennials had a favourable view of Christianity.


Source: Digital Millennials and the Bible, Barna Group, British and Foreign Bible Society, Dec 2018.

Similar responses were given when 18-35 year olds were asked what they felt about the Bible: 38% said fairly or very positive, 40% were neither positive nor negative, 16% fairly or very negative and 6% said don’t know.


Source: Digital Millennials and the Bible, Barna Group, British and Foreign Bible Society, Dec 2018.

Here then is the picture of our national context when it comes to Christianity: a large number of people are positive, a large number of people are neutral, and a small number are negative.

Reading the research, I was reminded of Jesus comment to his disciples, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40, NIV).


Millennials and the Bible: the importance of weddings, funerals and children under 5

But let’s return to that surprising statistic at the head of this article: one in five 18-35 year olds read, listened to, or engaged with the Bible at least weekly. The research gives further information on Bible readership amongst those who say they have no religion: an incredible 6% of 18-35 year olds in this category say they read, listened to, or engaged with the Bible at least weekly.

In any given year, nearly a third of 18-35 year olds with no religion will read, listen to or engage with the Bible. For the majority (61%), this will be when they attend a special event such as a wedding or a funeral. They are twice as likely to engage with the Bible at a special event as they are to read, listen to or engage with the Bible at home.

For those whose pastoral load involves lots of weddings and funerals be encouraged: these services are the primary means by which 18-35 year olds with no religion will encounter the Bible this year.

But there is another factor that impacts on the likelihood of 18-35 year olds encountering the Bible. Those who are parents of a child under five are three times as likely to be in church weekly and twice as likely to be reading the Bible weekly.

Church Attendance and Bible Engagement among 18-35 year olds



Source: Digital Millennials and the Bible, Barna Group, British and Foreign Bible Society, Dec 2018.

 


Christian Millennials and the Bible: Challenge and Opportunity

When it comes to the Bible, the picture inside the church is a challenging one: only 35% of practicing Christians said they listened to, read or engaged with the Bible at least weekly (that includes church services). Asked to describe their relationship with the Bible, practising Millennial Christians gave some worrying responses: “Don’t have one” (5%), “Coming to an end” (5%), “Minimal” (10%).

Two responses demonstrate opportunities for Bible engagement: “Interested- but don’t know where to start” (11%), “It’s Complicated” (11%).

For many young people in our churches, when it comes to the Bible, they don’t know where to begin, and when they do, they find it difficult to understand.

The research gives one top tip: use physical Bibles. Surprisingly, 18-35 year olds much preferred to read the Bible in print (47%) than in digital form (28%).

The Transforming Scotland research gave another: 72% of Scottish Millennials agreed with the statement, “I find the Bible most useful when I discuss it with others”. Interestingly, this compares to 57% of all adults in Scotland.


Recommended Resource: Community Bible Experience

For those looking for resources to help 18-35 year olds get into the Bible, Community Bible Experience (CBE) combines both of these elements.

Featuring a special edition version of the NIV text, with headings, chapter and verse numbers and double columns removed, the CBE books are designed to be easy to read.

Reading plans help with the “I don’t know where to start” challenge.

The introductions provided in CBE for each Biblical book provide context to address the “it’s complicated” objection.

Reading daily and meeting weekly to discuss enables folk to get into reading the Bible while providing the all-important opportunity to discuss the Bible with others.

Find out more about Community Bible Experience and how it’s transforming Bible reading in churches across Scotland.


A Closing Challenge: Why do Millennials Engage with the Bible?

When asked why they had engaged with the Bible during the last year, attending a regular or special service was one of the top answers. But for those who engaged with the Bible outside of such services, what were they looking for?

The top three answers: Comfort, Inspiration, Guidance.

Perhaps here is where there is greatest challenge for us as leaders in our context: 18-35 year olds, during the past year, went searching for comfort, for inspiration, for guidance, and they went searching in the Bible.

What are we doing to help them as they search the scriptures?

 


To download the full report entitled Digital Millenials and the Bible click here.

[1] Digital Millennials and the Bible, Barna Group for British and Foreign Bible Society, 2018.
[2] Transforming Scotland: The State of Christianity, Faith and the Church in Scotland, Barna Group, 2015.