What if someone told you that the biggest barrier to Scottish children and young people reading the Bible is not its length, but its format?
Or that, despite all we hear in the media, school remains one of the key places where Scottish children and young people engage with the Bible?
These are just two of the findings from some recently completed research carried out on behalf of The Scottish Bible Society.
The research involved 60 children and young people aged 8-15 years, who regularly attend Church or a Christian group in 8 different locations across Scotland, from a range of denominations.
While quantitatively the sample size is small, qualitatively the research gives a fascinating insight into the relationship between Scottish children and young people and the Bible.
The Bible is a source of joy and comfort: but its format is a barrier to engagement
It was hugely encouraging to hear young people express genuine joy about their experiences of reading the Bible. The Bible, for Scottish young people, is a great source of comfort.
Nearly a third of those surveyed spoke about actively seeking verses that made them feel good, happy and safe.
However, the traditional format of the Bible is problematic for Scottish young people. Double columns, small texts, old fonts, thin paper, chapter and verse numbers in the text, and no illustrations were all cited as things that made the Bible difficult to read.
Along with format, the language of the Bible – words that are unfamiliar – creates barriers to engaging with the Bible for Scottish children and young people.
The Bible is taken seriously, and raises serious issues
Throughout the research, it became clear that Scottish young people take the Bible seriously, and in reading the text, they have serious questions.
In particular, those participating in the research were eager to discuss the ethical and moral issues raised by the Bible. They were also needing help to have conversations where they could discuss clashes between the Biblical worldview and the surrounding culture.
What was particularly striking was that the children and young people recognised the issues the Bible raised in contemporary culture: they clearly saw that the Bible was speaking into their context.
School remains a significant place for this group to interact with the Bible
For most of the young people in this research the one place where they still regularly encounter and engage with the Bible is school (particularly primary school).
School chaplains were frequently mentioned by the participants. In one of the research locations four of the seven in the group reported that they had heard Bible stories read and used in school assemblies with their school chaplains. Others elsewhere also highlighted the role of school in the acquisition of Bibles, Bible knowledge and Bible stories.
However, the narrow range of Biblical texts used within a school context was also noted by the children and young people, highlighting the opportunity for schools to use a wider variety of Biblical texts and stories.
Images and pictures greatly improve Bible engagement
The children in the research commented that illustrations and pictures help their understanding of the Biblical text.
The dominance of film as an important medium for children and young people was frequently mentioned throughout the research.
Significantly, while the children and young people in this sample thought that film and video would be a great format for passing on Bible stories to their peers, very few of them mentioned learning or receiving Bible stories in these formats.
Intergenerational communities as key to Bible engagement
Community makes the biggest difference to these young people’s engagement with the Bible.
One third of the participants mentioned that they would talk to someone to help them understand the Bible.
This included peers, adult leaders in Church, parents, grandparents and other relatives.
There were some comments by young people that the conversations they needed to have to understand the Bible were not as effective as they could be.
In our current culture it appears to be necessary to be skilled in creating spaces for real conversations about the Bible so that young people have the chance to meet with God in its pages and fully apply His Word to their lives.
This may require adults changing their perception of young people’s ability to deal with apparently difficult concepts.
Keep an eye out on our website, Facebook and Twitter for the full findings of this research which will be released in the next few weeks.
In that, we will also draw conclusions from the research and give recommendations for the Scottish church and how they engage children and young people in the Bible.
For more information, please email our Children’s Resource Manager, Jen Robertson.