Drivers of Bible Engagement

Reading the Bible between sermons

What can a church do to get people more engaged with the Bible? We often look for the perfect program, the trendy resource, or the killer app, when the best answers might be hiding in plain sight.

1. The Bible incorporated and identified in church services.

In many churches, Scripture is woven into every service. Liturgies are full of Bible quotations or allusions, and even non-liturgical formats often include Scripture readings. This is a great place to start. Now how can you leverage those Bible references into more regular, more personal interactions in your congregation?

One suggestion: Let people know how much Scripture they’re getting in the service. This might be especially helpful with the church music. Many hymns and contemporary worship songs use biblical phrases. Call these out specifically. It’s great to sing “You are worthy,” especially if the music plays in people’s heads all week long, but how much better would it be to establish the context of Revelation 4 and 5, and perhaps inspire people to read it for themselves!

2. A pastor preaching on Scripture and inviting daily interaction with it.

Some preachers wander from Scripture into social or political commentary. While there’s certainly great value in exploring how God’s truth applies to our everyday lives, we all need regular reminders to anchor our discourse in the Bible itself.

But how can you get your people reading the Bible for themselves in between your weekly exposition?

Here’s an option some churches have tried. Set up a reading plan with four to six Bible passages that either follow from the previous sermon or lead into the next. Then use technology to put this schedule in front of your people. Try sending these Scriptures in a daily email, along with a question or thought from yourself. There are also programs with which you can text your congregation (or at least all who opt in).

This is not just a matter of begging people to read the Bible more. It’s a way of keeping people connected to the specific preaching content at various points through the week.

3. Small group Bible studies.

This should come as no surprise. People grow in their own faith and understanding when they talk about the Bible with a group. But let’s talk about two ways small groups can fall short of their potential as Bible engagement drivers.

One way is to emphasize fellowship over Bible exploration. We all know that small groups create strong connections, and there are many good things that happen from that. There’s nothing wrong with getting church folks together for quilting or parenting tips or fantasy football. But if that’s your whole small group program, you’re missing out.

The other way some churches squander small groups is to turn them into instructional times, with teachers dumping Bible information on the participants. As with fellowship, teaching is a valuable part of a church ministry, but small groups function best when people are fully participating, discussing the text, and discovering its meaning. It’s also easier to find leaders if they don’t have to be experts, just facilitators of a group process.

4. Guidance and encouragement in habit-forming.

A majority of people at all levels of Bible engagement say they wish they read the Bible more. Why don’t they? Lack of time is cited as the major culprit, but a more precise statement might be “It’s not on the schedule of things I spend time on.” Those who do read the Bible regularly are not necessarily spiritual giants. They’ve just carved out time for it in their regular routine.

So, one of the most valuable things you can do as a leader to increase Bible engagement is to help people develop a Bible-reading habit. This may take research on your part and communication with the congregation. Scolding is not your best option, since most people already want to read the Bible. Can you show them how?

Why not hold a panel discussion with a few people who read the Bible every day, so others can pick up pointers? Suggest specific strategies for reading first thing in the morning or last thing at night, or perhaps at dinner with the family. Set up a buddy system so people can help one another. Make sure they have Bible resources that suit their interests. Explore apps and email programs that can prompt people each day.

All too often we set the Bible-reading bar very high, making people feel guilty for not reaching it. If you’re not studying Scripture in the original languages an hour a day, clearly, you’re not giving God your all! This guilt leads to shame, which leads to silence. We assume everyone else is doing better than we are, so we avoid the subject, which maintains the illusion that everyone else is doing better than we are. Break the cycle by talking about it. Then take it one step at a time. Celebrate the victories involved in a five- or ten-minute-a-day habit being developed. Let people talk about how that changes their lives.

5. A spirit of openness toward Bible questions.

Many leaders treat questions as problems to be solved. Some even see them as challenges to authority. Try treating questions as opportunities for engagement.

In some church cultures, it’s hard for someone to drum up the nerve to ask an important question. They fear they’ll be judged ignorant or rebellious. Can you change that culture? Can you affirm the question and the questioner? Can you drive them deeper into Scripture?

Remember that the point of Bible engagement is not merely the knowledge of Bible facts and theories, as if we’re cramming for a final exam. It’s about a relationship with the Lord.

So, someone might ask, “Why is Ecclesiastes even in the Bible?” You might treat it as a threat, exposing a need to teach about plenary inspiration. Or you might explain all about wisdom literature or the Council of Jamnia. But it might be better to say, “Why do you think God wants you to read the musings of a cynical old preacher? What is God saying about your life?”

In the continuing quest for Bible engagement, you’ll still be hunting for resources that rock, programs that energize. But you can start with these five ideas, adjusting the things you’re already doing, guiding your people toward a deeper experience with the God of Scripture.

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Randy Petersen
Randy Petersen

Randy Petersen is a free-lance writer and former Director of Scripture Engagement Content for American Bible Society. Writer of more than sixty books and hundreds of church curriculum lessons, he has also served churches as a Bible teacher, small-groups coordinator, drama director, preaching consultant and softball pitcher.

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