How to Get Your Whole Church Reading the Bible

Learn an easy new approach to Scripture engagement

How do you get more people to develop and maintain a habit of regular Bible reading? I know that may seem like a very basic question. But I’m convinced that correctly answering it will lead not just to the renewal of a spiritual discipline, but also to the renewal of the church itself.

Because of that, I’d like to suggest a new approach to church-wide Bible engagement. And let me say, it’s not a new Study Bible, or a new set of study resources you must buy. Rather, it’s four basic principles I’ve discovered in over 30 years of helping churches of all denominations with Bible engagement. If you apply these principles to any Bible reading program, I believe it will work.

Gleaning from My Experiences

Before I share the four principles, I need to explain how I discovered them. About 15 years ago, I was having my morning quiet time when God brought to mind my three children, and in particular, how I could communicate God’s Word to them before they were grown. After praying, I started making a list of Bible passages on the back of an envelope. Over a period of two years, I expanded and refined it many times. In the end, I settled on 50 Old Testament passages and 50 New Testament passages, and I called it The Essential 100 (E100).

I printed the list in a little brochure and, to my surprise, individuals and even churches began asking for it. I discovered a real hunger to engage with God’s Word, not just with kids but across the board. So, I wrote a book of devotional commentaries based on my list of Bible passages, also entitled The Essential 100, and it became a best-seller. Today, the book has been translated into 25 languages and over 10 million people around the world have read through the Bible using the E100 list. In fact, American Bible Society has incorporated E100 into their Armed Services Ministry and as supplemental content in millions of Bibles distributed in China. God did all that from the simple impulse of a father trying to get God’s Word to his own kids!

So, what I’d like to do is share the principles I discovered from my ministry experience. Any Bible reading plan that incorporates these principles will work.

Trying A New Approach

What are the four principles for effective church-wide Bible engagement? In this article, I’ll focus on the first two. Next week’s article will feature the next two.

Begin with Spiritual Leadership.

Most pastors have preached on the importance of God’s Word and the value of reading it regularly. Even so, many of them have lamented: “Bible reading never seems to catch on in my church.” However, I’ve noticed that whenever a pastor, minister or priest publicly stated, “I am personally committing to reading the E100 passages, and I invite the congregation to join me,” the program took off. The result was even greater when other church leaders (elders, vestry, group leaders, etc.) joined in the commitment. The critical first step to any effective church-wide Bible engagement program is leaders moving from saying, “You should do this,” to saying, “Follow me!” The next step is for the pastor to synchronize his or her preaching with the Bible passages the congregation is reading through the week. This can be a challenge for liturgical churches that follow the Lectionary and may require some creativity – perhaps by adding or substituting a reading. One pastor in a liturgical denomination told me, “The simple practice of having my people read five Bible passages in the week, which I then preach from on Sunday, has transformed my church like nothing else.”

Create a community-wide experience.

Bible reading is often an individual activity, requiring considerable personal discipline. That can make it difficult or negative for many. However, I discovered that when a significant number of people commit to reading the same Bible passages together, it creates a “motivational updraft” for Bible engagement. And I’m not talking about a group Bible study. I’m talking about a group of people—a congregation, small group, family, even spouses—reading the same schedule of Bible passages. Each day, participants read the same passages on their own, at their convenience. Each week they talk about the passages casually or in groups. Each Sunday they hear these passages preached about in a sermon. People who struggle with “the Lone Ranger approach” to Bible reading are pulled along by the positive reinforcement of the group. When people are reading the same passages together, that’s what they talk about. That’s what they relate their lives to. That’s called community-based Bible reading, and it really works.

So, there you have it, the first two guiding principles in fostering effective, church-wide Bible engagement. If you incorporate them into your context, I’m convinced you’ll see more people reading and living God’s Word.

Next week I’ll cover the final two principles. They are the most important, yet most overlooked. Stay tuned.

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Whitney T. Kuniholm
Whitney T. Kuniholm

Whitney T. Kuniholm joined the Senior Leadership Team as senior vice president of Mission Advancement at American Bible Society in July 2018, after 16 months of establishing a strong foundation for the $150 million Bicentennial Campaign as director of campaign partnerships.

Kuniholm is also president emeritus of Scripture Union USA, where he provided over a decade of leadership. Before joining Scripture Union, he served as executive vice president of Prison Fellowship. He also held the position of chairman of the Forum of Bible Agencies – North America.

In 2004, Kuniholm created the E100 Challenge, a church-wide Bible reading program that has been translated into 25 languages and has reached 15 million people around the world. American Bible Society has used the E100 Challenge in its Armed Services Ministry, as well as Bible distribution work in China. Other resources authored by Kuniholm include four books—The Essential 100, The Essential Jesus, The Essential Question, and John: An Eyewitness Account of the Son of God—and many booklets, including Confessions of a Guilty Bible Reader. He also speaks at churches and Christian conferences.

Kuniholm is a graduate of Houghton College. He and his wife, Carol, have three children and three grandchildren.

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