The Most Important Factors in Increasing Bible Engagement

How to ignite a renewal of reading in your church

Last week I began a two-part series in this blog addressing the question: How do you get more people to develop and maintain a habit of regular Bible reading? At first, that may seem like an insignificant Sunday school issue. But according to a study conducted by Willow Creek Church, “the most effective strategy for moving people forward in their journey of faith is biblical engagement.”[1] More so than church attendance, or Christian service, or even prayer. The lowly discipline of Bible reading is number one. If that’s true, Christian leaders need to make best practices for Bible engagement a high priority.

Based on three decades of helping churches of all denominations with Bible engagement, I’ve identified four principles that will make any church-wide Bible reading program more effective. Last week I shared the first two: begin with spiritual leadership, and, create a community-wide experience. Now I’d like to share the second two principles, ones I believe are the most important and yet most overlooked by Christian leaders today.

Affirm Different Devotional Temperaments.

Sometimes in their zeal, Christian leaders hold up the early morning quiet time as “the right way” to read the Bible; and the earlier the better! But that’s not possible for everyone; for example, parents of young children. That is why it’s important to understand that each person has a “devotional temperament,” a combination of learning styles, Bible understanding, and specific needs in any given stage of life.In his book Invitation to a Journey, author M. Robert Mulholland Jr. refers to “creation gifts,” the unique mix of personality traits given to us by God. His point is that understanding how we’ve been created helps us become more conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others. I think that also applies to our devotional lives. We’ll get more out of Bible reading if we understand the devotional personality God has given each of us. Here are a few:

Early Birds. These are the classic morning devotionalists. Their minds are the sharpest and their hearts are the most receptive just as the sun is coming up. They love the routine of starting every day the same way … reading God’s Word.

Mid-Day Breakers. These busy people love to take a few minutes for Bible reading in the middle of the day. For them it’s like an oasis that keeps them sane.

Commuter Seekers. These folks have discovered how to transform boring time on a bus or train into an opportunity to read the Bible. They also appreciate new technology; digital Bibles and devotionals are perfect for them.

Night Watchers. When the pressure of the day finally subsides, these folks come alive. They love unstructured time with the Scriptures when everyone else is asleep.

Free Spirits. For some, routine is a downer. The most important thing is quality time in God’s Word, and whenever that happens, great!

I’ve spoken in churches about devotional temperament many times and whenever I do I get the same reaction. People are relieved from a sense of guilt that they can’t read the Bible the way they’re “supposed to,” and they’re motivated to engage with God’s Word based on the way God has wired them. If we think it’s important for people to discover their spiritual gifting, we also need to encourage them to consider their devotional temperament, because it’s foundational to a lifelong Bible reading pattern.

Encourage People to ‘Meet the Author.’

Perhaps the biggest barrier to church-wide Bible reading is that, for the most part, we’ve emphasized a study-based approach; get a fully-loaded study Bible, purchase some study guides, join a group Bible study and then “study to shew thyself approved!” Let me say, studying the Bible is a good thing. But as Eugene H. Peterson wrote in Eat this Book, “It is entirely possible to come to the Bible in total sincerity, responding to the intellectual challenge it gives … and not in any way have to deal with a personally revealing God who has personal designs on you.”[2] The secret that makes the Bible come alive is to balance our study of the Bible with an experience of God while reading it. Let me explain with an example from The Chronicles of Narnia.

As you know, one of the central images in C. S. Lewis’s classic tale is the wardrobe. It’s through the wardrobe that the four children—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy—enter into a whole new world where the lion king Aslan is alive and on the move. As the story unfolds, we realize that Aslan represents Christ; he’s a picture of God incarnate. One day it occurred to me that the Bible is like the wardrobe in Narnia. Think about it; if our main focus in reading the Bible is relational, that is, to get to know the heart, mind, and presence of God every day, then we enter into a whole new world where God is alive, where God is on the move. But if our main focus is only informational, that is, to learn more Bible facts, or gain more Bible knowledge, then eventually we find ourselves in a frozen world, where reading Scripture no longer feels like a living experience. What’s the main reason to read the Bible? Not to become a Bible know-it-all. Rather, it’s to draw closer to its Author. Meeting God in the Bible is what makes the Christian life, and all of life, come alive.

There you have it, four principles for enhancing any church-wide Bible reading program. My prayer is that as you and many other Christian leaders apply these in your contexts, God will ignite a renewal of reading and living the Word that spreads like wildfire in the church.

[1] Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, MOVE: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2011), 10. From the Foreword by Bill Hybels.

[2] Eugene H. Peterson Eat This Book (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), 30.

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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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