Our New Study Shows Important Distinctions Between Self-Identified and Practicing Christians

Chapter 7 of the State of the Bible report highlights cultural trends in the U.S. regarding spirituality and Scripture engagement

American Bible Society today released the seventh chapter of their 11th annual State of the Bible report, which highlights cultural trends in the U.S. regarding spirituality and Scripture engagement*. Today’s release, “The Bible in the American Church,” reveals that more half of the self-identified Christians in U.S. are not actively practicing their faith—meaning they’re missing out on a full relationship with God in vibrant Christian community. By contrast, two-thirds of Practicing Christians** are regularly engaging with the Bible and finding wisdom and feeling a sense connection to God and comfort as a result.

“When we deeply engage in Scripture, we find hope in Jesus and an invitation to be part of a vibrant Christian community that brings restoration to our world,” said John Farquhar Plake, PhD and Director of Ministry Intelligence for American Bible Society. “But across all traditions, the Church needs to recognize that there are a growing number of people who call themselves Christians but don’t actually know how to interact with the Bible or live a life dedicated to Christ. The data show us a real opportunity to step into that gap to actively encourage and disciple believers to engage with God’s Word.”

The distinction drawn between self-identified and practicing Christians surfaces other major differences between those who simply say they believe and those who have incorporated the faith into their regular life routines in a transformative way (page 154). One example from State of the Bible 2021 is the impact that practicing Christianity has on prosocial behavior. Practicing Christians are about twice as likely as Non-Practicing Christians to see the Bible as encouraging civic engagement and are also more likely (53%) to see the Bible as encouraging self-care—including living a healthy lifestyle, caring for their mental and emotional health, and managing their money.

The findings come from a survey conducted by American Bible Society in January 2021, in which data was gathered from 3,354 online interviews with American adults in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In November and December 2021, American Bible Society will release two additional chapters from the State of the Bible 2021 research study. The first seven chapters are currently available to download at StateoftheBible.org.

Key findings analyzed in Chapter 7: The Bible in the American Church

The largest Christian traditions in the United States are Protestant and Roman Catholic. This report has further classified Protestants into mainline (such as Episcopalian, Lutheran, Congregationalist, Reformed like the Presbyterian Church USA), evangelical (such as Baptist, Pentecostal, Adventist, and the Presbyterian Church in America), and historically Black Protestant (including Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal denominations) groups (pages 151-152).

  • Practicing Christians* account for 58% of the Evangelical tradition, 28% of mainliners, 31% of the historically Black tradition, and 22% of Catholics (page 154).
  • Practicing Christians lead the way in consistent interaction with the Bible and openness to its message, with over two-thirds being actively and regularly engaged with Scripture (page 158).
  • Weekly Bible reading is most common among Practicing Christians who are evangelicals (93%), historically Black Protestants (87%), and mainliners (80%) (page 159).
  • In the past year, growth in Bible engagement is especially evident among evangelical (55%) and historically Black Protestant (54%) Practicing Christians (page 160).

*For descriptions on how Scripture engagement was measured and reported, please see page 30 of the ebook available for download at StateoftheBible.org.’

**Practicing Christians vary by tradition and generation (page 155) and meet specific behavioral criteria, which includes: identifies as a Christian, attends a religious service at least once a month, strongly agrees their faith is very important in their lives (page 153).

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