Despite being the world’s best-seller, the Bible today faces one of its greatest challenges – many never read it regularly.
According to research recently released by the Bible Society, Bible literacy in Britain is falling through the generations. The research was conducted through online interviews with 1,091 parents of children and adolescents aged 3-16. A report on the research was published to mark the launch of the Bible Society 2014 “Pass It On” campaign that is aimed at encouraging parents to keep the Bible alive for future generations by passing on its stories to their children.
The report also examines the current reading habits and preferences of parents and children when it comes to the Bible and its stories. The findings give plenty of food for thought and may stimulate the debate about the value of reading Bible stories with children.
One of the important questions arising from the research is that if 80% of parents whose children have come into contact with Bible stories think that it is important to pass it on, why are almost half of the parents not reading Bible stories to or with their children?
The research results reveal a growing generation gap in Bible literacy among children in the UK. More than 28% of the children indicated that they want to engage more with the Bible and would like to read, hear or see more Bible stories, with highest figures for ages of 8 and 9 at 40% and 41% respectively.
49% of primary school children and 31% of those in secondary school describe Bible stories as interesting, including 14 and 15 year olds at 35% and 27% respectively.
However, among the 800 children polled just a few week after Christmas, it was found that many failed to identify Bible stories from fables, fairy tales and Greek myths. Many also had not read, seen or heard classic Bible stories:
•29% of the children did not identify The Nativity as a story from the Bible, including 35% of 15 year olds; 36% for The Good Samaritan, 41% for Samson and Delilah and 59% for David and Goliath and Jonah and The Whale
•Even for some of the best known Bible stories, 20% did not select Noah’s Ark as a Bible story, and 19% did not choose Adam & Eve
•By contrast 9% believe that King Midas and Icarus appear in the Bible
•23% indicate they have never read seen or heard of Noah’s Ark, 25% for The Nativity, 38% for Adam and Eve and 43% for The Crucifixion
•54% indicate they have never read, seen or heard of Joseph and his coat of many colors, 56% for Moses parting the Red Sea and 57% for David & Goliath, 61% for The Feeding of the 5,000 and The Good Samaritan, 63% for the Creation story, 72% for Daniel in the lion’s den and 85% for the story of Solomon
•Parents endorse these findings, with only 17% stating that they thought their child had read, seen or heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, 22% for David and Goliath, 31% for Adam & Eve and 47% for Noah’s Ark
43% of the parents polled think it is important for their children to have read, seen or heard Bible stories because of the values they provide for a good life. Another 40% of the parents believe the Bible accounts are important to our history and culture and 36% say the Bible contains classic stories that stand the test of time.
However, despite the positive views of the parents surveyed, the findings also revealed that even among adults, there is a notable decline in Bible readership, with nearly half of the parents unable to identify key stories found in the Bible, such as Noah’s ark.
43% of parents with children aged 3 to 8 admitted they never read Bible stories to their child. 54% of children never or less than once a year read Bible stories either at school or at home. Around half of the children have never read or had Bible stories read to them, in contrast to 86% of the parents, who indicated they read, listened to or watched Bible stories when they were growing up.
Findings also revealed that religion isn’t always a factor, as 1-10 non-Christian parents with children aged 3 to 8 read Bible stories to their child daily, ( in comparison to 30% of Christian parents who never read Bible stories to their child) rising to 12% for those that do not associate with any religion.
These statistics indicate that Bible literacy is part of a much bigger battle to keep the children engaged with reading:
•63% of parents read, listened to or watched Bible stories in school. But this figure varies from 56% of 25 to 34 year olds, rising steadily across the ages to 79% of those aged 55 or over
•50% of 25 to 34 year olds think it is appropriate for teachers to read Bible stories to their child, with 61% of 35 to 44 year olds, 79% of 45 to 54 year olds and 83% of those aged 55 or over
•While 40% of parents with children aged 3 to 8 read stories to them daily, 14% never do, whether Bible related or otherwise. 34% do so less than once a week
•8% of the children say they have never been read a story by their parents, grandparents or other family members and 31% read stories by themselves less than once a month or never
•The proportion of children that read stories every day almost halves between primary and secondary school, from 42% to 22% respectively. By age 15, only 13% do so compared with 52% of 8 year olds and 32% of children overall
Commenting on the report, Sir Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate (1999-2009), said that these statistics are becoming a disturbing reality, and added that many of Britain’s brightest students no longer know the story of Adam and Eve – making it difficult for academics to teach crucial literary and historical texts.
James Catford, Group Chief Executive of the Bible Society also said that the Bible’s brilliant and engaging stories could be lost to future generations unless people took action. He said: “It’s clear that parents want to give their children the best start in life.
The Bible’s contribution to our culture – language, literature, the visual arts and music – is immense. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. The Bible enriches life, and every child should have the opportunity to experience it. “If we don’t use the Bible, we risk losing it. We’re calling on parents to pass it on.”
Richard Chartres, the Anglican bishop of London, said in a foreword to the report that sharing Bible stories “is as vital now as it has ever been.”