According to a new Bible Society survey, young Christians are failing to regularly engage with the scriptures. Sam Hailes responds
You’re probably familiar with some of the lazy stereotypes which are often spread about my generation (18-35 year olds). We millennials are obsessed with our iPhones. We’ve yet to grow up (“adulting” is such an effort). We love avocados and flat whites, but while we might have a strong social conscience, most of us (around 60-70%) do not have a faith.
Much has been written about the disappearance of millennials from our churches. But what do we know about the minority of us who do identify as Christians? A new survey by the Bible Society is helping us answer that question. But the results, which were released last week, make for disturbing reading.
The survey found that most Christian millennials in the UK (51%) engage with the Bible a few times a year, or less. Only 9% read the Bible every day and a mere 13% look at the scriptures “a few times a week”.
If those statistics don’t shock you, I suggest reading that paragraph again.
Millennials have more access to the scriptures than any other generation before us. YouVersion’s Bible App gives us free access to 1,839 Bible versions in 1,275 languages. You can even download an audio Bible read by Poirot! Clearly access to the scriptures is not a problem. We’ve a wealth of tools, the problem is we’re not using them.
So how we should respond to these statistics? Here are four suggestions to get the conversation started…
1. First, let’s put this in perspective…
Reading the Bible regularly doesn’t make God love you any more than he already does. Heaping condemnation on people for not engaging with the Bible will not achieve anything, and it’s not what God wants either.
Instead, those of us who treasure the scriptures have to make a positive case for why biblical engagement is so vital. As the author and youth worker Tim Gough recently told Premier Youth and Children’s Work “The Bible is the word of life. When we read the Bible, God speaks to our hearts and makes stuff in them.” If we really believed that, perhaps we’d all be reading the Bible a lot more than we currently do.
2. Reading the Bible is hard work, but that’s no excuse for laziness
If you’re following a Bible in One Year plan, you may well be finding yourself getting bogged down in Levitical law in the coming weeks. But while it’s understandable that millennials might be reluctant to engage with the Bible, that’s not a valid excuse. I don’t want to go into the office some days. But I still do it! Let’s not give ammo to those who claim us millennials are spoilt and averse to a bit of hard work. As Theodore Roosevelt famously said: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”
3. A failure of discipleship means Millennials haven’t been taught the spiritual disciplines
We must not assume that if someone calls themselves a Christian, they’ll automatically develop brilliant habits, especially when it comes to Bible reading. We need to instill in others a passion and a love for this book.
When I interviewed the American pastor John Mark Comer he argued that older Christians have largely failed to pass on the spiritual disciplines to millennials. Commenting on his own teaching, Comer said: “We have to teach people how to pray, how to be alone with themselves and God, how to be in community…It’s a lot of back to the basics”.
It’s worth asking the question how much of the preaching and teaching in our churches equips people to live out the Christian life on a Monday to Saturday. When was the last time you heard a message which gave you practical tools on how to read scripture or fast or meditate? Does anyone challenge you on how often you read the Bible? In fact, when was the last time an older, wiser Christian challenged you on anything? (If the answer is ‘ages ago’ then either you’re perfect so you don’t need any help, or you aren’t being discipled…and that’s a problem).
4. Ultimately, we’ve only got ourselves to blame
It’s no good blaming your church, your parents or your culture. At some point we millennials have to grow up and take responsibility. Following Christ requires effort. Yes, it is joyful, yes it’s life-giving and yes it’s the best decision you will ever make. It’s also a countercultural challenge to take up your cross, die to yourself and live for God. This survey should be a wakeup call for all of us. It’s time to raise our game.