Eighty-five percent of American households have at least two Bibles. Eighty-five percent of Americans say they want to read their Bibles more.1 There’s an old saying, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” Even so, the stats look promising, and it seems to me that Americans have the necessary ingredients—Bibles and motivation—to know God’s story better.
Maybe having a deeper hunger for God’s Word isn’t “what’s next”; maybe it’s just what I wish was next. But if we listen to what people are saying, I do think it can be what’s next.
In its REVEAL study, Willow Creek’s leaders expected people to say the Bible was vital to spiritual growth, but what surprised them was the passion that people expressed for better Bible knowledge. Bill Hybels said, “The people said to us with astounding clarity, ‘We want to get into our Bibles more. We want you to teach us the Bible more. We want you to raise the challenge level of the sermons that are coming from the Scriptures.’” Hybels continued, “When you have hard data from thousands of people who say, ‘I want to know the truths of the Bible even more than you think I do,’ it changes how you think about this.”2
I have been hearing stories from different churches that confirm this study. People are expressing a deeper hunger for the Word of God. The same is true at the church I serve. Last year we began a yearlong series on “The Story”—essentially preaching through the whole biblical narrative in a year. Attendance went up; it appears that regular attendance increased. (For example, if a family normally came three out of five weeks, they now came four out of five weeks.) People didn’t want to miss the story.
Not only did we preach that yearlong series, we created an eight-week seminar called “A Guided Tour of the Bible” that helped people understand the big story of the Bible—the promised plan of God and how Christ fulfilled it all. Nine hundred adults added another hour to their church schedule to attend this seminar. We received hundreds of comments like these:
• “Thank you! My journey is just starting. My ignorance of the Bible and my intimidation have lessened. I want to learn more. My life has already begun to change, and I find myself excited and talking about the Bible and getting others involved. Need more.”
• “Loved understanding more about many of the tie-ins throughout the Bible. That knowledge really helps to make the Bible become more and more meaningful and applicable throughout.”
• “I really enjoyed the Old Testament classes, showing the story of Jesus.”
• “I have taught Bible studies for years. But that only focused on one chapter at a time. You gave me an overall perspective I did not have before. Thank you.”
• “The class really helped me connect the dots in a much clearer view.”
• “I’m recently returning to Christianity after a long absence and I wish I’d had this class before I left—it might have saved me a couple decades of wandering.”
• “Although I have been a Christian and in various Bible studies, I have never heard the Bible explained this way.”
To be clear, what these people responded to so passionately was not a topical study or a book study, but the big picture of the Bible. They had seen the Bible as a collection of puzzle pieces. They had turned over many of the individual pieces and looked at their shape, size, and color. But they had never seen the big picture on the box top, and they had never put all the pieces together. When they assembled it, they were amazed by what they saw.
Obviously topical sermons, thematic studies, and individual biblical book series are essential. These are like taking a closer look at sections of the puzzle, but all these have more meaning when you know what the big picture is and where those things fit inside it.
Our culture is starving people of meaning. We have the most amazing and meaningful story every told. And it’s a true story! I’m confident people have a deep hunger for God’s great story. Let’s make sure they get it.
1“The State of the Bible,” a study commissioned by the American Bible Society with research conducted by the Barna Research Group.
2Geof Morin, “Focused on What Matters,” Uncover magazine, Summer 2012, 9.
Brian Mavis is executive director of the Externally Focused Network. He also serves as the community transformation minister at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado.