Americans less engaged, but Gen Z bucking trend

Scripture engagement among American adults is at its lowest point in the 14 years the American Bible Society has commissioned the annual State of the Bible report, researchers said in releasing the first chapter of the 2024 report.

Well over half — 57 percent, or 151 million — of American adults are Bible Disengaged, based on a 15-question metric gauging Bible reading and how it impacts decision-making and one’s relationship with God, the American Bible Society said in its April 11 release.

“Yet our youngest adults show signs of interest in the Bible, curiosity about it and transformative interaction with it,” said ABS Chief Program Officer John Farquhar Plake, State of the Bible editor in chief. “Last year, 50 percent of Gen Z adults (ages 18–27) agreed that the message of the Bible has transformed their lives. This year, that number rose to 54 percent. If this trend continues, we have good reason for hope.”

The four-point increase in Gen Z members who’ve seen Bible-driven personal transformation outpaces the increase among the general adult population, 58 percent of whom said the same, up from 57 percent last year. While Gen Z is expanding its use of Scripture, it remains the least engaged group of American adults with just 11 percent of Gen Z considered Scripture Engaged.

Overall, nearly 47 million American adults rank as Scripture Engaged, steady at 18 percent of the population compared to 2023. But that’s down from 71 million in 2020, which was 28 percent of the population.

ABS President and CEO Jennifer Holloran said churches have the power to increase the nation’s Scripture engagement in the nation.

“We should see this moment of declining Scripture engagement as the time to grow in our ability to work together as the body of Christ. It’s not just the health of the church that depends on it. It’s millions of individual lives that will otherwise miss out on the transforming power of Christ,” Holloran wrote of the report’s findings. “The level of Scripture engagement in the United States remains lower than it could be with the right attention. It is no time for the church to become complacent.”

Through a nationally representative AmeriSpeak panel, the University of Chicago’s NORC research center conducted the research Jan. 4-23, compiling findings based on responses from 2,506 online interviews completed among more than 9,900 adults contacted.

For the past two years, with the addition of Renovo Service’s Spiritual Vitality Gauge, the study has additionally revealed Christians’ spiritual health. On that scale, the percentage of Christians considered ailing rose to 28 percent from 21 percent, with only a slight increase in those considered thriving, rising to 21 percent from 19 percent.

Researchers point out a category of responders identified as the Movable Middle, an in-between group of 25 percent of American adults that in 2023 seemed poised to increase their Scripture engagement this year, but instead moved the other way. In 2023, the Movable Middle stood at 29 percent of U.S. adults.

The 10 million people in the Movable Middle who slid to the category of Scripture Disengaged are the main drivers in America’s drop in Scripture Engagement, researchers pointed out in releasing the results.

Evangelical Protestants — a multiethnic group — lead the way in Scripture engagement, with 46 percent of the group characterized as scripturally engaged, compared to 26 percent among Historically Black Protestants, 25 percent of Mainline Protestants and 11 percent of Catholics.

When counted by ethnicity alone, Black Americans — regardless of religious classification — continue to far outpace other ethnicities in Scripture engagement, with 28 percent of Black adults Scripture Engaged in 2024, compared to 18 percent of Hispanic adults, 16 percent of whites and 10 percent of Asians. Black Christians are also far ahead of other demographics in measures of spiritual vitality and church attendance, providing a strong example that other Christians can follow, researchers said in releasing their findings.

ABS will release a chapter of the 2024 study monthly through December. Future releases will focus on the Bible’s intersection with artificial intelligence, well-being, neighboring, the church, hope, hardship, loneliness and philanthropy.

The study’s first chapter, “The Bible in America Today,” is downloadable here.

— Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ senior writer.