How do you get more people in your church to develop and maintain a habit of regular Bible reading? That may seem like a very basic question. But I’m convinced that correctly answering it will lead not just to the renewal of a spiritual discipline, but also to the renewal of the church itself.
Because of that, I’d like to suggest a new approach to church-wide Bible engagement. I’ll give you a summary here but if you’re interested in a longer description, and the research behind it, check out my ebook called The New Architecture of Bible Engagement. And let me say, the answer is not a new Bible, study guide or curriculum you must buy. Rather, it’s seven basic principles I’ve discovered in over 30 years of helping churches of all denominations with Bible engagement.
My E100 Experience
Before I share the seven principles, I need to explain how I discovered them. Many years ago, I was having my morning quiet time when God brought to mind my three children, and in particular, how I could communicate God’s Word to them before they were grown. After praying, I started making a list of Bible passages on the back of an envelope. Over a period of two years, I expanded and refined it many times. In the end, I settled on 50 Old Testament passages and 50 New Testament passages, and I called it The Essential 100 (E100).
I printed the list in a brochure and, to my surprise, individuals and churches began asking for it. I discovered a real hunger to engage with God’s Word, not just with kids but across all ages. So, I wrote a book of devotional commentaries based on my list of Bible passages, also entitled The Essential 100, and it became a best-seller. Today, the book has been translated into 25 languages and over 20 million people around the world have read through the Bible using the E100 list. God did all that from the simple impulse of a dad trying to get God’s Word to his own kids!
7 Principles of Church-wide Bible Engagement
So, what I’d like to do is share the principles I discovered from my experience. They may seem fairly simple but don’t dismiss them because of that. Any Bible reading plan that incorporates these principles will work.
Exercise Spiritual Leadership. Most pastors have preached on the importance of reading God’s Word regularly. Even so, many lament the fact that “it never seems to catch on in my church.” However, I noticed that instead of saying, “Everyone should do this,” whenever a pastor, minister or priest publicly stated, “I am personally committing to reading the E100 passages myself, and I invite you to join me,” the program took off. The critical first step to any effective church-wide Bible engagement program is church leaders who say, “Follow me!”
Make it a community-based experience. Bible reading is often an individual activity, requiring considerable personal discipline. That can make it difficult for many. However, through the E100 I discovered that when a significant number of people in a congregation commit to reading the same Bible passages together, it created a “motivational updraft” for Bible engagement. People who struggled with “the Lone Ranger approach” to Bible reading were pulled along by the positive reinforcement of community-based Bible engagement.
Integrate habit formation principles. I looked at a lot of research in the process of refining the E100, but in the end, the habit-formation principles that seemed most useful were: a) using a Bible reading plan, b) tracking one’s progress, and c) having the “soft accountability” of reading the passages asynchronously with others.
Allow for different devotional temperaments. Sometimes Christian leaders hold up the early morning quiet time as “the right way” to read the Bible, and the earlier the better! But not everyone can maintain that practice. That’s why it’s important to understand each person has a unique “devotional type,” that is, a combination of learning styles, Bible understanding and specific needs in any given stage of life.
Use a well-designed reading plan. For two decades I’ve had the joy of listening to people tell me why E100 works. But the facts is, there are lots of good Bible reading plans available today. The key is to pick one and stick to it. Why? Let me give an example. Most people will say, "I love to cook...I just can't decide what to make for dinner tonight!" Having a plan that systematically takes you to all parts of the Bible solves the problem of what to read today.
Develop a follow-up plan from the beginning. A Barna study found that the biggest concern pastors had with E100 was the lack of follow up: “What happens on day 101?” Actually, that was good news; people wanted to continue! Since then, I’ve developed two additional programs: The Essential Jesus (100 readings on the story of salvation) and The Essential Question (50 readings on how to make a difference for God). Regardless of the plan you use, the goal is to teach people a pattern of reading the Bible they can continue.
Encourage people to “meet the Author.” One of the biggest barriers to church-wide Bible reading is the tendency to over-emphasize an intellectual approach; study Bibles, study guides, “study to shew thyself approved.” Unfortunately, most people don’t want another Bible study. What they do want is a deeper experience of God. That’s why we infused E100 with a relational approach to God’s Word, that is, reading the Bible with the goal of getting to know the heart, mind, and presence of God. That's the key to a lifelong Bible ready habit.
There you have it, the “secret sauce” for church-wide Bible reading programs that really work. I hope you can use some of these principles to enhance your efforts to encourage Bible engagement among the people you lead. But the truth is, these principles are not new at all; faithful Christians have quietly practiced them for centuries. Our challenge as Christian leaders today is to re-apply them in a new generation.
This article is a short summary of the Kindle Edition of…
7 research-based principles for motivating people to read God’s Word
By Whitney T. Kuniholm
How do you motivate “average Christians” to begin and maintain a habit of regular of Bible reading? That's the question Whitney T. Kuniholm, President of Essential Bible Ministries, answers in this eBook. Drawing insights from new research and over 20 years of experience with church leaders of all denominations, Mr. Kuniholm explains seven principles of effective Bible engagement that can easily be implemented in any congregation that longs to experience a "Bible reading revival." Kindle Edition | $2.99