John Farquhar Plake on The Living Word in the Digital Age

The Bible has survived uncommonly difficult circumstances with a longevity that cannot be rivaled by any other text. While this might equate the religious text with inherently old, dusty or outdated qualities, history has shown that the Bible, instead, has a long track record as the instigator of technological advances. And history is repeating itself today.

For centuries, Christians and Bible readers have pioneered new technologies for sharing information and gaining knowledge. After the fall of the Roman empire in AD 395 the Church is credited with preserving not only something to read (religious texts) but the act of reading itself. In the same decade when the codex (a hand-transcribed manuscript style that resembles our books today) emerged, the rise of Christianity advanced the movement away from scrolls. Scrolls were thought to be more prestigious, but Christians preferred the more modern and convenient codex, eventually propelling it to popularity.

Over 1,000 years later in 1454, the Bible was the first book printed on a modern printing press. In the 150 years following, literacy soared. A new hunger for learning transformed Europe and eventually shaped the American experiment. Another 500 years later, in 2015, the Guinness Book of World Records estimated that 5 billion copies of the Bible existed in print. So, now what?

A 2019 survey by Pew revealed that most Americans (65%) still prefer to read their books in print with a slim 7% reporting reading digital books only. The use of audiobooks did make some headway, with about one in every five Americans saying they were audiobook listeners.

By contrast, Bible readers are increasingly turning to digital technologies to engage with Scripture at high rates. Printed Bibles and other Christian books have experienced a marked downturn, according to Kristen McLean, Executive Director of Business Development at the NPD Group, a market research firm. And in the first six months of 2020, the YouVersion Bible app reported a 32% increase in unique daily users, compared to the same period in 2019. At the same time, they saw a 183% increase in Bible searches.

This trend has been greatly accelerated by COVID-19. HarperCollins Christian Publishing (HCCP), which owns and operates the popular BibleGateway website and app, saw a 150% increase in unique users of their direct-to-customer sites in March and April, according to Doug Lockhart, Senior Vice President for Marketing and New Initiatives at HCCP.

This June, our State of the Bible survey revealed that three quarters of Bible users had recently used the internet to read the Bible. Nearly the same proportion (74%) said they had searched for Bible verses online. Two-thirds of Bible readers (66%) said they had used a smartphone Bible app in the past year.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Farquhar Blake

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