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The Crisis Facing the Australian Church

Tuesday, 18 May 2010  | Kylie Butler

If the current trends of biblical disengagement continue, within the next 30 years the Bible will be ‘a thing of the past’ for most people who claim to follow Jesus.
A recent poll in the US indicates that 35% of born-again Christians do not read the Bible at all, and of those that indicate they do the vast majority only read it during the one hour they attend church each week. Admittedly these statistics are from the US, as currently there are not any statistics in Australia for this, but we only need to look at our own church community to see that this would be similar (if not worse) in Australia.
Most Christians do not engage (read or hear) from God through the Bible on a daily basis or even regularly because it simply is not important to us. The Bible is seen as ‘one of many ways’, all equally important, that God speaks to Christians. Therefore reading the Bible is not considered important for our spiritual growth. For many Christians, telling God about our personal needs is more important than hearing from Him.
If we think about our own church context, can we resonate with these statements?
  • Some pastors and church leaders only read the Bible when they are preparing a sermon or study and occasionally for personal retreat.
  • The Bible is being used to support preaching themes rather than the whole bible story being preached
  • Faster communication and a consumerist society encourage quick results and instant satisfaction instead of a life-journey with God
  • Leaders measure how often a person attends church rather than how often they engage God through the Word. Which is a better indicator of the state of a person’s spiritual life?
  • Having multiple bibles in the home doesn’t help bible engagement and bible-reading guides have little long-term effect.
  • There is disparity between a person’s expressed belief about the importance of the Bible and their actual reading habits.
  • People aren’t reading as much overall so find it difficult to read the Bible with its large amounts of text
  • Increased busyness means bible reading becomes a lower priority
  • People find the Bible difficult to understand. Its context, different books, multiple writers and types of writing all confuse people trying to read it.
Kylie Butler is from Milk to Meat, an initiative committed to bible engagement. Milk to Meat is currently conducting a National Survey on Bible Reading and Engagement. This survey will help us all gain a better insight into how Australian Christians read the Bible, and will contribute to strategies for inspiring a generation to engage with the Word of God. Every completed survey also gives you a chance to WIN iTunes vouchers and other discount book vouchers. Please go to www.milktomeat.com.au, complete the survey and encourage your network to also complete it.


John Davies
May 18, 2010, 5:27PM
As a Pastor with 45 years' experience, I fully agree with the comments above. However, as one who has always majored on systematic Biblical Exposition in my preaching, I find that the Congregation appreciate this when the relevance of the Word is tied in to their everyday lives.
David Secomb
May 18, 2010, 5:55PM
As a Christian minister I am deeply aware of the low level of Biblical literacy and knowledge in Australia. I don't think we're far behind the USA; just a different social context. My aim as a preacher is to fill the worship services with the Bible--pray the Bible, read the Bible, sing the Bible, preach the Bible. Contrary to popular practice I am not sure that data projection of the Biblical text in church will help. i would rather see people with their own Bibles open, in order to gain a sense of the passage being read and preached from as it appears on the page of their Bible.
In groups I try to make sure they are studying the Bible intelligently, and are getting a sense of the whole message of the Bible, which finds its fulfilment in Cghrist and the gospel. We try to get families reading the Bible, and urge parents (fathers especially) "to teach your kids the Bible." This way we are seeing adults taking the Bible seriously, and their children growing in knowledge of God and of His Word.
I am also concerned that simplifying the translation of the Bible to easier to understand English is not a help! Everyone needs to see in the translation what the writers actually wrote, so I promote the formal equivalence versions, the ESV, NASB, NKJV. While at first sight "harder" to follow, long term use, coupled with consistent systematic preaching from the formal equivalence text produces better knowledge of the text and meaning of scripture. People can be "brought up" to appreciate and learn from and enjoy reading such versions. Often I have found the "dynamic" versions, even the NIV, to disappoint when they seem not to allow all the detail to be seen. The only thing I have against the NASB and the NKJV is the separation of the verses--this should never have been done in the older translations in the first place, as it breaks up the flow of the text andencourages a wrong mentality to useing the Bible; thoughtful paragraphing is much better--as in the ESV and the NIV, and others.
Ministers and bible teachers have to keep doing a lot of hard work; and they need to show their confidence in the truth of the Bible as the sole authority for Christian faith and life, not just as a means to have a personal experience of God. We must lead by example, and let it seen in our own faith and piety. When people have been awakened and enlightened by the Holy Spirit and see the uniqueness of the Bible as God's Word wirtten, they can usually never get enough. I have had a group of men, most of whom are not great readers, or tertiary educated, but we have read and studied and discussed the Bible together, to great profit and they are getting into the Bible. The only helps I have offered are daily Bible reading guides, such as those published by The Good Book Company.
Let's all press on and endure to the end, and their can be a rising generation of Christians who are Bible readers by conviction, and who will make a real difference in their families and in their communities.
Deborah Storie
May 18, 2010, 7:18PM
Kylie, Where were the results of the US study you mentioned published?
Also, where did you get the evidence for your dot points from? I'd be interested in following this up if you can give me the publication details. Thanks
Les Scarborough
May 18, 2010, 8:37PM
This perspective wrongly assumes that knowledge equals spiritual formation and growth. The reality is that unless christians alter their educational paradigm of learning (away from the knowledge classroom setting ) and embrace creative kineasthetic environments in modelling truths then spiritual growth will not unfold in the community. Luke 6:40 Ephesians 4:12-16
John Beasley
May 19, 2010, 9:45AM
It saddens me that so few really do read the Bible. it may come from a culture where we "idolise" the preacher and the listeners are with "itching ears" waiting to be tittilated or entertained rather than taught. In addition, we tend to look for the "instant" fixes instead of working on a lifetime of striving to reach the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Philip Hughes
May 19, 2010, 9:34PM
We do have Australian data on Bible reading. A survey in 2002 found 8% of all Australian adults were reading the Bible personally 'often' and 14% occasionally. A national random telephone survey of 400 adults between the ages of 25 and 60 found about 7% read it daily and 15% weekly.
We have much higher Biblical literacy rates in Australia than in America because more than one-third of all children in Australia attend a church-run school and because religious education is also taught in many government schools, particularly at primary level.
Of course, many do not retain the information because they do not regard it as relevant to them. And one may certainly question whether the Bible is understood.
The Christian Research Association website has details of the extent to which young people are engaging the Bible (www.cra.org.au).
Sylvia Asplet
October 29, 2011, 5:42PM
We cannot rely on Preachers or Pastors or Leaders to tell us about God's word. We have to read his word for ourselves and work out our own salvation with trembling and fear! I believe we are not fearful enough and we just think going to church on Sunday is enough but Jesus said, "I am the bread of life", so to nourish our soul we have to eat this bread each day as we eat for our physical being. And God misses nothing. He watches us, and we can fool man, but not God!

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