What Difference Does Scripture Engagement Make?
February 26, 2019
Engagement is a buzzword in both business and the church these days. Companies want to ensure their employees are engaged because engaged employees are more passionate and productive, more team-oriented, and more committed to the mission and vision of the organization. Engaged employees aren’t just hired hands who come to work to punch a time clock. They’re invested on a deeper level and they go the extra mile.
Likewise, churches want their members to be engaged because engaged people attend services more regularly, give more generously, and participate more fully in church life and outreach. In other words, they put themselves on a path to spiritual growth and so contribute to a flourishing church. Church engagement is about being all in—investing completely in following Jesus and finding our place as part of his body, the church.
Engagement can be seen as a shorthand for a broader biblical concept. Jesus talks about our engagement with God in his summary of the Law of Moses: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is expressed, he adds, as you “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
At American Bible Society, we help people become engaged with Scripture. Why? Because we have discovered that consistent interaction with God’s Word will change us by reshaping our choices and transforming our relationships with God and others, making us into people who naturally live out those two great commandments.
Engaging with Scripture is not just about reading the Bible so we can check off a box on our task list. It’s about seeking God in the Bible, so that we can connect with God and allow his Word to permeate our entire being—our thoughts, actions, and desires. A wise friend of mine says, “Scripture engaged is Scripture lived.”
What does this look like? In our ongoing research, we are learning different ways people are changed by consistently interacting with and reflecting on Scripture. Here are seven of the characteristics Bible-engaged people share.
They are more generous givers. In our 2018 State of the Bible Survey, American adults who scored “Bible-engaged” or “Bible-centered” donated significantly more money to churches, religious organizations, and other charities than people in other categories (Bible-disengaged, Bible-neutral, or Bible-friendly). As we see God’s love for the poor and marginalized in Scripture, our hearts become receptive to giving when opportunities arise.
They have more vibrant prayer lives. Scripture-engaged people pray to God more frequently than those who are unengaged, and they pray differently. As we become oriented toward Scripture and more acquainted with God’s character and ways, our prayers change. Scripture itself often becomes the basis or guidance for our prayers, and we pray with more confidence for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”
They are more likely to attend church. Do people go to church because they read the Bible, or do they read the Bible because they go to church? Probably a combination of both. Our State of the Bible research reports that people feel closer to God when they read the Bible, and the main reason they go to church is to become closer with God. Because they are more spiritually engaged, Scripture-engaged people are committed to other spiritual practices like attending church.
They are more likely to volunteer. Just as they are more generous with their money, Scripture-engaged people are more generous with their time and talents. Whether they volunteer in the community or serve in their church, Scripture-engaged people put their faith into action by serving others significantly more frequently than unengaged people.
They have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. Scripture-engaged people are significantly more likely to report making a personal commitment to Jesus Christ than Scripture-unengaged people. This makes sense, in part because they are more likely to be involved in church where they can learn about that personal commitment. But people also report that when they encounter Christ through Scripture, he often reveals himself to them and confronts them with the decision to follow and obey him.
They have attained higher levels of education. Christians are sometimes caricatured in popular culture as backward and uneducated, but the data point in another direction. In the State of the Bible results, higher Scripture engagement scores are positively correlated with completing higher levels of education. That’s not to say that being Scripture engaged causes people to seek higher levels of education or vice versa, but there is a connection.
They have a sense of divine calling in their work. In 2018, American Bible Society joined with the University Spiritual Life Survey to see what impact Scripture engagement might have on the next generation. Among other things, we learned that Scripture-engaged college students have a sense of divine calling toward a particular kind of work. That’s no surprise considering that Scripture tells us God guides us, has plans for us, and has made us for good works.
While Scripture engagement isn’t the only spiritual practice that transforms people, it is definitely a key factor in spiritual growth—and the data suggest it may even be the most important catalyst for growth. Imagine how our families, churches, and cities would look as more of God’s people become fully engaged in their faith.
How has your life changed as a result of Scripture engagement? Do these characteristics resonate with your experience?
 Survey conducted Dec. 4-18, 2017, among U.S. adults. “Why Americans Go (and Don’t Go) to Religious Services.” Pew Research Center.
© American Bible Society, 2019
This article was originally published on American Bible Society's Bible Engagement Leadership Blog on February 26, 2019.