Nearly half of U.S. adults say they use the Bible at least three times a year, including reading it, praying with Bible texts or listening to passages.
While the vast majority turn to printed Bibles, more than half also check out Scripture on their phones or online on computers.
And Bibles are more likely to be part of life in small towns rather than urban centers, in the South rather than other regions, and among blacks.
While the report showed there remains strong interest in the holy book among the Christian faithful, an ever-growing number of Americans have never opened it.
“The survey shows there’s still a lot of people touched by the Bible,” said Brooke Hempell, Barna’s senior vice president of research. “We’ve got almost half of America using the Bible in some way or another, three times a year. It shows our nation is really impacted by Bible engagement.”
Although engagement continues, the number of Americans disconnected from the Bible continues to rise. The report found that nearly a third of the adults surveyed had no interactions with the Bible over the past year, compared with a quarter in 2011.
And the number of “Bible-centered adults” — the most fervent and frequent Bible users who say it transforms their lives — dropped from 9% to 5% over the past year alone.
The survey showed Bible use varies widely by geography and ethnicity. Sixty-one percent of respondents from the South reported they engaged with the Bible in the past year, compared with 47% in the Midwest and 39% in the West.
Nearly three of every four black respondents said they used a Bible, compared with 44% of white respondents and 52% of Hispanics.
People who identify as Protestants, and particularly those who attend non-mainline churches, were more likely to read the Bible than Catholics, the survey found.
The Rev. Peter Vogt, dean of Bethel Seminary in Arden Hills, said the survey results reflect his experience as a former church pastor and academic working with students. There is a continued strong attachment to the Bible, he said. But the format is evolving.
More than half of those surveyed used their phones to search for Bible verses and 44% had used a Bible app, the Barna study showed. Roughly a third had listened to podcasts or audio files.
“That’s consistent with what I saw when I was preaching at church,” said Vogt. “People would have their phones out to look up Bible verses.”
Christians interact with the Bible in different ways, said Vogt. Some people read the entire Bible, chronologically from start to finish. Some look up individual chapters that are meaningful to them. Others search for specific verses.
A trend Vogt noticed is that even Bible readers aren’t always familiar with its entire content, and that trend is growing as society becomes more secular. Bible-referenced phrases that cropped up in ordinary conversation years ago, such as someone having “the patience of Job,” just aren’t part of conversations any more.
“Generally I’ve noted an increased lack of familiarity with the Bible over time — not so much at church — but on the part of students,” he said. “There’s not as much popular-culture reference to it.”
Nonetheless, the survey found that most Americans “are curious about the Bible, about who is Jesus,” said Hempell. And that curiosity runs from fervent readers to people who rarely open the book. Hempell sees that as a positive sign, indicating that “the influence of the Bible is more widespread than just on the people who read it.”