Exploring Digital Innovations for the Future of Bible Engagement
Technology and Innovation Are Necessary for the Future of Bible Engagement
Roughly 16% of Americans read the Bible most days during the week, according to the American Bible Society's newly released 2021 "State of the Bible" report. And while the study found that Americans prefer to have a printed copy of the Bible in their hands, millions interact with the Bible digitally—and we largely have technological advancements to thank for that.
The exponential growth of technology has made the Bible more ubiquitous and accessible than ever before. "The Bible in a Year" podcast, for example, took the number one spot on Apple's list of All Podcasts this January. The YouVersion Bible app has been downloaded on 465 million devices around the world since its launch in 2008.
This dynamic relationship between the Bible and technology is nothing new. Technological developments have been transforming how people receive, study, teach and apply the Bible for hundreds of years–from the Bible's first printing on the Gutenberg press in 1455 to the Instagram Bible quotes of today. In 1922, radio was a new technology; by 1925, religious groups operated one out of ten stations in the U.S. Then came television. By 1980, pastor Rex Humbard–who was the first person to have a weekly church service broadcast on television, in 1952–was airing across more than 600 stations in the U.S. and Canada and across more than 1400 stations around the world. In 2013, The History Channel's miniseries "The Bible" was the number one cable entertainment telecast of the year, with nearly 15 million viewers tuning into the premiere.
One could make the case that the spirit of innovation that has driven these advances is straight of out the Bible. Take, for example, an early illustration from the account of Noah and the ark in Genesis. While the Bible doesn't give us exact details about how the ark was built, we know that in order to create such a massive boat—about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high (Genesis 6:15)—capable of carrying its load, those involved with construction had to have used decidedly innovative methods of construction for the time period. The Bible predicted that with time "knowledge shall increase" (Daniel 12:4). It celebrates knowledge and the development of skills that glorify God. It reminds us that "all things were made through him" (John 1:3) and "we are his workmanship" (Ephesians 2:10).
Today, the Bible is reaching people of all nationalities and backgrounds around the world through technology like the internet, social media, podcasts, and streaming platforms. These new formats are a good thing for the Bible and those who are looking to connect with it. Two-thirds of American adults, or about 172 million adults, are 'Bible curious,' meaning they want to learn more about Scripture. Many of them will turn to physical Bibles, but more than half of Bible users have searched for Bible verses or Bible content on their phone (56%), and another 44% have downloaded or used a Bible app. Roughly one-third have listened to a teaching about the Bible via podcast or listened to an audio version of the Bible.
As in many sectors, the future of Bible connection will be in "omnichannel" experiences – experiences that combine digital and in-person engagement. A current example of this is the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center, now open in Philadelphia. When creating the FLDC, we knew that digital interaction was critical to help visitors grasp the Bible's influence in American history—and its continued influence in the present. Changemakers throughout our nation's past and present have relied on biblical values and applied our nation's collective longing for growth to try to solve major cultural challenges. That work is far from over, and it's up to current and future generations to learn from history and explore the Bible's teachings for themselves. Our question was how to accomplish this for visitors in the reality of the 21st Century's two-way digital world.
Our answer was found in embracing unique and cutting-edge technology throughout the center, which guides visitors on a journey to understand the Bible's influence in American history. We had Local Projects—the award-winning experience design studio that created the powerful National September 11 Memorial & Museum—design the center because of their expertise in uniting digital and physical spaces. Guests use "lamps" to interact with exhibits and collect content they can then revisit online at home; in the gift shop, visitors can purchase merchandise specifically tailored to the content they collected. We've been told that the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center's proliferation of technology has never before been seen inside of one museum. It seems fitting that this technology—like many before it—is centered on the Bible and sharing the story of its influence on our nation.
How has the Bible influenced Americans? And how will generations to come shape and reshape the way we view the world through technology and applications of the Bible's teachings? We don't have those answers yet, but we are excited to continue our exploration.
Patrick Murdock is the Executive Director of the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center.