Screens have affected almost every part of modern life, and that includes religious practices. While all Millennials—significantly more than all adults—have, by and large, incorporated other mediums for engaging with the Bible, none of these trump reading a print version of the Bible (81%), or even hearing it read aloud at church (78%). In comparison, two-thirds of Millennials say they use the Internet on a computer to read Bible content (66%) and a little more than half read the Bible on an e-reader (51%).
What do Millennials think when the Bible comes to the big screen, little screen or whatever screen is currently in front of them? When it comes to the Bible as Hollywood entertainment, Millennials have mixed feelings. While nearly half appreciate the Bible being incorporated into entertainment today (49%), a sizable percentage sees it as Hollywood trying to make money (36%). Non-Christians, in particular, express this skepticism (58%).
When Bible-themed content does come to Hollywood, practicing Christians are the group most likely to view it. For all the shows surveyed (Noah, The Bible miniseries, Son of God, God’s Not Dead and Heaven Is for Real), practicing Christians were far and away the largest audience. In fact, only 14% of practicing Christian Millennials had not seen any of the movies, compared to 42% of all Millennials and a full 62% of non-Christian Millennials. Stated differently, a majority of Millennials has seen at least one biblical depiction on the small or large screen in the last year. Exposure to televised or movie versions of Christian content has penetrated to more than four out of five Christian Millennials and to more than one-third of non-Christian young adults.
One common way Millennials have taken to engaging with the Bible in a digital age is to post Scripture passages on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Unsurprisingly, practicing Christian Millennials are most likely to engage in this practice. A combined 81% have posted Scripture online in the past year: 30% do so a few times a year, 25% a few times a month, 13% a few times a week and 13% do so daily.
This practice evokes primarily positive emotions among practicing Christian Millennials and ambivalent or negative emotions among non-Christian Millennials. The most common responses from Christians when someone posts Scripture to social media are to feel encouraged (56%) and inspired (53%). Just over one-third find it bold in a good way (35%).
Non-Christians’ most common response is to say it bothers them if the verses are used naively or out of context (35%), which is interesting since most admit never having read the Bible themselves. Slightly fewer non-Christians say it’s “okay sometimes if you are religious” (33%). About the same number say they find it irritating and one-quarter assume the person posting it is judgmental (24%). About one-fifth believes the person is trying to evangelize (21%) or that the practice will push others away (18%). Of all the responses, non-Christians were least likely to feel inspired (9%) or encouraged (7%) when they see Scripture posted on social media.
What the Research Means
“Many Christians and Christian leaders are concerned about the next generation of Christians,” says David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group. “And for good reason. There is certainly a well-documented trend of Millennials leaving church or turning away from their faith. However, this current study on perceptions of the Bible gives church leaders some very good news about the Good Book: Active young Christians are holding true to historical and orthodox views on the Bible. In many ways, their commitment to the Bible stands in stark contrast to typical stereotypes of younger Christians.
“For the most part, the Bible is flourishing in the screen age, particularly among the faithful. Practicing Christian Millennials, in particular, are eager to see Bible-based content on the big screen and to engage with the Bible on the little screen by reading Scripture online and posting it to social media.
“However, these practices aren’t always appreciated by others in their generation. While many Christians might hope that Bible-based films or sharing Scripture online would reach non-Christians, our research suggests the opposite. Non-Christians tend to be more skeptical of biblical films and often feel turned off or alienated by seeing Scripture shared via social media. On the other hand, in the rare cases when non-Christians have increased their Bible reading in the past year, they often did so as a result of seeing how Scripture changed someone they knew. Such responses emphasize the importance of meaningful relationships and evidence of life transformation.
“Finally, for non-Christian Millennials, the ‘brand’ of the Bible is a negative one,” Kinnaman continues. “The depth and range of these perceptions signal difficult challenges for younger adults who still believe in the Bible. As Bible skepticism increases in their generation, Christian Millennials will have to face those criticisms head on and wrestle with the implications for their own beliefs. Yet when it comes to the Bible—more than many other areas of their faith—Millennial Christians are starting off on comparatively solid ground.”
This article was originally written by Barna, which you can read here.