A recent study by the Barna Group will be of interest to Christians living and ministering in New England. The study claims to identify “America’s Most (and Least) Bible-Minded Cities” on the basis of nearly 43,000 interviews and the “analysis of Bible trends.” Bible-minded individuals were identified as those “who report reading the Bible in a typical week and who strongly assert the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches.” In short, Bible minded-Christians are “those who both engage and esteem the Christian scriptures.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the most bible-minded cities “are all Southern cities.” Equally unsurprising is the fact that the entire list of the “top 10” least bible-minded cities are found in the Northeast. Here’s more from Barna:
The least Bible-oriented markets include a mix of regions, but tend to be from the New England area. Easily the lowest Bible-minded scores came from Providence, RI (9%) and Albany, NY (10%). To put this in perspective, the most Bible-minded markets are five times more likely to have residents who qualify as Bible-minded than is true in these two Northeastern cities.
Though these two cities are the most extreme, none of the cities in the bottom 10 break 20%, where even one in five people could be considered Bible-minded. The New England area is home to most of the markets in the bottom 10 Bible-minded cities, including Burlington, VT (16%), Portland, ME (16%), Hartford, CT (16%), Boston, MA (16%), Buffalo, NY (18%) and New York, NY (18%).
No matter where you live and minister, the study is worth a look. As David Kinnaman rightly points out in his commentary, “Whether you live in a city ranked in the top half of Bible-minded cities or in the bottom half of Bible-minded cities, there are still tens of thousands of people to reach regarding both the message of the Scriptures and their importance.” But here are a few points of application for those who find themselves living in locations with a lower percentage of “bible-mindedness”:
1. A lack of bible-mindedness is not the problem; it is a symptom of the problem. As disconcerting as the present lack of biblical engagement and regard may be, it does not represent the problem in itself. Rather, low percentages of bible-mindedness are a symptom of a larger problem: a low percentage of people who have heard and/or believed the gospel.
2. Creating more “bible-minded” cities is not the goal; it is the inevitable fruit of faithful gospel mission and ministry. The answer to the real problem, then, is not to promote biblical literacy or the necessity and benefits of daily devotion. Instead, the answer to the real problem is a steady, clear, consistent communication of the gospel in every sector, which is backed up by the transparent, compelling, “reconciled” lives of gospel believing Christians (2 Cor. 5:16-21). As people begin to encounter the God of the scriptures through the life and witness of Christ’s “ambassadors,” it will be natural for them to engage and esteem the scriptures. And it is at that point that “bible-mindedness” will become a meaningful category.
3. A lack of bible-mindedness is not a deterrent to gospel ministry; it is a (potential) opportunity. Christians living in un-bibled regions have the privilege of communicating the gospel to many who have had little to no interaction with a) the actual content of the gospel, or b) Christians whose lives indicate that the gospel is true. When we focus on the content of the gospel (what God has done for us in Christ) and live as though it were true, we have the opportunity to overturn stereotypes and misconceptions, and to open the door for gospel witness.