Americans bought more Bibles in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic spread, industry leaders said, but a major study shows Bible engagement during the pandemic was no greater than the previous year.
Both Lifeway Christian Resources and Thomas Nelson Bibles saw increases in Bible sales, which a Thomas Nelson executive described as an increase seen industry wide.
But the American Bible Society (ABS), in conducting both its annual State of the Bible research in early 2020 followed by a special COVID-19 study months later, found that Bible engagement slacked after the pandemic began.
“While State of the Bible data show that scripture engagement was up significantly in January, compared to the same time in 2019,” ABS said in its report, “by June scripture engagement had fallen to below 2019 levels.”
January’s scripture engagement of 70.9 million adults, or 27.8%, marked the highest level since 2011, ABS said, but by the first week of June, engagement had fallen to 22.6%. The decrease means 13.1 million Americans were no longer consistently interacting with scripture, a change ABS contributed to the “significant pressure” of the COVID-19 crisis. While women were previously more scripturally engaged than men, engagement during the pandemic appeared equal between the two genders.
While industry leaders didn’t reveal the percentage increase in sales, they were up at both Lifeway, which sold 2.5 million Bibles in 2020, and at Thomas Nelson, which said it saw its best sales in eight to 10 years.
Lifeway’s Bible sales remained strong as the pandemic began, indicating a “significant increase” in online sales April through June.
“We believe the growth in Bible sales during those early months of the pandemic was no accident, as people often go to the Bible as a source of hope in times of crisis and uncertainty,” said Lifeway President and CEO Ben Mandrell. “People draw hope from scripture because in it they see a God who is with us during our suffering. The Bible, as God’s words to us, is a reminder that He doesn’t leave us to walk through difficult times alone. Scripture has a way of bringing hope and healing in times of difficulties.”
The Tony Evans Study Bible and the She Reads Truth Bible drove sales with the Holy Land Illustrated Bible, the Ancient Faith Study Bible and the CSB Scripture Notebooks seeing strong showings. The Heroes Bible did well during the pandemic, with editions specifically designed for doctors, nurses, emergency medical personnel, military members, firefighters and law enforcement personnel.
Philip Nation, vice president and publisher of Thomas Nelson Bibles, described sales as “one of the best years in many years in terms of the number of Bibles that we’ve seen produced and purchased by what we assume to be a clear mix of established Bible readers and new Bible readers.
“Most Bible publishers have seen an increase in Bible sales just across the board during the pandemic.”
Thomas Nelson is focusing on Bible engagement through its Abide Bible and complementary Abide Bible book journals, Nation said.
“Now we see a greater need in the marketplace for people to have editions of the Bible that focus on personal engagement with the scripture and not just simply informing them of the scholarship,” Nation said.
ABS conducted its initial 2020 State of the Bible study in January and early February, including 2,010 interviews with adults in all states and Washington, D.C. ABS followed the initial research with a special COVID-19 study May 28-June 10, surveying 3,020 adults from across the nation.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ senior writer.)