The Digital Bible

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I read an interesting article the other day that stated, “More cameraphones were sold in 2005 than the total number of standalone cameras ever made.”[i] I had to read this a few times before I grasped what it was saying. We live in an age, when we are experiencing an overwhelming convergence of technologies. No longer do we have one device that does one thing. We now have one device that does everything.

Few would have predicted a decade ago the overwhelming reliance we now have on our smart phones. Many pastors and leaders in the church would be lost if they did not have their ever present devices attached to their hip, or nestled snuggly within their pocket. We in the church use our phones to not only contact each other and take misaligned pictures with colorized effects, but we use them as an essential resource within worship.

We look up lyrics to the latest praise song. Find a John Wesley quotation by searching his entire collection of written works. Reference a Wikipedia article. Publish a blog post. All this, before a church service even begins on a typical Sunday morning.

Perhaps the biggest shift I have seen within the church setting is in the number of church members that now carry their Bibles in their cell phones. The usage statistics are staggering. Evaluating the top 25 Bibles sold on Amazon, reveals electronic media is where a majority of people are turning to find God’s Word. 84% of the top 25 bestsellers on Amazon in the Christian Bible category are Kindle versions of the Bible. Of the four hardcovers in the Christian Bible category, one is not an actual Bible translation, but a book on parenting. The three remaining hardcover Bibles along with their rankings are:

  • 17. NIV Lessons from Life Bible: Personal Reflections with Jimmy Carter
  • 23. ESV Study Bible
  • 25. The Story, NIV: The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People

The times are shifting. The latest and greatest smart phone is replacing the worn and well-read Bible. This is not something to fret about, as this technology offers unprecedented possibilities. Many Bible apps offer social features, so now, when you find something insightful, you can instantly share it with your friends.

How has this trend towards digitization compare to Gideon Bibles that are so referenced in popular cultural?[ii]

Gideons International has distributed 1.7 billion Bibles and New Testaments since 1908.[iii]

If we count the number of Bible app installations multiplied by the number of versions offered on each installation, we can say YouVersion has distributed 2.486 billion Bibles since 2007. (22,000,000 * 113 = 2,486,000,000)[iv]

Even with a 99-year head start, YouVersion has distributed 786 million more Bibles than Gideons International.[v]

What would a church look like that embraced a digital Bible? This is a question I have struggled with and still fail to have a clear vision of a church that completely made this embrace. Below are a few ideas that a church can implement to make a welcoming environment for digital Bibles, but these are only starting points to lay the groundwork.

1.     Lead by Example. Begin using digital Bibles within services. When using social networks and even print materials, provide links to online Bibles. Short urls, provide a way for new Christians to quickly find the piece of Scripture that is being talked about. For example, if you want your congregation to read John 3:16 from the Message, use this link: http://bible.us/john3.16.msg

2.     Encourage Adoption. If you see someone using an iPhone, Android, or other smart phone, besides asking them if they have the latest Angry Birds game, bring up a great Bible App. During small groups or at Sunday school, often time is set aside to explain how to use a Bible. Likewise, use this time carefully exploring how to use Bible apps.

3.     Become a Power User. Digital Bibles offer a lot more than simply a digital version of a printed Bible. Become familiar with the features of your preferred Bible app. Know how to switch between translations, do word studies, and read commentaries. Do not be afraid to ask others for help, or in reading the manual. Strive to become an power user, so you can better help others.

What barriers currently exist that would prevent a church from giving away free digital Bibles? Should churches begin giving confirmands iPod Touches filled with electronic Biblical resources, instead of the tried and true Bible?


[i] http://cloudfour.com/convergence/

[ii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gideons_International#Popular_culture_references

[iii] http://www.gideons.org/AboutUs/WorldwideImpact.aspx

[iv] http://web-assets.youversion.com.s3.amazonaws.com/press/YouVersion_Timeline_Stats_May2011.docx

[v] Note from the author: The comparing of Gideons International to YouVersion is not a fully legitimate comparison, because not every app installation will use every translation offered. In addition, Gideons International includes the distribution of the New Testament in their tracking of Bible distributions. Furthermore, YouVersion requires individual users to seek out and discover their app through the app store or other markets, but Gideons International has a strategy of mass distribution within hotels and motels, schools and colleges, hospitals and medical facilities, jails and prisons, to the military, fire and police. I make this point to say that YouVersion and Gideons International both do great work for the Kingdom.

 

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