I’m excited because this month at Liquid Church we are launching a massive campaign to get up to 3,000 people to read the entire New Testament Bible in 40 days all together as a community.
If you aren’t aware of some of the trends going on with Bible engagement and churches today, take a look at the infographic I pulled together to help share the situation in the Church:
So for 40 days leading up to Easter, we will be reading the Bible in 225 small groups across New Jersey. We even have several church online groups forming so that our community of online worshippers can participate with us. All the details are available at www.40daybiblechallenge.com
The program is being put together in collaboration with Biblica, who is the copyright holder of the NIV Bible. We have been able to produce thousands of custom printed Bibles for our campaign through their Community Bible Experience. With Biblica’s help, we’ve also been able to make it available in PDF, Kindle, ePub, and audio formats. In addition, we’ve produced a spanish translation as well as kids versions of the daily bible readings. We’ve got iTunes podcasts. We also have links to the YouVersion reading plan available for your smart phone. And to top it off, we have a daily email devotional that will be sent out every day to keep everyone encouraged and on track. There you go, no excuse NOT to read it with us.
I’m excited to see what happens when our entire community is in sync reading the same portions of text weekly over the next 8 weeks. What is been surprising is the enthusiasm people have shown to sign-up to read together. You would think in today’s day and age that reading the entire NT Bible wouldn’t be a huge draw. But by doing it together, it has brought out the best participation and energy we have seen in awhile.
Have you ever read the Bible together with your entire church? How did it go?
I was fortunate to connect with Paul Caminiti, vice-president of church & bible engagement at Biblica at the Q conference in Washington D.C. this April. On a daily basis, 700 people quit reading the Bible. And that means not just taking a break or putting the book down for a couple of months, we’re talking *quit*. The latest project at Biblica (the copyright holders of the NIV), is an elegant approach to a seemingly ubiquitous circumstance.
They’ve taken the NIV bible and the chapter and verse numbers have been removed.
It’s printed in single-column across the page like any other book we are used to reading these days.
The books are re-arranged (un-arranged?) in an order that makes more sense in terms of keeping authors’ writing together and individual books that later tradition divided into separate parts were put back together again.
And footnotes, headings and any other call outs have been removed from the pages of the sacred text.
Then they’ve added a community component by packaging it as a “book club” — meant to be read together with discussion facilitated by a couple of simple questions — not the usual fill in the blank, let’s all figure out what the “correct Christian-ese” answers might be.
In my mind, the reading experience must be quite like the experience I’ve personally had in listening to dramatized audio Bibles. God’s story starts to come alive and actually is seen as a story among other outcomes. I had a chance to interview Paul on the Books of the Bible NIV and Community Bible Experience. Here’s the convo below:
Q. It is interesting how instead of going through deep word studies of various scriptural pericopes, or other similar avenues that Bible study groups typically end up pursuing, the Community Bible Experience decidedly takes the path of trying to read the Bible in large conceptual swaths as it consumes it through a story lens. To this effect, how does Community Bible Experience promote conversation within the small group / book club setting?
A. In-depth word studies are great, but only when you have the big picture backdrop. You don’t gain a comprehensive understanding of your favorite novel by doing grammatical analysis of a word here or there. You gain the most understanding by reading the whole thing. Same goes with the Bible. That’s what we’re trying to achieve with Community Bible Experience. We’ve found the very act of “reading big” promotes conversation, simply because when you read 12 pages a day, you come to the group with plenty to discuss. We give groups five basic questions to help navigate the conversation; but some groups don’t even need them. They just open up and start talking. Sometimes the best thing we can do is get out of the way.
Q. Typically, book clubs grow organically as friends of club members hear about it and get invited in. How does Community Bible Experience fall in line with that trait of book clubs?
A. Community Bible Experience is still fairly new – and relatively small. We don’t have big promotional budgets or a slick ad campaign. So most of our participation so far has been through word of mouth. We’re OK with that. So many programs promise to revolutionize your church or whatever. We happen to think in-depth Bible engagement is the one thing that can make a difference in every area of Christian life, but we’d rather let the experience speak for itself. So we’ve kept it as simple and organic as possible.
Q. How would you pitch this book club to a fellow soccer mom or dad? How do you overcome the visceral gut reaction to hearing that a bunch of people are sitting down and reading/discussing “the Bible” straight through — typically perceived as a very boring, Bible-geeky, or even a religious fanatical thing to do by most people outside the church?
A. Our sense is that many people, including those who are nominally Christian or consider themselves “spiritual but not religious,” have a natural curiosity about the Bible. Reading the Bible at least once is on a lot of people’s bucket lists. But many of us have tried one of the various “read the Bible in a year” plans and failed. What if there was a way to read the Bible that (a) is doable and (b) doesn’t come with a hidden agenda? That’s how we see Community Bible Experience. We see our role as helping you experience the Bible; we’re not here to tell you what to think of the Bible. We’re not here to force a particular interpretation on the text. That’s why Community Bible Experience has been embraced by churches and groups across the spectrum – from Episcopalians to Southern Baptists.
Q. Is there a difference in themes or issues that tend to get brought up in the conversation under this format? How does this Bible study experience differ than a “traditional” Bible study group?
A. The biggest difference is that it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from. Some of the best groups have been those where seekers and seasoned Bible readers were in it together. The book club model levels the playing field, so to speak. It also opens the discussion to a wide range of questions – including those not normally considered “safe” or “acceptable” in a traditional Bible study. We’re not asking people to give fill-in-the-blank answers. In other words, we’re not trying to “control” the discussion.
Q. One of the immediate flags that many people have is when they see that you are “messing with” the Bible. They might say we have final expression of the current canon for a reason. Are you trying to replace the NIV Bible people carry? Do you expect them to carry just one or the other? How does The Books of the Bible NIV compare to the current one being used in the church?
A. We would probably say we’re “un-messing” with the Bible, giving it an “un-makeover.” Much of what we’ve done is to remove formatting that’s been imposed on Scripture over the last 500 years (e.g. verse numbers, which were first added in 1551, centuries after the Bible was completed). The book order was quite fluid until the invention of the printing press. Sometimes, reading in a different order than the one we have today can be quite helpful. For example, which is more useful: to read Paul’s letters from longest to shortest (as they appear in almost every Bible today) or to read them in the order they were most likely written (as they appear in The Books of the Bible)? That said, we’re not out to replace people’s traditional chapter-and-verse Bibles. A lot of the features in a traditional Bible are there for reference purposes – to help you find a specific word or passage. We still need reference Bibles. We see The Books of the Bible as an ideal “reading Bible” to compliment and help you get more out of your traditional Bible.
Paul Caminiti is Vice President of Bible Engagement at Biblica, where his team pioneers innovative ways for the 21st century church to engage the Bible. Previously Paul was the Bible publisher for Zondervan, where he led the launch of the award-winning Archeological Study Bible and The Bible Experience. A leading spokesperson on all things Bible, Paul has been featured in media such as NBC, Fox News, Newsweek, The New Yorker, USA Today, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.