The Digital Bible Survey – First Thoughts (@tim_hutchings)

In my last post, I announced a new online survey that I had created as part of my current academic researchThe Digital Bible survey aimed to find out who was reading the Bible on digital devices, where and when they read, and how digital reading had changed their relationship with Scripture. 

Image purchased by @digitalfprint from iStockphoto

Image purchased by @digitalfprint from iStockphoto

Well, the survey has now closed – so it’s time to start figuring out what you’ve told me.

First of all, online Christians are very generous with their time! I was hoping for a small sample of around 100 responses, and now I have 260 – and more than 200 people included a statement explaining how digital reading had affected them. That’s not a representative sample of anything, of course, but it’s still a great help for my research.

Looking at the 260 replies, one curious detail jumps out: 62% of the people who answered this survey were men. That’s a lot, and it’s a lot more than I expected. The population of Christians who attend church and read the Bible is nothing like 62% male, so something curious has happened here.

One possibility is that digital Bible reading appeals more to men than to women. Digital Bible software companies don’t (usually) find out if their users are male or female, so we have no way to check this. Still, it seems unlikely. Smartphone owners are divided 50:50, so it would be surprising if smartphone Bible readers didn’t follow that trend. On the other hand, some Bible software is aimed at conservative evangelical pastors, so you might expect a gender imbalance there.

A more likely possibility is that this gender divide reflects the people who helped me publicise the survey. In the first week after I posted the survey here to BigBible, almost 50% of respondents were women. The real difference kicked in later on, when the survey was picked up by some American technology tweeters – around 75% of the people who completed the survey after that were men. So it looks like some of the high-profile online networks that discuss Christian technology just don’t appeal much to women.

There seem to be some differences in how men and women read the Bible, too. I haven’t tested these results for statistical significance yet, but the raw data suggests that men were much more likely to use online commentaries, and women were much more likely to visit websites that promised to explain the Bible.

Here’s another interesting thing in this survey. Almost everyone who responded goes to church very regularly – 90% attend once or twice each week. But there are also a small number of people who read the Bible on their smartphone every day – and never go to church at all. I would love to talk to them!

One more observation from the survey, for now. I asked respondents where they read a digital Bible. I was expecting lots of people to say they used a digital Bible on their daily commute, but actually the biggest response categories were “on my own”, “at home” and “in church”. In other words, most of the time people who are using digital Bibles probably have access to a nearby paper Bible – they are just choosing to read on a screen instead. Quite a lot of people read at work, too, which may or may not be what they are supposed to be doing!

Remember that this survey is a large(ish) but not representative sample, so we can’t put too much trust in the details of the answers. I’m going to follow up this survey with lots of telephone and face-to-face interviews, so I’ll be able to find out more about exactly what’s going on.

The most interesting part of this survey is that store of 200 written accounts of how the Bible changes on a screen – but I’ll tell you about that soon, in my next post. Thanks for reading – and do jump in to the comments section if you think there’s anything I’ve missed!

About Tim Hutchings

Tim works at CODEC, a research initiative for the study of Christian communication in the digital age at St John's College, Durham. He studies online churches, online evangelism and other online things, and can usually be found somewhere near the coffee machine. He likes cake, old science fiction book covers and kitschy religious knick-knacks.