Evangelicals admit struggling to find time for daily Bible reading and prayer

(Photo: Billy Alexander)

New research has shed light on the difficulties evangelicals have in making time for their spiritual life.

In particular, the Evangelical Alliance's study found that evangelicals struggle to find the time for both reading the Bible and praying each day.

Of the over 1,500 surveyed, nearly all (90 per cent) said they read the Bible regularly, but only 31 per cent said they set aside a substantial period of time each day to pray.  

Although 87 per cent agreed that every Christian needs to spend time alone with God on a daily basis, and that without
that their faith will suffer, 42 per cent said that they find it difficult to find time on a regular disciplined basis to pray and read the Bible.

Nearly a fifth (18 per cent) said they do not have a fixed pattern of prayer but rather pray when the chance or need arises. This figure rises to 29 per cent among those born after 1980.

Over half of those surveyed (60 per cent) said they prayed "on the move", while walking or using transport. When they do find the time to pray, evangelicals are most likely to be asking God to bless their family (49 per cent).

"Older people (those born before 1960) are significantly more disciplined and structured in their prayer patterns," the Alliance noted.  

Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) admitted to being easily distracted when spending time with God and while most (88 per cent) agreed it was important for a Christian to read or study the Bible on a daily basis, in practice only half are managing to do this.  Another 40 per cent said they read the Bible several times each week. 

There was a substantial difference in Bible engagement between older and younger Christians, with 60 per cent of those born before 1960 managing to read their Bible daily, compared to just 31 per cent of younger Christians.  

Tellingly, busy Martha was the Bible character evangelicals were most likely to say they identified with (43 per cent).

"She was selected almost three times more than her contemplative sister Mary, indicating that busy lifestyles are a widespread feature of contemporary discipleship," the Alliance said.  

In the face of busy lives, many evangelicals are doing faith "on the go" and utilising digital media to help them maintain their spiritual life. A third use Bible apps, with daily devotional apps and the Book of Common Prayer app among the popular choices.

Kim Knappett, a teacher from London, told the Alliance about the difference new technology has made to her faith.

"Thank to Bible apps, I have read more of the Bible in the past three years than for most of my life before. Using new technology has definitely helped to strengthen my relationship with God," she said.

Traditional Bible resources are still used more frequently by evangelicals though, with half saying they use Bible commentaries or other books, and 43 per cent saying they use printed Bible notes. 

The average length of time spent studying the Bible was between 10 and 20 minutes per session, and over half (57 per cent) said they spent time reflecting on what preachers or speakers have said.   

The findings are laid out in the Alliance's new report, Time for discipleship?, which also reveals the concerns evangelicals have about the nurturing of faith.

While most respondents (90 per cent) were positive about the benefits of attending church and small groups, and festivals (70 per cent), only four in 10 said their church did very well at discipling new Christians.

Just a quarter (26 per cent) felt they had been equipped by their church to share their faith with others.

Over half (55 per cent) said they found it difficult at least sometimes to understand what the Bible says, but confidence in the Bible remains high.

Most (93 per cent) said they never or only rarely find it hard to accept that the Bible is reliable and true, and only 30 per cent said they find it hard to see how the Bible relates to their life today. 

The vast majority (82 per cent) admitted they find it hard to live up to the commandments and challenges found in the Bible.  

Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, said that the findings could help churches to recognise the challenges their congregations are facing and the need to support Christians in today's busy culture.

"It's encouraging to see that the majority of evangelical Christians are determined not to let the daily pressures of time get between them and God," he said.

"Even so, we should be aware of how easily we can be distracted, and how we need to be intentional about our growth as Christians.

"Our discipleship is critically important, and I hope the report findings will inspire church leaders to consider how they can support busy people to be disciples of Christ."

In the conclusion, Evangelical Alliance General Director Steve Clifford said: "Challenges remain, and this research is
designed to spark conversations and ideas in your church. It raises some important questions for us all, such as: how can we make sure that our churches are effectively discipling Christians at all stages of their faith? How can churches
equip people to share their faith with others? What can help us avoid life's distractions and set aside time to be with God?"

The Time for discipleship? report is available to read in full at www.eauk.org/discipleship