When I decided to write a devotional for men, I got a lot of quizzical looks.
“There’s really not much of a market for your book,” I was told by the experts. “Women buy most Christian books, especially devotionals.”
“Why don’t men buy devotionals?” I asked.
“Because men don’t like to read.”
If that premise is true, then women are likely to read the Bible more than men do. Surveys often show that they do. For example, the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Survey shows that, among Evangelical Protestants, 66% of women read the Bible at least once a week, compared to 58% of men.
In 2020, however, the gap narrowed.
A Pandemic Tipping Point
For the past decade, the American Bible Society has teamed with Barna Group to conduct telephone and online surveys and produce an annual research study called State of the Bible. Since 2017, the researchers have attempted to measure scripture engagement, or how “interaction with the Bible results in transformed relationship with God and others.”
ABS/Barna believes that scripture engagement is affected by the frequency of one’s Bible interactions and the influence of those interactions on one’s relationships (with God and others) and one’s choices and decisions.
State of the Bible studies group respondents into five bible engagement categories: Bible Centered, Bible Engaged, Bible Friendly, Bible Neutral, and Bible Disengaged. There are significant differences in Bible interaction among those in the top three categories:
- Bible Centered: 83 percent use the Bible on their own at least four times a week
- Bible Engaged: 38 percent read the Bible at least four times a week
- Bible Friendly: Only 22 percent read the Bible once a week
In 2017, 2018, and 2019, women exhibited slightly higher levels of Scripture engagement than men did.
But something happened in 2020 to change that: a worldwide pandemic.
The 2020 surveys were conducted in January. As the researchers tabulated the results, COVID-19 outbreaks began to affect people’s lives in unpredictable ways. The ABS/Barna researchers decided to conduct a second set of surveys in late May and early June and to compare the results with those obtained in January.
The pandemic caused declines in men’s top two scripture engagement categories:
- Bible Centered: declined from 8.0 percent to 6.7 percent
- Bible Engaged: declined from 18.8 percent to 16.7 percent
- Bible Friendly: increased from 14.7 percent to 18.4 percent
Women saw even sharper declines in the top two categories:
- Bible Centered: declined from 9.9 percent to 4.9 percent
- Bible Engaged: declined from 19.1 percent to 17.0 percent
- Bible Friendly: increased from 17.8 percent to 18.8 percent
The declines in scripture engagement were caused primarily by declines in Bible reading, leaving men ahead of women in that area.
Photo Credit: ©SparrowStock
Group Reinforcement Works for Both Men and Women
Why did the pandemic cause more women than men to reduce their Bible reading? ABS/Barna believes that isolation caused many women to be “disconnected from their church gatherings, small group meetings, and less formal connections with friends who share and encourage their faith.” The “decreased opportunities for social interactions around the Bible may have disrupted women’s Bible engagement routines and contributed to their decreased Scripture engagement as a population.”
The inference is that, when it comes to Bible reading, men tend to go it alone, whereas women rely more on reinforcement from their friends. Some men’s ministry leaders believe that men don’t go it alone by choice—they simply have fewer chances for group Bible studies than their female counterparts.
“Men today have an increased appetite for Bible reading and study,” says Craig Fry, president of CLC, a ministry that encourages scripture engagement among small groups of men. “When given the chance to dig deep in the Bible, Christian men respond with an enthusiastic, ‘Yes!’
“Men long for community just as much as women do,” he continues. “When a man is challenged by a small group of men he trusts to ‘step up’ in his walk with Christ by focusing on Scripture, he doesn’t walk away from such an opportunity. Instead, he runs toward it.”
The problem, according to Fry, is not lack of desire but lack of opportunity. Men need more than a challenge to read the Bible regularly. They need support and structure.
For many men, having at least one male partner in the venture—and adventure—of reading God’s Word regularly brings these benefits:
- Interaction: Hearing ideas from others, and putting your thoughts into words, can help everyone in the group understand challenging passages and apply more of God’s Word to your daily lives.
- Accountability: You and your teammates can help each other stay on track with regular time in the Bible.
- Support: Good teammates care about more than just accomplishing a goal. They care about each member of the team and will commit to providing ongoing, prayerful support.
The structure that men crave can be provided by a Bible reading plan, which also provides goals and milestones. But a Bible reading plan rarely provides insight into what you are reading. For that, men may turn to devotionals and Bible studies.
And they are doing that more now than in the past. But there are a few obstacles in their path.
Similar Appetites, Unique Needs
One obstacle is the pandemic, which has reduced Bible reading and hammered the Christian publishing industry.
“Sales of Christian materials had a steep nose-dive during the early pandemic period, or March to May, and have been flat since then,” reports Kristen McLean, Executive Director, Industry Analyst at NPD Group. McLean believes that the sales decline was caused by several factors, including:
- Closures of churches, church bookstores, and church-related groups, such as Bible studies
- A slowdown in the supply chain, as some key retailers closed for several months and others prioritized “essentials” over Christian books
- The fact that many Christian women assumed additional responsibilities and prioritized family needs over other activities, such as purchasing and reading Christian books
The final point is especially important, because most Christian books are purchased by women.
Because women are the primary buyers, the vast majority of Christian books are written for women. Former literary agent Dan Balow explains this in a blog post:
In Christian publishing, since most readers are women, Christian books for men are treated as a niche market. Women are the primary market worthy of the most focus, and men are an afterthought if they are thought of at all…Some publishers don’t publish books where the only market is a man.
…of the thousands of Christian books published every year in the US, relatively few create much of a wave with men. You can start listing names and hit a wall at about a dozen…
The result is a dearth of well-written Christian books that target men. They are out there, but men have to hunt for them. (Here is a list of some recommended men’s devotionals, including free ones.)
The Christian publishing industry, however, is beginning to realize that there is an audience for books that are written for men. And that audience appears to be growing. Sales of some popular men’s devotionals increased slightly from 2017 to 2019. And sales of those books during the first eight months of 2020 were higher than during the same months of 2019.
It turns out that men and women have similar appetites to read the Bible.
Both simply require help that is tailored to their unique needs.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/AndreyPopov
Chris Bolinger is the author of Daily Strength for Men, a 365-day daily devotional from BroadStreet Publishing. The book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christian Book Distributors, DailyStrengthForMen.com, and on the Inspirational Reading rack at many supermarkets, drug stores, gas stations, and gift shops.