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The Patmos Study

A groundbreaking global study for a unique moment in mission history

What does the world really think about the Bible and Christianity? For the last three years, Bible Society’s Research Team has been trying to answer that question in a way that is systematic, accurate and context-specific.

The Patmos Study, Bible Society’s global research project working with Gallup, has already begun to produce insights that will shape conversations and equip churches for a generation.

The Patmos Study (so named because of John’s revelation on Patmos, which separated spiritual diagnoses according to local contexts) follows on from a project mapping attitudes to the Bible and religion in England and Wales in 2018. That study produced the most thorough and accurate data ever collected on the UK mission field. The Patmos Study is seeking to do something similar for the entire world.  

We live in a time when accurate understandings of religious attitudes, backed by rigorous research, may be more important than ever. As some pundits in the media proclaim the death and irrelevance of religion, others seek to weaponise religious demographics for political gain. As a world in need of God cries out for effective mission, The Patmos Study hopes to bring clarity, insight and credibility to the conversation.

The mission imperative

We believe that The Patmos Study will lay the foundations for the entire missionary enterprise for the next 20 years.

Leaders within global denominations, mission agencies and Christian INGOs will be able to use the insights of The Patmos Study to inform their outreach strategies. Bible Societies around the world will be able to engage with its results and recommendations.  The Patmos Study will be a powerful tool for the Kingdom of God.

The strength of The Patmos Study is that its insights are not just accurate, but actionable. They are focused on one of the core elements of any mission strategy: truly knowing the people to whom you are reaching out.

By mapping attitudes to, understanding of and engagement with the Bible and Christianity more generally, Bible Society hopes to catalyse Christians in geographically separate but culturally similar countries to engage in more effective mission. Our deep hope is that this mission will recognise the need for deeper Bible Engagement.

Why the Bible?

The Bible is God’s story in the world, a point of spiritual encounter and revelation for Christians across boundaries of class, nationality, culture and theology. It is the bedrock of what we understand to be Christianity, a conduit of connection with history and community, the common thread running through a diverse tapestry of churches, scattered worshippers and Christian communities spanning centuries. It is how we know most of what we know about God.

You do not have to be a ‘Bible agency’ to recognise that the Bible will play a crucial role in people being reached for Christ and for the polycentric, Spirit-driven spread of Christ-like justice in the world. The Bible, while not every organisation’s primary focus, is a foundation for all that we do and plays a more important direct role than we always remember. 

The Bible is one of the few pillars of Christianity common to almost every expression that calls Jesus Lord.  It is central to our faith and therefore to our mission. More than that, it is central to the missio Dei itself, a unique tool of the Spirit not only to bring humanity to faith in God, but to transform disciples so that they may transform society.  

If it is impossible to understand the Christian faith without understanding the Bible, it is also therefore possible, through measuring attitudes to the Bible, to understand the landscape for mission. 

In a world where the reality of almost every religious context is a kaleidoscope of nuanced and complex belief impossible to capture in an entry on a census form or by measuring church attendance, the Bible is a solid marker of the state of attitudes to Christianity.

The Bible matters, not just because it is how Christians over thousands of years have understood who God is, but because attitudes to the Bible and its relevance are trackable through non-Christian populations, a significance almost no other book has. 

The Patmos Study hopes to catalyse an understanding that promoting engagement with the Bible is an important point for collective Christian focus. We believe the research will demonstrate that we have reached a moment in mission history where there is a clear need for concerted, collaborative investment of resources to drive Bible Engagement.

A moment like no other

We are entering a unique moment in the history of mission and the Bible. For the first time, Bible availability will have been achieved for the vast majority of the world’s population. We are living in a time when more people have access to the Bible, in a language they understand, than do not. 

Right now, the Bible is available, in whole or in part, to about 90 per cent of the world’s population. That figure is expected to increase to 99 per cent by 2033.

When that time comes, will our agencies, denominations and churches be prepared for the next horizon of mission? Bible Society hopes that the release of The Patmos Study at this moment will allow time for collaboration, preparation and study for the challenge that is, in many contexts, already with us. For the fact is that Bible availability is no necessary predictor of transformative Bible Engagement. 

For Bible Society, Bible Engagement is the process whereby deep and open encounters with the Bible lead to whole-life change. Different traditions will have different names for it. But this missional, personal impact is the reason we have poured so much energy into Bible Translation. 

Bible Engagement is a kind of translation, too: not into a heart language, but into the heart itself. 

Countries and languages awash with Bible translations are not necessarily filled with vital Christian communities. Many have populations that have never engaged with the Bible at all. Britain has no shortage of translations and versions, freely available and culturally referenced with regularity. And yet an astonishing 63 per cent of the population of England and Wales admit to never having read the Bible at all. 

This is a feature of other contexts, too, and understanding the dynamics and attitudes at play in your context – so as to understand the types of people your mission field is made up of – will require a firm base in fact and reliable data.

That’s what The Patmos Study offers. Credible answers to the questions: who are we reaching out to? And what are the factors we need to know for our mission strategies?

We believe that every person and organisation that is serious about mission strategy will be unable to ignore The Patmos Study. This is a generational opportunity.

A unique opportunity

If understanding what The Patmos Study has discovered within country clusters will change the way we do mission (as we believe it will), and if Bible Engagement is the next frontier for Christian mission (and we believe it is), no church or organisation can achieve this task alone. 

For the first time, through this study, church leaders, agencies and analysts around the world will have access to truly international data, coherently organised and credibly sourced, to aid their vision, strategies and tactical sourcing of resources to achieve the task. 

What is needed now is a co-ordinated response.

Building a Bible Engagement Coalition

The trend we have seen in the West, of societies saturated with Bible access and where significant portions of the population have no interest in reading the Bible, has begun to spread to the rest of the world. 

Translation is still important. But the looming scenario is one of disengagement or non-engagement. This trend is one we can prepare for and even potentially avoid, if we begin now to form a coalition centred on Bible Engagement.

Building on the insights offered by The Patmos Study, we believe the tide can be turned, if we begin to act now. Every Bible Society in the global UBS Fellowship, every mission agency in every context, each Christian denomination and anyone who cares about mission strategy is going to find The Patmos Study insights essential if they are to face the future with open eyes. 

This is a generational moment, where Christian leaders have the opportunity to form strategy on a strong evidence base and meet the challenge of the future with a clear understanding of the present.  

Bible Society is calling on all agencies, organisations and fellowships, all denominations and movements that recognise the importance of the Bible’s revelation to humanity, to come together. To build a coalition. To start a movement that mobilises, collaborates and shares resources and experience. To make sure that the proud endeavour of Bible translation does not end on the shelves, but in more and more human hearts. 

If you are a Christian leader who wants to join the growing conversation about Bible Engagement and the growing movement towards strategic, fact-based mission, Bible society would love to hear from you. You can join The Patmos Forum here to keep up to date with the research and connect with others who share your vision. 

Or if you’d just like more information, you can email Richard Powney, [email protected], or Joanna Heath, [email protected].

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