The Rev. Perry Fruhling isn’t sure he agrees with a recent study listing Cedar Rapids as one of the 10 least Bible-minded cities in the country, but he isn’t too quick to dismiss the results, either.
“I think this study sounds a note of warning to churches that there’s work to be done, we need to get people involved in the work of God’s word,” he said. “We can’t just keep ‘playing church.’”
The Barna Research Group, which studies religious trends, demographics and methodology nationwide, recently listed Cedar Rapids as the ninth least Bible-minded community in the United States.
An aberration in the Midwest, it shares the bottom 10 Bible-mindedness ranks with larger cities — Phoenix, Ariz.; San Francisco, Calif.; Boston, Mass.; Hartford, Conn.; Portland, Maine; Burlington, Vt.; Albany, NY; and Providence, RI.
Cedar Rapids shared its spot with Buffalo, N.Y., Las Vegas, and New York City — all of which reported having just 18 percent — fewer than one person in five — reading and believing the Bible.
Top Bible-minded cities are mostly in the south: Knoxville, Tenn., Shreveport, La., and Chattanooga, Tenn., are the top three Bible-minded cities.
Though somewhat disheartened by the study, Fruhling said the church should see this as a rallying cry rather than as a reason to be demoralized.
“Nationally, we’re becoming a first-century culture. There’s a culture that’s not really resonating with the word of God,” Fruhling said. “The church really has to change its strategy and become a first-century church.”
The Barna study was based on 42,855 interviews nationwide and then analyzed by the American Bible Society. Those cities listed as most Bible-minded are those in which residents reported reading the Bible at least weekly as well as strongly believing the Bible to be true. According to Barna, the rankings “reflect an overall openness or resistance to the Bible in the country’s largest markets.”
Fruhling’s church, St. Mark’s Faith and Life Center, 8300 C Ave., in Marion, has started a 31-week study of the Bible to not just read the Bible but to understand and share it. He said the program isn’t necessarily in response to the Barna study, but it’s one way his church is addressing the results.
“The Bible is central to our faith but many people are intimidated by its scope and size,” he said.
The church program, called The Story, “gives us a way to journey from Genesis to Revelation together so everyone understands God’s story and how their own story intersects with it,” he said.
“Really what the Barna study indicates is that people have not experienced God’s word,” Fruhling said. “Our goal is to help people experience God’s word, we’re convinced they will be truly moved by it.”
The Rev. Eric Schumacher, pastor of Northbrook Baptist Church, 1700 Boyson Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids, said he was surprised by the Barna study, not only because of how he perceives Cedar Rapids but also because of the city’s geographic location, nestled in the center of the Midwest.
“Here in the Midwest we tend to have a mindset that everyone is familiar with the Bible, even in Cedar Rapids,” he said. “I think people tend to assume that everyone thinks like them because the people they surround themselves most with are those they see in church, those they attend Bible study with. We assume that we’re in a ‘Christian’ society where people are familiar with reading the Bible, that they read the Bible and think, ‘I ought to be going to church.’”
“I think what this study shows is that’s not really who we’re living amongst,” he said. “We’re not living with people who have esteem for the Bible like we do. That means we have to change our strategy.”
He said this Barna study goes hand in hand with another study done earlier this year by the same group, in which Cedar Rapids was listed as being among top 15 “post-Christian” cities in the United States. In that report Cedar Rapids placed 15th, with 49 percent of residents meeting at least nine of the 15 criteria set by the religious research group. Some of those criteria include a lack of a belief in God, identification as atheist or agnostic, haven’t prayed to God in the last year, and disagree that the Bible is accurate.
Both studies can be found on the group’s website at Barna.org.
Schumacher, like Fruhling, sees the study results as a signal to the church that it’s time to change.
“With a lot of churches you have things going on during the week and you ask people to come to you — that assumes people have the same interest of the Bible,” he said. “If we live in a society where just 18 percent of people believe in the Bible and read it regularly, then we are also living with 82 percent of people who really may not care what the Bible says.”
The Rev. Damian Epps, pastor of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, 6621 C Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids, has a different view of the Barna study. The study, he said, is “unfair.”
“I thought their research was unfair and it doesn’t speak for Cedar Rapidians,” he said, “nor does it speak to our religious community.”
Epps said his perception of Cedar Rapids — as well as the state of Iowa — is that of a community with a strong Bible base.
“If you would have told me some of the other states or cities listed, I would agree, but not Cedar Rapids. I don’t agree with that,” he said.“I would say the majority of people in Cedar Rapids, even though they may not go to church, they are Bible-minded,” Epps said. “They may not practice it, they may not dot every I and cross every T, but they believe what the Bible says.”