Rising numbers of children 'no longer read Bible stories'

Christian stories such as the Nativity, Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark and the Good Samaritan risk being “lost to future generations” because of a decline in exposure to the Bible, according to research.

Figures suggest that the number of children regularly reading or hearing Bible stories has halved over the last 20 or 30 years.

It emerged that 46 per cent of schoolchildren are exposed to the book at home or in the classroom at least once a year compared with almost nine-in-10 of their parents’ generation.

The study – by the Bible Society – found that large numbers of children did not even know that many of the most famous Christian stories came from the Bible.

The findings emerged as the society launched the “Pass It On” campaign designed to encourage parents to share classic Bible stories such as David and Goliath and Jonah and The Whale to their children.

It comes just months after Ofsted found that many pupils were leaving school with a “very limited understanding” of Christianity because of a dip in standards of religious education.

James Catford, the Bible Society chief executive, said the latest study indicated that “the Bible’s brilliant and engaging stories could be lost to future generations unless people take action”.

“It’s clear that parents want to give their children the best start in life,” he said. “The Bible’s contribution to our culture – language, literature, the visual arts and music – is immense. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from.

“The Bible enriches life, and every child should have the opportunity to experience it.”

The society commissioned YouGov to survey almost 6,000 adults and 800 children aged eight to 15.

Figures show that almost half of children – 46 per cent – read Bible stories at least once a year, compared with 86 per cent of their parents when they were growing up.

Children were also asked if they could identify famous Bible stories. It emerged that almost a third of children did not identify the Nativity as a story from the Bible, rising to 36 per cent for the Good, 41 per cent for Samson and Delilah and 59 per cent for both David and Goliath and Jonah and The Whale.

A fifth of children could not identify Noah’s Ark or Adam and Eve as a Bible story.

The society's report said the statistics were "symptomatic of the fact that many children indicate they have never read, seen or even heard these stories".

It emerged that almost half of parents whose children had read Bible stories believed it was important to be exposed to them because they provided a sound moral framework, while four-in-10 thought they were important to our history and culture.

In a foreword to the report, Dr Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, said that sharing Bible stories "is as vital now as it has ever been".

"Too few children have the opportunity to hear and reflect on what this life-changing book contains," he said. “Even those that do when they are young often take its awesome stories for granted when they become adults. There is work to be done."

Sir Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate, said it was difficult for academics to teach crucial literary and historical texts without an understanding of the Bible stories.

“It's essential for us to keep these stories alive, regardless of our religious beliefs, or lack of them,” he said. “They are indispensable to our understanding of the past, and to the enrichment of our present.”