February 22, 2020

The Good Book Club

The idea was simple: Let’s invite people to read the Bible together every day.

When the Good Book Club began in 2018, we weren’t sure how folks would engage. Organized by Forward Movement, the initiative brought in partner organizations from across the Episcopal Church. Groups prepared free resources for formation and study, everything from podcasts to downloadable Bible studies. That first year, we read through the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. And people responded. By the end of the first session of the Good Book Club, our weekly email list was about 3,800, with an open rate of about 50 percent. To put that into perspective, the national average open rate for emails is 25 percent. Something was stirring.

Last year, during the season of Epiphany, the Good Book Club focused on Romans. Scholars and lay people alike will agree that this was not light reading. But Paul’s letter to the Romans topped a survey of participants, so we slogged through together. Partners created engaging resources, including daily Instagram posts and online Bible studies. Another 3,000 people joined the email list, and the open rate remained steady at 50 percent.

During this season of Epiphany, the Good Book Club has explored the Gospel of John. More than 9,000 people have subscribed to the weekly emails (again, with 50 percent open rate). The initiative has spread into the Anglican Church of Canada: a webinar hosted by the Montreal Diocesan Theological College had 350 people sign up; a weekly live Bible study hosted by ChurchNext has north of 150 participants. People are writing and sharing their stories about the Good Book Club. One reader developed an (Amazon) Alexa skill to help him follow the readings; some churches are hosting Facebook Live discussions. A woman in Venezuela started a study with a group of friends, and a church in Ontario began a parish-wide project. Congregations from Melbourne, Florida; Bon Secur, Alabama; Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; High Point, North Carolina; and many more have written to share their stories of scripture engagement, as have numerous individuals.

Susan Keith of Rutherford, North Carolina, and St. Francis Episcopal Church, felt inspired by the poetry of John to write her own poem. She was willing to share it:

The Word
In the beginning was Word
Not words,
But The Word.
The Word was with God.
Of course because
The Word was God.
When God spoke
It was with The Word.
And the Word as Love.
God spoke Love into life.
Have you not seen it in
The beauty of flowers and trees
The playfulness of kittens
The affection of puppies
The wonder of children.
God speaks The Word every day.
Listen for it.

Here’s another story that I love: Maggie Khaja sent an email and started with an honest confession: “I had actually forgotten what I had signed up for: I am 75 and confused it with other subscriptions.

“What I just read didn’t just touch my heart it entered my heart. My father was a Methodist minister, I studied divinity at university, but although I have attended both Anglican and now United Church, I have never been satisfied….My faith demands more. First, I commit to work on myself and then at the right time, maybe share your message with other friends.”

We know in our hearts the power of scripture to transform lives but for whatever reason, we don’t always act like we believe this truth. Episcopalians don’t read the Bible, some say with a sigh. Or, young people just aren’t interested in that type of program. Or, people are too busy, and we need to find something light and jazzy to attract their attention.

Yet we know through both experience and quantitative research that reading the Bible is a catalyst for spiritual growth. When people read, God changes them. It’s that simple.

The past three years of the Good Book Club shows a deep hunger. Perhaps all we need to do is prepare the table—and then invite them to join the feast. Who will you invite to dive into God’s Word today? Will it be you? A family member? A friend? The table’s waiting.

This blog is part of a series for the Good Book Club. Learn more about the Good Book Club here.