People who are rooted in Scripture tend to make better neighbors. That’s the assessment of a study released by the American Bible Society. The State of the Bible USA 2021 report “Good Neighbors” finds that people who are deeply engaged in God’s Word and in vibrant Christian community are also working for the good of their neighbors in practical, often life-changing ways.
It comes at an important time. Another poll found that 95 million Americans are currently exploring the Bible.
Volunteering, helping strangers, donating to charity, welcoming immigrants, befriending people of other races, caring for those in prisons and advocating for the oppressed are all more prevalent among those more motivated by Scripture, the study found.
Scripture provides a blueprint for being a good neighbor. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus helps a teacher of the Law see that a good neighbor is one that is kind. Then Jesus says, “Go and do the same!” (Luke 10:37 CEV).
It is stories like the Good Samaritan that help guide our attitudes and actions towards others. The State of the Bible report reveals that people who are rooted in the Bible tend to epitomize neighborliness better than others. But what exactly does it mean to be neighborly? They used a “Neighboring Index” to measure neighborly behaviors. The most popular neighboring behavior in America is helping a stranger (51%), followed by donating to charity (38%), and volunteering in their community (20% outside of church). Not all neighboring behaviors are equally popular across generational lines. Young adults are more likely to engage in community volunteerism and helping strangers, while older adults are more likely to donate money to a charity.
“The findings suggest that people who are rooted in the Bible tend to epitomize neighborliness better than others,” ABS said in its study. “Scripture engagement and connection to a vibrant Christian community have key benefits for society as a whole.
“Biblically motivated people make better neighbors because they tend toward attitudes and behaviors that have a positive influence. … Even when accounting for all other variables, the more deeply people engage with the Bible, the more respectful they are of others.”
John Plake, ABS director of ministry intelligence, said the study indicates that putting Scripture into practice is good for society.
“Our differences can be largely overcome with the truth found in Scripture, and we can afford to display selfless, practical love to others because Christ first loved us,” Plake said in a press release. “Throughout history, followers of Jesus have gone to great lengths to serve others, even when it comes at great personal cost — epidemics, wars, poverty, hardship, disasters and other traumatic world events have all been occasions for Christians to show God’s love in tangible ways.
“In an age known for polarization and division, we must serve each other and answer the biblical call to love our neighbors as ourselves.”
Among key findings:
- Helping a stranger is the most popular neighboring behavior among respondents (51 percent), followed by donating to charity (38 percent), and volunteering in the community (20 percent. The study looked at volunteering outside of church ministries.)
- Gen Z adults and Millennials are more likely to volunteer in their communities and help strangers, while older adults are more apt to donate money to charities. Among respondents, 56 percent of Gen Z, 59 percent of Millennials and 55 percent of Gen X said they had helped a stranger in the past seven days; while donating money to charity is a priority among 51 percent of elders.
- Practicing Christians scored higher on the study’s scale designed to rank good neighboring, with practicing Christians ranking from 1.3 to 1.6 (with 1.1 being the national average or mean), and non-practicing Christians ranking from 0.7 to 1.1.
- Among Bible disengaged Americans, 9 percent volunteer in their community, 24 percent donate to charity and 43 percent help strangers.
- Prosocial behaviors done without expectation of reciprocation – including welcoming immigrants, befriending people of other races and other religions, caring for the imprisoned, caring for the environment and advocating for society’s oppressed – are linked to an increased sense of meaning and purpose in life.
- Good neighboring behaviors are viewed as negative among respondents classified as “Bible disengaged,” those who rarely engage with the Bible if at all.
The January online study included 3,354 complete responses from a sample of adult representative of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The report also reveals how Scripture engagement affects our neighboring with regard to occupational respect, civic engagement and personal care, and prosocial behavior.
The Bible has always been and remains a lamp to guide our feet and a light for our path. It is our guidebook on how to live out Jesus’s words in Mark 12:31 (GNT): “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s why we invite you to join us as we pray that Americans will turn to the Bible. Pray that its truth will shape how we treat others and live in community with one another.
The full report can be downloaded here.