Not long ago, Jo Anne Lyon had a vision. What if her entire denomination, the Wesleyan Church, did something it had never done before: read the whole New Testament? Together? In just 8 weeks?
“We have a lot of programs out,” said the denominational leader. But a denomination-wide Bible reading campaign? Would people go for it? Would they be up for that much reading? Would it make any difference in their lives?
Wesleyans have always been big believers in the power of God’s Word. So they decided to give it a shot, becoming the first denomination to do Biblica’sCommunity Bible Experience as a whole group. “It’s going to draw us together,” Jo Anne predicted. “It’s going to increase our inspiration, our knowledge, our wisdom, our growth in the Scriptures. We’re going to experience something we have never before known.”
For the Wesleyan Church, whose motto is “made new,” this was an opportunity to transform the way churchgoers (and non-churchgoers) read the Bible — to help them experience Scripture afresh so their lives can be… well, made new.
The question is, would it work?
An unexpected Lenten journey
The experiment kicked off February 24, ten days before Lent. While most people think of Lent as a time for giving things up, this year the Wesleyan Church asked people to do the opposite: take something on.
Three things, actually: Read big. Read real. Read together.
By late February, more than 800 churches had answered the challenge. Wesleyan congregations across North America — and as far away as Albania and India — committed to reading the New Testament together in eight weeks.
When pastors shared the vision with their congregations, they unleashed a pent-up hunger for the Bible. Many churches are seeing 80 to 100% participation, not counting participants outside the church who are curious about the Bible.
“It must be music to Jesus’ ears to hear so many people excited about reading the New Testament.”
—Dorothy, Oklahoma (via Facebook)
Today, Dorothy’s sentiment is reverberating across an entire denomination.
Lives made new
Several years ago, the REVEAL study found that nothing is more critical to spiritual growth than regular engagement with the Bible. The stories pouring in from Wesleyan churches doing Community Bible Experience serve to confirm the researchers’ prediction that we’ll see “great kingdom gains” if we find effective new ways to help people connect with God’s Word.
Even for lifelong Christians, the experience has been like scales falling from their eyes. Many are reading the Scriptures — really reading them — for the first time in their lives.
“This is our second week. Mature Christians [are] marveling at patterns they’d never noticed, because they’re reading whole books for the first time.”
—Mark, Bay City Wesleyan Church, Michigan
“I feel like I am right there among the people who followed [Jesus],” said a participant from Roanoke, Virginia. “I can visualize what is happening and feel like he is talking directly to me. It’s awesome.”
Bridging the generational gap
Reading together has had another impact, one that not everyone expected: it’s brought kids and grownups to the same table. “Our youngest reader is 11 and the oldest is in their mid-70s,” said Pastor Mark Haines. “All have contributed.”
Community Bible Experience features an abridged audio New Testament for kids, but many young people are opting for the whole thing instead. “I’m reading the daily portions aloud to my kiddos,” wrote one parent on Facebook, “and they were super bummed when we finished with today’s reading. They wanted to read more.”
In Albania, a 10-year-old named Erisa brought her Bible and the Community Bible Experience reading plan to school. A classmate saw it and confided that she was a Christian too. “When Erisa showed her the reading plan, the friend took out a notebook and copied the whole plan so she can read along, too!” reported Matt, a missionary to the former communist country.
This deep dive into Scripture is transforming families in more lighthearted ways, too. A family from Lamont Wesleyan Church in Kansas recently posted this story on Facebook: “Thursday morning before the school bus came, Sherry was being bossy (as big sisters do to little brothers), telling David he needed to get ready for school. Instead of yelling back and having a big argument, he says, ‘Sherry, get the wood out of your own eye!’ It was over. We are enjoying this.”
For Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church, these stories of transformation don’t come as a surprise. Like she told her fellow Wesleyans at the start of this journey, “This is about simply reading God’s Word and allowing it to soak in your own spirit, mind, and heart.”
After all, what better way is there to transform lives?
The Wesleyan Church joins hundreds of churches from several denominations and more than a dozen countries who have done Community Bible Experience. The Wesleyan campaign runs through Easter Sunday, April 20.