Print or Digital Bible—Which Is Better for Kids?

(Unsplash/Jenny Smith)

Today's kids have lots of options when it comes to reading the Bible. They can read it in print format or digitally on their phone, tablet or laptop.

But which is better for kids?  You'll find a variety of opinions when you ask this question.

Let's talk about it. Which is better for kids?  A print Bible or a digital Bible?

First of all, let's establish the bottom line. The Bible is God's Word no matter what it is written on. It's the actual words that make it the Bible, not the format that displays the words.

We know the Ten Commandments were written on tablets of stone.

As "technology" advanced from clay tablets to papyrus, translators began writing the Bible in this format. Papyrus "paper" was made from the papyrus plant. It was obviously easier to write on and could be rolled into "scrolls," which were easier to store and transport.

During this time, the words of the Bible were also written on parchment and vellum. These were animal skins. Parchments were made from the skins of animals such as bulls and goats. Vellums were made from the best quality skins of the day such as calf skins. These also had the ability to be rolled into scrolls.

While scrolls continued to be used, a new format called the codex, was introduced. The codex was made from a group of pages bound together which opened with a hinge. Basically, the codex was a book.

The codex (book) began to rise in popularity and started replacing scrolls. Interesting enough, as books were introduced, those who were more conservative and accustomed to using the scroll, were reluctant to give up the scroll format and fought against the change in format.

Another big change was transitioning from handwritten to type format. Gutenberg is generally accredited with the world's first book printed by movable type. It was the Gutenberg Bible.

And so for hundreds of years, Christians have read the Bible in printed, hard-copy, book format.

But another shift has been taking place in the last few decades. With the rapid advancement of technology, the Word of God became available in digital format. And many people are reading it this way.

In 2014, Barna research found that among people who read the Bible:

  • 44 percent read it on the internet
  • 35 percent read it on a smartphone
  • 24 percent read it on a tablet
  • 86 percent say they read it regularly in digital format
  • 57 percent say they read it more in digital format than in print format

But the survey also found that...

  • 89 percent read it in print format also
  • 84 percent prefer print format

This reflects that there is mixed usage. You could call it a hybrid situation. Though people are reading the Bible more and more in digital formats, the preference for hard copy over digital remains steady as well.

So, the question must be asked: a print or digital Bible?  Which is better for kids? I think this question must be answered by asking some more questions. Let's talk about the questions.

Why format helps kids memorize Scripture better? Among those surveyed, 57 percent say it doesn't make a difference.

Perhaps this is more of a question about how each child memorizes best. Some children memorize best by reading and studying a hard-copy index card. Others memorize best by digital memory games or Bible memory apps.

Which format will kids read more often?  51 percent of people surveyed said having the Bible in digital format helps them read it more. That does make sense. Think about it. Kids always have their smartphone, tablet or computer with them. They don't always have a print copy of the Bible with them.

This would give them more opportunities to read the Bible. They are more prone to read the Bible at school on their smartphone than they are to bring a print copy and read it.

Which format will be used more at church?  This obviously depends on the church and what it emphasizes. If the child's church has a culture of "bring your hard-copy Bible with you to church and be ready to open it," then kids will be more prone to bring their hard copy.

If the church has a culture of "read the verse on the screen," then kids will be more prone to read the Bible digitally while there.

Which format will help kids know the Bible better?  This is where the findings get interesting. A new study shows there may be differences in how children learn from each format. Researchers studied 102 toddlers between the ages of 17 and 26 months.

Their parents were asked to read identical books in both print and electronic formats to them. Results showed that the toddlers who read electronic books paid more attention, participated in more page turns and made more content-related comments. They also identified characters in the book more often.

This is understandable. Today's kids are digital natives and using digital formats is as natural as breathing for them. They interact with digital formats in all other areas of their life. Reading the Bible digitally syncs up with lifestyle.

Which format will get parents more involved in discipling their children?  The parents of today's kids are the Millennials. Studies show Millennial parents show a stronger preference for digital formats than older generations do. It makes sense that they would be more involved in reading God's Word with their children, if it's in a format they both use more often.

I believe the biggest issue is not which format kids use to read and learn the Bible, but rather that they actually do it. We know that biblical illiteracy is a major challenge we are facing and getting kids and parents into God's Word is the most important thing, regardless of which format they use.

Whether they read the Bible digitally or in print or use both, let's encourage kids and parents to engage with God's Word.

Your turn. The floor is yours.

Which format do you personally use to read God's Word? Print? Digital? Both? 

What format do you use to teach kids God's Word in your church? Print? Digital?  Both?

Where do you think we are headed? Will print go away completely? Will digital dominate? Will we continue to use both? 

Share your thoughts, ideas and insight in the comment section below.

Dale Hudson has been in children's ministry for over 27 years. He is the director of children's ministry at Christ Fellowship Church in south Florida. Christ Fellowship has nine campuses and ministers to over 25,000 people on weekends. Dale leads a children's ministry staff team of over 70 and a volunteer team of over 2,600. He has authored 100 Best Ideas to Turbocharge Your Children's Ministry, 100 Best Ideas to Turbocharge Your Preschool Ministry, Children's Ministry in the 21st Century, Sunday School That Works, the Top 100 book, and If Disney Ran Your Children's Ministry.

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