Case study: using the Bible with Bible Nostalgic people
The key question Bible communicators face is, how can I interpret the Bible's text in a way that really connects with the people I'm speaking to?
Bible communication takes place in all kinds of different contexts. It might be a conversation with friends in a pub. It might be in a home group among people who are broadly signed up to Christianity anyway. It might be at a seeker-friendly event of some kind. Or it might be in a Sunday service in the 'sermon' slot – which might be the traditional monologue, or something quite different involving dialogue or group discussion.
There's no one-size-fits all way of talking about the Bible, and we'll always suit our communication to the context. But what if we know that our audience comes with certain presuppositions? We can adapt what we say so that we're talking about things that matter to them, rather than things that matter to us.
One of the 'personas' that's emerged from Bible Society's research is the Bible Nostalgic. People in this group may not go to church often, but they value the Bible because it provides a moral grounding and is good for society (though they might not know it very well). They think children should learn Bible stories and that the Bible has shaped our culture. Their lives are generally happy and meaningful, and they tend to be politically and socially conservative. They worry about their children.
So what would a piece of Bible communication based on, say, the Parable of the Sower look like if it were aimed at this group?
It's one that everyone knows (read it in Mark 4.1–9). We might have our own take on it, but here are some ways to connect it with Bible Nostalgics.
- It's not really the Parable of the Sower – more the Parable of the Soils
- The 'seed' is the word of God – all the good things God says to us through the Bible and the Church
- The 'path' has been beaten down by other people's feet. Nowadays a lot of people seem to talk as though Christianity isn't relevant any more; if you hear that message all the time, it's easy to assume they're right
- The 'rocky places' have shallow soil. The vast number of entertainment choices we have, the lure of the internet, shorter attention spans, the pace of life with its hurry and bustle, and families fragmenting as children move away all tend to make us shallower people
- The 'thorns' represent consumerism, money and ambition – all huge factors today, when we can have whatever we want at the click of a mouse
- Good soil is rare – but God is a gardener! So how can we help transform society so that it's a healthier place to grow?
Thinking like this helps us connect with Bible Nostalgic people on a level that's appropriate to where they are, while still handling the text with integrity. It touches on their sense that the world was better once, their uneasiness at the idea that the Church is under threat and their fears for their children and grandchildren. It helps them see that the Bible has directly relevant things to say about the world we live in.
Not every Bible passage is going to appeal to every persona – choose carefully! But preaching (in whatever form) with an eye to the audience is vital if we're to communicate the Bible effectively.