Well, we don't have pews. We have cushioned chairs. So technically we have "chair-back Bibles," but the idea is the same.
It might seem antiquated or out of date to have pew Bibles. After all, we have access to a projection system, slide show software and advanced copying systems. We could project whatever text is being preached from. We could also print the text and insert it into the bulletin. But we don't.
Our church has made a conscious decision to not do any of these things. (We will occasionally project a secondary text, but not the primary one). There are direct and indirect results of this decision.
Below are some of the bullet point reasons we use pew Bibles:
- Projecting the text takes the Bible away from the congregation. We want people to hold their own Bible (even if it is on their phone). We want them to bring their Bibles. We want them to be able to find their way around it, so they can find their way back to that place.
- Pew Bibles give the congregation immediate access to the context. None of the pastors and presenters can play "fast and loose" with the biblical text when the Bible is in the hands of the congregation. At a glance they can see the immediate context.
- The congregation knows where the text is located. Years later it is much more likely a member will be able to find his or her way back to a needed text if he or she had been there before. (Even with the digital versions). If we just projected the text and/or printed it in the bulletin, they might remember seeing it on the screen, but they'll have a much harder time finding it again.
- People will become more familiar with their Bibles. We want people to know how to navigate their Bibles. We want people to be able to find passages. We want them to be able to find texts and verses in their time of need. Even with digital searches, there is something lost when a person doesn't know where a text is located. (Old Testament? New Testament? Epistle? Gospel?) The context is key.
- It is easier to give Bibles away. I don't have exact numbers, but when we decided to move toward pew Bibles three years ago, we had to invest quite a bit of money. Over the last few years we've easily given away $1000 worth of Bibles. Additionally, every week there's a script I follow: "Please open your Bibles to 1 Samuel 4:1. If you don't have a Bible, feel free to use one of the red chair-back Bibles. They're cued up for the most part. And if you don't own a Bible and you'd like a Bible, please take that Bible home with you, put your name in it and read it. It's our gift to you. We want you to get into the Word of God and the Word of God to get into you." This communicates the importance of the Bible to the whole congregation. Young and old. Every single week.
- If parents bring their Bibles, kids bring their Bibles. When we project the text it communicates that attenders don't need to bring their Bibles. As a result, the kids don't bring it. I spent eleven years in youth ministry. I always wanted teens to bring their Bibles. I communicated it every week. In the churches where pew Bibles abounded, most of the youth brought them. In the churches that projected the text, most of the teens did not.
- Reading straight from the text tells the congregation where authority comes from. It isn't from the pastor. The authority of the church comes from God Himself.
- It tells the congregation where the pastor's sermon receives its authority from. Again, it is not from the pastor. When the pastor preaches from the actual Bible and people read along in an actual Bible, it implicitly communicates his message is not a clever device from Himself, but delivered under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What other direct and indirect benefits are there to having pew Bibles?