Can a Podcast Fix Your Bible-Reading Habits?
Written by The Ministry of Jesus Christ on March 13, 2022
The Bible is the best-selling book of all time, but in a new technological era, podcasts about the Bible are topping charts as well.
Two podcasts geared toward reading the Bible in a year swiped the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on Apple Podcasts January 2022, as Christians restarted their Bible-reading plans.
The Bible in a Year with Father Mike Schmitz has taken the top podcast spot for the past couple Januaries, and The Bible Recap with Tara-Leigh Cobble ranked second this year. But their sustained popularity and the proliferation of Bible podcasts reveal something deeper than an annual resolutions bump.
During the pandemic, when people are reassessing priorities and picking up new rhythms, the podcast platform is offering believers another way to get in the Word and study alongside a community of listeners.
Cobble, who lives in Dallas, is the founder of D-Group, which organizes small group Bible studies focused on discipleship. As a next step in her mission to keep the Bible front and center for christian discipleship, she started The Bible Recap four years ago.
The podcast came out of her own love for Scripture and a desire to help others “overcome any obstacles that keep them from reading, understanding, and loving God’s Word,” she told Christianity Today. It’s been downloaded more than 80 million times.
The Bible Recap is a chronological journey through the Bible. Each day, there is a reading assignment for listeners to complete on their own and a podcast episode where Cobble—in about eight minutes—breaks down Scripture, often zooming in particularly confusing passages. The episodes end with a “God shot,” where Cobble delivers what she calls a “snapshot of God and his character.”
“It’s not a deep theological dive, but just a five-minute breakdown of what I read,” said Jerri Ann Henry, a listener in Washington, DC. “What makes it work for me is that it’s tied to my Bible reading and makes things short and simple.”
In addition to the podcast, followers can join Cobble on Patreon, paying monthly for extras like transcripts and a short prayer podcast (The Bible Kneecap). Nearly 10,000 patrons from around the world support the community today.
“I’ve been blown away by the wide range of people I’ve met who do The Bible Recap,” Cobble said. “From five-year-olds who listen with their moms to 95-year-olds who listen on their desktop computers to a Hindu student at a university in Mumbai.”
If listeners keep up with the daily readings and episodes, they will finish the full Bible in one year. Cobble plans to keep doing the podcast each year, adding updates and revisions along the way: “There’s always something new to learn about God.”
Cobble is currently reading through the Bible for the 15th time. She says the more she repeats the cycle, the more she wants to continue reading.
“The things we think about change our lives, the things we learn about change our minds, the relationships we build with God change our hearts,” she said. “Even at eight minutes a day, people attest to the fact that their hearts are falling deeper in love with God as a result of listening to this short podcast.”
Reading the Bible in a year is a goal for many Christians, but the success rate is low. According to Lifeway, only 11 percent of Americans have read the entire Bible. And yet, there is good news: The American Bible Society’s 2021 State of the Bible report found 24 percent of adults reported reading Scripture more frequently last year than they had the year before.
The report’s authors noted that as more Americans engage Scripture for the first time, “these new Bible explorers often find the Bible difficult to navigate and understand … they will also need relational guides to help them and digital tools to improve their access to Scripture.”
More than half of Bible readers under 40 prefer the Bible in app, digital, or audio format, the 2021 report found, with about a quarter of all Bible readers saying an app was their first-choice medium and 8 percent saying audio. Apps and podcasts have made it more accessible than ever to listen—no need to make your way through a stack of tapes or CDs to hear a book of the Bible.
In some ways, Bible podcasts are a callback to a time before written text was widely available and Scripture was read aloud. Meditating on Scripture with others, through podcasts, creates a new devotional experience—one that may be “stickier” and more appealing to auditory learners or inexperienced readers.
“It’s helpful to remember that for the bulk of human history, this is how people consumed Scripture,” said Cobble. “Because most didn’t have access to a Bible, and even if they did, most people couldn’t read.”
The popularity of Bible podcasts follows more accessible audio Bible features through Bible apps like YouVersion and Dwell, which have brought Scripture to our headphones, where we can listen as we commute, walk, or do chores. The podcast form adds an additional degree of structure, with a host as a guide to offer commentary and pacing out the passages in a manageable way.
Listeners can also speed up or slow down the audio to meet their individual needs for listening. Listening also embeds people in a community of other fans who are following along with the same passages each day. Because the episodes land each morning in subscribers’ feeds, listening becomes an easy, practical habit.
In his book, Habits of the Household: Practicing the Story of God in Everyday Family Rhythms, Justin Whitmel Earley writes about the power of ritual in shaping our spiritual lives. Mornings, he says, are one of the most important times to form habits—things like prayer, Scripture reading, and gratitude. Though phones can be a distraction from spiritual formation, they can also be used in positive ways.
“It’s ironic I listen to Scripture on my phone while ignoring my phone,” wrote Earley, meaning he shuts off social media and email while listening to the audio Bible. “Redeeming our use of technology is much less about banishing it than cultivating the patterns of using it well.”
Ascension Press, the Catholic publishing company that produces Bible in a Year, never expected the incredible success it’s seen.
“Our very modest goal was to place near the top of the Religion & Spirituality charts,” said Marisa Beyer, associate general manager of media at Ascension. “We were completely stunned when the podcast shot to the No. 1 spot on Apple Podcasts in all categories when it launched in January 2021.”
As of January 2022, Bible in a Year had seen 125 million downloads and had 3 billion minutes of total listening time. Unlike the shorter Bible Recap, Father Mike Schmitz reads through the passages of the Bible and includes commentary, reflection, and prayer for episodes of about 25 minutes each day.
Whitney Athayde listened through Bible in a Year in 2021 and said it helped her finally finish the entire Bible for the first time.
“Father Mike is filled with the Holy Spirit,” said Athayde. “It was just enough context and encouragement to motivate me and keep me going. Athayde said that even though she’s Presbyterian, not Catholic, the podcast still resonated, and was accessible, to her.
The Bible in a Year Facebook group has over 100,000 members, and Ascension hears testimonies from listeners who returned to church, broke free from addiction, or reconciled with family members as they followed along with the podcast.
“Most importantly,” Beyer said, “people are learning to truly hear God’s voice in Scripture, and that brings us such joy.”
Other Bible-focused podcasts are drawing in the Bible-curious. The Bible Project podcast, for example, lasers in on particular themes to study in Scripture. For the past seven years, the project’s cofounders Timothy Mackie and Jonathan Collins have made connections through the broader story of Scripture and talked through difficult questions in the text.
They discuss the Bible as friends, with Mackie speaking as the Bible scholar and Collins as the creative storyteller.
“Because you’re listening to real people explore a topic in an unscripted way, it’s a learning environment that feels less intimidating and more engaging than taking a class or reading a book,” said Mike McDonald, chief global focus and strategic relationships officer at The Bible Project.
The ministry also offers videos, classes, and other resources, but the podcast has drawn people in with how it mirrors “the way biblical authors often used repeated words and patterns to help listeners connect what they are hearing to other parts of the scriptural collection,” McDonald said.
He too noted that podcasts harken back to ancient days when Scripture was read aloud, prayed over, and meditated on in a large group. The Bible Project’s new app, launched this year, includes an annotated podcast experience that highlights key biblical passages from the episodes and give space for listeners to pause and dig deeper on their own.
“Our goal is that the podcast, videos, resources, and app experience become a motivator for people to pick up a Bible and learn how to read and meditate in their own communities,” said McDonald.
For those not quite ready to study on that level, another Bible podcast is sparking interest from the faith-curious. The Bible Binge, hosted by Jamie Golden, Knox McCoy, and Erin Moon, highlights Bible stories in a more casual way. The hosts, who a