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The power of 4: One research finding that changed an entire ministry

| by Dr. Pamela Ovwigho

When I began my research career focused on poverty and family violence, I never dreamed that I would end up in ministry. After all, whoever heard of research being a part of ministry anyway?

That all changed around 2006 when I started praying for God to find a way to use my research skills in ministry. He answered in a big way when I received an email from one of my favorite ministries saying they were starting a research division because they wanted to know why so many people own Bibles, but so few read them.

Now ten years later I often find myself thinking about those early days. We’ve surveyed over 200,000 people across 20+ countries, from all different faiths and walks of life. We’ve asked them questions about prayer, sacred texts, their beliefs and their practices.

I’ve accumulated a collection of interesting findings, many of which have ministry implications. Yet when I speak people most often want to hear about the one research finding that completely changed our ministry.

The finding, known as the “Power of 4”; can be simply stated this way:

The life of someone who engages scripture four or more times a week looks radically different from the life of someone who does not. In fact, the lives of Christians who do not engage the Bible most days of the week are statistically the same as the lives of non-Christians.

That’s a pretty bold statement, especially for someone who has spent most of her life in academia. Let me give you some specifics about the Power of 4 effect. Controlling for differences in gender, age, church attendance, prayer habits, small group participation, and most other factors you would think would matter, someone who engages the Bible four or more days a week is…

  • 228% times more likely to share their faith with others
  • 231% times more likely to be discipling someone else
  • 60% times less likely to feel spiritually stagnant
  • 59% times less likely to view pornography
  • 30% times less likely to struggle with loneliness
  • 31% times less likely to struggle with forgiving others
  • 416% times more likely to give financially to their church
  • 218% times more likely to give financially to causes other than their church

In this short blog post, I can’t go into all of the survey work and rigorous statistical analyses that back up this statement. Interested readers are encouraged to read the white paper on the topic. Also some of the data will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Psychology and Christianity.

How did this finding change our ministry? Very simply it gave us one clear goal to focus on.

All of our ministry efforts are directed at helping people to engage God’s Word for themselves daily. When we connect people with the Bible we are opening up the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak truth into their lives.

In my next post, I’ll tackle the important question of what “Bible engagement” actually means. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that and on our Power of 4 findings. Do they surprise you? How can they impact your ministry?

Dr. Pamela Ovwigho

Dr. Pamela Ovwigho, a Nebraska-based researcher and psychologist, who writes and speaks about life transformation and spiritual growth. She serves as the Executive Director for the Center for Bible Engagement, a division of Back to the Bible.

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