While Americans' denominational loyalties are lessening, a keener interest in the Bible is surfacing. Those who attend church regularly hear more Bible readings and the selections are common across denominations, says Barbara Brown Zikmund, president of Hartford Seminary.
Those who teach and study worship practices say that "one of the most dramatic 20th-century developments in 'Bible consciousness' has been the use of the lectionary." After the New Revised Standard Version was completed, Protestants and Roman Catholics worked for years to develop a common lectionary (list of scriptural selections). Now each national church calendar has the same weekly lessons from the Old and New Testaments.
In some churches, Dr. Zikmund says, the preacher used to choose the Bible text he wished to preach about. Now, in most of the country and across denominations, congregations also hear the readings. "That means that within a year, they'll hear the whole New Testament and key portions of the Old Testament, not just the favorite passages of the preacher," she says.
In many communities, clergy of various faiths meet around the lectionary, sharing interpretations as they work on their sermons, she adds. "That means you've got a more ecumenical appreciation for Scripture, and many clergy are preaching more biblical sermons."