The Electronic Bible

“Please open your Bibles to the Gospel of John, chapter 3, and follow along with me,” requests the pastor as he begins his sermon. The willing congregation pulls out their Palms and Pocket PCs and promptly clicks their way to John 3.

Could this be the future of Sunday morning church services throughout the country? If the various producers of Bible software have anything to say about it, it certainly will be. Unbeknownst to many, the idea of putting the Bible in electronic format is far from cutting edge. In the mid-’80s, the first programs that brought the Bible right to the home computer screen (not that there were many of those at the time) became available. This once narrow niche has become a hotly competitive market. And this fact prompts two questions: Why do so many people want to buy an electronic Bible, and why do so many companies want to develop one?

To answer the first question, one need only look at the many advantages of a computer-based Bible over the sometimes large, heavy ones so many church-goers have hauled around since their youth. The most obvious advantage is speed, and in today’s efficiency-obsessed society, that’s a huge selling point. You can not only navigate your way through all 66 books of the Bible and find verses faster than the quickest page-flipping hands, but you can also locate every occurrence of the word “Israelites” faster than you can spell it.

But it doesn’t stop there. Wish you could quickly compare a Bible verse across multiple translations? Pull them all up in side-by-side windows on your desktop. Want to gain some extra insight on a confusing passage? Just open one of the many biblical commentaries and dictionaries that come with the software. Want to know just how far Jonah traveled to Ninevah? Easily open one of the full-color 3-D maps and trace the journey. The number of electronic books you can purchase to enhance your Bible study experience goes on and on, from atlases to commentaries to Bible studies to devotionals, which brings us to the second question …

The Bible software market has exploded not just onto the shelves of local electronic stores, but all over the Web as well. But many have wondered how this business can remain so profitable, considering the seemingly small market size of people who want to not only purchase Bibles, but also prefer to read them at the computer instead of on the couch. Consider this—those who purchase Bible software very rarely make it a one-time purchase. Once they begin using it, companies gain a new lifelong (hopefully) customer who will always be interested in purchasing more electronic biblical supplements and resources. Similar to the marketing geniuses that developed the sports simulation video game lines that virtually ensure yearly upgrades, Bible software companies can count on consumers buying into their entire product line for years to come.

Nearly everyone turns out to be a winner in this Bible software game. Those who always wanted a deeper experience of the Bible can now more easily achieve it. Those who market and sell the products are constantly driven to come up with features that make the software even faster and easier to use, and to produce electronic libraries that are vast enough to cover the entire spectrum of Christian-based literature. Even the book publishers win big, as they now have a whole new market to license their content to. Many publishers have even taken to developing their own custom software for viewing their titles in.

But let’s face it—this many years into the history of Bible software, nearly every translation imaginable has been converted to electronic format, along with most of the recognizable and useful resources of both past and present. And there are only so many unique features the various programs can offer to enhance the reading/studying experience. So what is future of the Bible software market? If the market can keep up with technology (and so far it has), the future is very bright. You can now purchase multiple Bible translations and many other electronic resources for both your Palm and Pocket PC. As the compression and speed of these continues to improve at a blinding speed (as it did on the desktop a decade ago), these become even more and more useful.

Obviously the Web is a dominant force in today’s culture, and the Bible software market has solidified its presence there as well, making many resources easily accessible online. Even the desktop versions of Bible software are making giant leaps forward, with cutting-edge multimedia Bibles taking the experience to a new level through such advances as movie-quality computer animations depicting biblical events, dramatic readings by well-known orators and video tours of biblical locations.

And it doesn’t stop there—the strong presence of Bible software has opened doors for other Christian-based software, such as Christian-themed video games, tools for pastors to prepare sermons, and advanced database programs used to run churches efficiently in the way QuickBooks helps run the business world. It even potentially opens doors for electronic literature in general, as secular companies race to determine what other sorts of resources consumers would want to read, study and experience on the computer.

There is a drawback though to having the Bible even more easily accessible—we now have even fewer excuses for not reading it often enough.

[Carter Moss develops church and ministry software out of his basement in Aurora, Ill., when he’s not upstairs playing with his 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter, out coaching small-groups for a multi-site church, or staying up really late playing XBox.]

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