General Secretaries at a conference in Manila, Philippines in May 1963.
1960s : Bible Societies quadruple global Scripture distribution
In 1960, the then General Secretary of the United Bible Societies, Dr Olivier Béguin, was forthright in his assessment of what was being accomplished in the field of Scripture distribution. “We circulate 29 million copies, almost 40 percent of them in the U.S. alone, more than 60 percent in the ‘Christian west’.”
“There is no escaping the fact that unless we radically transform our policies and speed up our action very soon,” Béguin explained, “a younger generation… will be completely ignorant of the Gospel of Salvation.”
A renewed vision
That there had been no significant rise in distribution during the 15 years of the UBS was a shock to many, particularly given rapid shifts around the world. The global population was, at that time, increasing by around 50 million every year, and countless people around the world were gaining newfound skills in literacy.
Change was inevitable, and Bible Societies had to set out on a new course.
Olivier Béguin, General Secretary of the United Bible Societies, pictured in 1965, analysing Scripture distribution statistics.
‘God’s Word for a New Age’
Understanding that a changing landscape required fresh ideas, a UBS conference was called in 1962 to address these matters. A bold plan was set in motion. Bible Societies looked to move from a modest distribution of around 25 million Scriptures annually to over 150 million per year.
Backing this ambitious goal was a clear strategic vision: a Bible for every Christian home, at least a New Testament for every Christian, and a Portion for all who could read. There was also a desire to encourage church members across the world to engage with and share responsibility for local distribution campaigns.
It was truly a united distribution effort, involving all member Bible Societies. Reflecting on the changes, in culture, politics, and society, the plan was simply titled, ‘God’s Word for a New Age’.
Bringing hope to all corners of the world
In 10 years, annual distribution went from 29 million to 171 million in 1971. The collaborative model that had helped accomplish this began to become embedded in the culture of both UBS and Bible Societies.
That shared success is still evident today. Over 300 million Scriptures are distributed every year around the world. Incredible work in translation allows more heart-language Scripture to be distributed. Advancements in technology have enabled great strides to be made in providing God’s Word in digital formats, allowing millions to access Scripture without the traditional costs of printing and distribution. Targeted Scripture ensures that God’s Word meets the needs of the reader, whether that is through specialised child-friendly formats, Braille Bibles for people with visual disabilities, or Scriptures for new readers.
Over the decades, this combined effort of Bible Societies has distributed Scripture in numerous formats in countless communities across the world, bringing with it blessing, transformation, and hope.