The New Year is more than a date change for many people. It is also a time of recalibrating, setting resolutions and goals (I chose one word instead of a set of goals or resolutions.) At this time, people tend to commit to doing something about their spiritual formation also. They commit to attending church more often or being more active in small groups. Prayer and Bible reading are also included in some of these personal goals. For this post, I’d like us to focus on Bible Reading plans on mobile.
Why Bible Reading Plans
For starters, they take away the, “Where to start?” question. The Bible can be an intimidating tome if you’re still reading it on the old paper medium. And, it can be challenging on an app or device too.
With Bible reading plans, all you need to worry about is showing up and going to the day’s reading.
Bible reading plans take away the trouble of searching for a particular theme. The topical Bible reading plans do some of the homework for you. They collate the passages for you. Your job is to delve into the subject without having to do the searches yourself. Again, all you need to do is show up and read.
Some of us need all the accountability we can get. Whether on my own or with friends, reading plans help in this area.
On Mobile Bible Reading Plans
Why mobile reading plans? The most obvious reason is that we always have these devices on us. The Bible has never been more accessible than it is today. We always have it with us on our phones and tablets. There are very few places, if any, we go without our phones.
There are many reading plans to choose from. Some are available on paper and you can get them from bookstores. There are also many online sources. Since we’ve looked at mobile Bible apps I thought it would be great to compare their reading plans.
I’ll only be covering iOS apps. (I haven’t used an Android device or Bible app in years. Apple fanboy? Maybe.) I’d like to assume there’s little to no difference for some of the apps, but Android users will have to weigh in.
Kinds of Reading Plans
Some of the kinds of reading plans available include:
- Topical – these cover a specific topic such as depression, joy, marriage, love, addiction and so on. They are helpful when you want to discover what the Bible says a specific subject.
- Complimentary – these reading plans compliment music albums or books. A kind of accompanying devotional.
- You can also choose to study a book in the Bible.
- Reading through types or genres of books. For example, historical books, letters, prophetic and poetic books and so on
This app, also known as, “Bible“, is one of, if not the most downloaded and used Bible apps. As Chris pointed out in this post, it is feature rich. The number and kinds of Bible reading plans available on it also reflect this.
Lasting from a couple of days to, weeks, months and year many reading plans are available.
With YouVersion, you can rate a reading plan. If they enable it, you can see what your friends are reading and their progress. They can also see your activity such as highlights, public notes and verse images you create.
A great way to hold each other accountable if you’re doing a reading plan together. You can still track your friends and vice versa even if you’re not doing the same reading plans. When you hit “Start this plan” the next prompt asks you whether you want to read it by yourself or with friends. That’s great. You can also choose whether you want your readings made public or kept private.
With YouVersion you can keep track of all your completed reading plans. A big deal for achiever-types like myself.
I wish I were more disciplined. Sometimes I go a couple of days without reading the Bible. The “Catch me up” feature is a way of resetting dates when you fall behind in your reading. There’s no pressure to do a chunk of reading to catch up. Knowing you can always tap “Catch me up” can be a downside. It is best to never be in a position of relying on it.
The option to set a reminder to read your Bible is great. There’s no shame in cultivating an appetite for God’s word, by setting a reminder; do it.
“Save for later” for the win. This is another little thing I love about YouVersion. Sometimes I’m interested in plans I’m not ready to read but want to at some point. “Save for later” comes in handy then.
Again, as Chris mentioned the ESV app is a one translation app. This strength is also its weakness. Great when you love the ESV translation. It is not as feature rich as YouVersion but this also makes it less bloated and less overwhelming to use.
The reading plans on the ESV app are as streamlined. Only one-year reading plans are available. Of the sixteen available plans at the time of writing this, only two are less than a year. That is the Daily Proverbs and Psalms, which are one month and 150 days respectively.
The reading plans include chronological, which follows events as they happened.
Changing start the start date is an option worth mentioning, when you toggle “Read at my own pace”. You can also set in-app reminders.
One of the things I love about the ESV app is how it integrates the Global Study Bible and ESV Study Bible in the app. Particularly useful when your plans to read the Bible go a little beyond devotional to study.
The Bible In One Year
While this app needs review on its own, reviewing its reading plan is worthwhile. The Bible In One Year (BIOY) is specialised and focused as the name suggests. The simple idea of this app is to help people go through the Bible in a year. This is not a Bible app; it’s a Bible reading plan in an app.
Besides the reading for the day, there’s commentary from Nicky and Pippa Gumbel who lead Holy Trinity Brompton and are pioneers of Alpha. The commentary is available in text and audio. English actor, David Suchet, reads the Scriptures. This gives you options—read, listen or read along to the audio. The Bible readings are in the New International Version (NIV).
The developers haven’t packed too much into the app. I hope highlighting and note-taking features are included in a future iteration.
Having said that, the simplicity is helpful for focus. BIOY is a reading plan app and does just that. When I read and or listen all I want to do is focus on content. It is also easy to use.
It’s possible that BIOY chose to focus on content on purpose. The Bible in one year is available as a reading plan in the YouVersion app also. This means you can leverage the many YouVersion features with the same content. A good alternative if creating verse images, highlighting, taking notes etc. are a big deal for you.
The reading plans on the BibleGateway app, for me, were not as easy to find as they were on other apps. Navigating and selecting reading plans could be more intuitive. The menu option for reading plans isn’t difficult to find, selecting one is the tricky part. I love the BibleGateway reading experience but work needs to be in this area.
While you can set daily reminders, it is difficult to change some things as you go through the reading plan. For instance, you can’t hit “Cath me up” like in YouVersion or “Missed days” like BIOY.
A reminder: this is the iOS app not the computer one. Among different reading plans are lectionaries from different denominations as well. You also have the option for group or private reading plans.
Logos leverages some of the features and technology they use on their computer app. While reading you have access to passage guides, note-taking, clipping and exegetical guides. This means you would need to devote time to learning how the app works and how to use it.
Though I use Logos on my computer for theology studies and sermon prep, I find it overwhelming on mobile. For more than reading, highlighting, taking notes and use of guides, it’s overwhelming. The Bible reading plan feature has a touch too much of complication for me. That’s me. I’m not saying it isn’t great; I struggle managing reading plan aspects on the mobile app. If you can, I would recommend it but take time to learn it to get the most out of it.
Bible Study (Bible By Olive Tree)
Bible Study by Olive Tree has made notable stride over the years. Like BIOY I’d love to review it as an app at some point. For now, let’s keep it reading plan focused.
Bible Study, seems to have as many reading plans as YouVersion. A ton of them. It is also a feature rich app, which needs asks you to learn a little to the most out of reading plan. But, it isn’t that complicated. You can’t “Missed days” but it is easy to see days you haven’t read.
It doesn’t have the option to read with friends, but you can always do that ‘off-app’.
Every now and then you’ll get an invite to buy something.
Like BIOY, ReadScripture is not a Bible app but a Bible reading plan app. You can opt for daily reading or reading at your own pace. The settings are intuitive and pericopes labelled. It is set according to the order of books in the Bible but every reading has a Psalm that goes with it. An illustrated video prefaces some readings, drawing a thread and giving context.
One of the things I love about this app is that it has no verse numbers but pericope headings. This can help with the flow of reading. Like the other specialist Bible In One Year, you can’t highlight or take notes in-app. This could be annoying if you read the Bible on your commute, and want to take notes, for example.
Streetlights Bible App
Before reviewing Streetlights Bible app I’d been watching the project for a while. It is an audio Bible app / project where you listen the Bible read over hip hop instrumentals. I love it. The app doesn’t come with a reading plan but I chose to include it anyway, for one simple reason.
Many people listen to music everyday anyway. It is worth substituting some of your music listening for the Bible. I’ve intimated on why I prefer this particular audio Bible here. The Streetlights team is still hard work adding recording and releasing more books of the Bible as they better the app experience. A commendable feat I’m still excited about.
It is worth including in your daily routine.
What I Look(ed) For In A Mobile Bible Reading Plan?
I started going through the apps without little to no thought on criteria. All I wanted to do was experience them and share thoughts based on experience. Doing this helped me clarify some of the things I want and like in a mobile Bible reading plan.
Some of the things I like about reading plans had to do with app features, but I won’t go into that here. In no particular order of importance:
- Intuitiveness and ease of use: I’m not as disciplined as I’d like to be. Complexity adds a barrier that put me off some apps and reading plans.
- Engagement: Being able to highlight and document in-app is something I appreciate and want in an app.
- Audio: The option of audio is important for me. Following audio with the text helps my comprehension and retention and use it when I can.
- Managing progress: Missing a day and sometimes a few, shouldn’t create a major admin or tinkering with settings.
- Reading with friends and accountability: Although I wasn’t going by order of importance this ranks lowest but I’d like to have the option.
Which Reading Plan (and App) Did I Choose?
I’ve used the Bible In One Year app and think it’s great for its simplicity. The option to do the reading plan in YouVersion is still appealing.
This year, I’m leaning toward ReadScripture. The presentation is great and, again, it is about how the presentation of the content. Its simplicity is also appealing for me.
While I have all these apps installed on all my mobile devices, YouVersion continues to be my go-to Bible app.
Whether you need to study the Bible a little deeper or a devotional guide, a Bible reading plan is worth it. One of the reasons we never get to reading our Bibles is that we don’t include it in our diaries. And, when we have it our diary, we don’t have systematic way of doing it.
In the end, a lot boils down to personal preference. We experience apps in different ways. This is why there are so many apps, which is good. Whatever you do, be intentional about your spiritual growth and formation. Don’t be flippant about the Word.
‘Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, ‘ — 1 Peter 2:2 (NLT)