USA (MNN) – Less than one percent of the Deaf community in the U.S. are attending a church even one time per year, according to Deaf Bible Society’s JR Bucklew. However, as Deaf Bible creates devotional videos, they hope the Gospel will further break ground in the community.
The Decline of Engagement
Bucklew explains the Deaf community was at the height of their engagement in the 90s and early 2000s. A major reason was the prevalence of Deaf churches and Deaf clubs where people could meet their friends and be social.
“Those two places provided what we might call a ‘watering hole,’” Bucklew says. “It was a place where Deaf people could kind of go and get information and meet other friends. They had shelter. Most times, there was food, there was some sort of entertainment.”
However, as video chats on phones and TVs were produced, people could have face-to-face interactions with their friends without meeting at their churches or clubs.
This ultimately led to a decline in Deaf clubs and Deaf churches.
Bucklew says he was speaking with an organization that had created Sunday school material in American Sign Language for over 20 years.
“They were telling me that 20 years ago, they had a list of churches. They probably had 1,000 churches on this list [and] they were sending these quarterly materials to Deaf churches and churches with a Deaf Sunday school class. Today, less than 80 of those churches were still in existence or of those Deaf ministries.”
Bucklew also says that of all the Deaf churches and ministries that were working around 20 years ago, only about eight or nine percent are still in existence today in the U.S.
He says there wasn’t more of a retention of the Deaf community in the Church, largely because of “a lack of access to the sign language Bible. Either, they weren’t being engaged with the Bible in their language, or if they were, that was it, but there was no push for continued personal engagement and there were no other resources being developed.”
Engaging with the Deaf community is tricky, Bucklew says, as it’s a tight-knit community and most people in the “hearing Church” don’t have a lot of exposure to it or the culture.
The Impact of Technology
Although progressive technology and social media platforms were reasons for the decline in Deaf clubs and Deaf churches, they have become the new “watering holes” and created ways for Deaf ministries like Deaf Bible to interact and engage, specifically through videos on Facebook and YouTube.
Seeing the opportunity social media provided, Deaf Bible began a one- to two-minute devotional video cast called Deaf Bible 365. Every day, the ministry would post a video that was quick and to the point.
Bucklew says if the videos were ten minutes or longer, most people would not be engaged. With a quick video, the ministry could share a verse in a sign language, a devotional topic, and ask a question to get feedback.
“What we were trying to do was develop a product that was simple enough to put together where we could show Deaf leaders and preachers and evangelists and Sunday school teachers… that you can use the ASL Bible and there’s a way for you to create organic, grassroots-level devotional materials and share that with people or make it [a] really high-quality production,” Bucklew says.
Deaf Bible began releasing videos and they saw people engaging, sharing, liking, and commenting on the devotionals.
As technology progressed, Instagram TV was launched and became a popular platform in the Deaf community and another way for Deaf Bible to share their devotionals as well.
Now, Deaf Bible hopes others in the Deaf community will replicate what they’re doing so the Gospel can continue breaking through and making an impact.
Bucklew says they would like to see, “real, organic development of engagement resources coming from Deaf churches and Deaf leaders and Deaf people to where it gets to the point that we’re just one of a thousand… We want to see the Deaf Church take ownership of engaging their people. That would be a really amazing outcome for us.”
Also, pray that the “one percent” will grow. Pray more people in the Deaf community will be engaged with the Gospel and grow in their faith.
Header photo courtesy of Deaf Bible Society.