Recently I received an email from Focus on the Family sharing an initiative they have started to get families reading and talking about scripture together. Since I am a fan of daily family devotionals as one way of parents and children interacting with scripture, I decided to check it out.
Full disclosure. I am in general a fan of many of the Focus on the Family resources. Our daughter loved the Adventures in Odyssey series when she was little and subscribed to several of the magazines they had for children at the time. On the other hand, I am perfectly happy with the Bible app I already have on my phone and am always reluctant to add any new app to my overcrowded phone unless I believe it adds real value. For this review, I did download the app, register and interacted with it as suggested by Focus on the Family.
The app is called Public Reading of Scripture. If I were involved in promoting this app, I would suggest a quick rebranding. The name sounds a bit overwhelming – especially to young Christians…. almost like a Pilgrim from the 1600’s named it. The other odd thing was that by clicking through the email to their landing page and then clicking the download app button, it took me straight to GooglePlay… not my preferred app store. I was able to find it by using the search function in the Apple app store.
Downloading and registering on the app was pretty standard. Focus on the Family suggested clicking on their icon and looking at the Daniel reading plan first. The first thing you see once you get into the Daniel plan is one of those cartoon introduction videos by The Bible Project. At just under nine minutes, it has decent information but I think is probably not something that will grab the attention of the average child or teen.
You can skip the video though and start right into the suggested reading for the first session. For me, this is where it really started going off the rails. First the graphics for the scripture reading are horrendous – like old time DOS horrendous. It’s white graphics on a black background and the five chapters of scripture are so run on, it is hard to tell where one chapter stops and the other begins. For the amount of money these groups have, I would have expected a reading interface similar to my regular Bible app. Instead it looks cheap and messy. The reading did begin with a few interesting facts, which I appreciate, but honestly they are more of a summary than actually adding facts that would be interesting to children and teens about things that would spark their curiosity. It would also have been nice to have a guiding question they could consider as they listen to the reading.
My next problem is the amount of scripture they expect a ”normal” family to read (presumably) each day. Five chapters? That’s way too much to expect from most families. It is probably more realistic to ask families with little or no current Bible reading in the home to cut each session down to one chapter. Also, many children have trouble understanding large chunks of scripture read aloud to them. Having been translated from other languages, the phrasing is sometimes awkward sounding and the text is often filled with unfamiliar words and cultural references. Telling them a Bible story covering that many chapters is difficult enough, but reading them five chapters in the allotted 23 minutes (Is that supposed to include discussion, too?) means many younger children will get little if anything from the reading.
The devotional suggests questions for the entire family to discuss and a couple of additional questions for each age group of children in the home. I like the idea of the age appropriate questions, but once again I wonder if they actually field tested these with real families unused to having family devotionals. The graphics for the questions are the same as the scripture – horrible. There were some prettier pdfs you could print on the Focus on the Family website, but that’s an extra step you are asking people to do or a second website they have to toggle to during the discussion. It’s just awkward.
The app does have an Adventures in Odyssey section under the Focus on the Family tab. It is various characters reading passages of scripture out-loud. Once again, the readings are multiple chapters and I am not sure how much the hook of a character reading it encourages young children to listen.
My conclusion? Great idea, poor execution. Maybe after a lot of improvements it will be helpful to more families, but right now I believe using family devotional books or just choosing to read a book of the Bible together and discuss it at your family’s pace will probably work better.