Pause for a Mid-Course Assessment

January 23, 2015

Yesterday’s post was the twelfth in this Bible study series on Colossians. I am pausing here today to make some comments and to solicit yours. It’s time for a mid-course assessment.

First, some observations:

  1. My readership has plummeted. I don’t think you can gain access to my “site stats,” but during this series my daily average readership has been just slightly over the average during periods in which I have not posted at all. Ouch.

  2. My original readership was born out of my accounts (starting in 2011) of some rather intense activity within the realm of the PC(USA), when I was playing a fairly unique role as legal counsel in church disciplinary cases. Those days are behind me (not because of any change to my basic commitments, but because that work is now done). I think it is difficult to shift focus without stopping and starting a whole new blog with a new identity. Is this really true?

  3. My readership spikes depending on the headline. So for instance, when I introduced this series with a piece on “When the Church Betrays You,” I got four times as many hits than an average day since. I have noticed this before, when my topic (going back eighteen months or more) was church politics. An outraged or alarming title immediately gathered a larger readership. This dynamic bothers me a lot. I think I appreciate more why negative press and negative campaigning “sell.” But I don’t like it.

  4. There will always be readers who find me through search engines and specific topics. The all-time top post (most hits over time) is “A Brief Comparison of ECO and EPC,” originally posted in February of 2012.

  5. For a blog entitled Bringing the Word to Life, it is particularly disappointing that my lowest readership occurs when I “do Bible study” in this space. What is this saying about the people I am trying to reach? They have enough Bible study on their own or in fellowship? They do not like the blog format for contemplating the Scriptures? They are more interested in church politics and negativity than they are making a positive investment in their spiritual lives? You see where my mind goes on this. It’s not pretty.

  6. Or perhaps, what is called for here is something more meaty, lengthy, pithy, and scholarly, and my approach in the Colossians study has just been too watered down to be much good.

Why does this matter to me? Because I spend at least 90 minutes a day working on this, and I would like to know if it is bearing fruit or if I should redirect my efforts. Let me know what you think! I will resume with Colossians, chapter 2, when and if I feel there is enough support for continuing. If there is something I could add that would help the material be useful or transferable (e.g. the addition of study questions), let me know that, too.

In the meantime, we all have a daily challenge to use our time well for the Kingdom, and I hope God is directing you to places and occasions where you can be effective.




22 Responses to “Pause for a Mid-Course Assessment”

  1. Randy McGrady-Beach Says:

    Mary, thanks for your thoughtful piece. I have actually been saving your study for another time when I can walk through it. I appreciate your time on this and so many other things from the past writings. I agree that we have to choose what is most effective or perhaps what we believe is most important in our calling.

    Blessings to you. At least keep writing something, if not for your gaining a wide readership, but for those who find your words life giving.


  2. Stephanie Strom Says:

    Your blog comes into my email directly. I am always glad to see it and have personally benefitted from many of them, including those whose titles did not sound like that great a read! Your words have given me a lot to think about over the years as did our friendship at Menlo pres.
    In His grip,
    Stephanie Strom

  3. Mary: I have followed you at a distance since a Coalition meeting in the early 90s (I think), and then our paths have crossed briefly a few other times. This blog has been very helpful to me at times. Since I read it in my email, I imagine whether I read it or no, does not change your statistics. I think when your biblical studies are tied to a narrative, like your cancer treatment posts, people are more likely to stick with you. I am currently on long-term temporary disability from the PC (USA). I maintain direction by leading my diverse neighbors to Christ, leading them in Thurs. night Bible study at our home, and writing a blog which can be found at: My audience is somewhat different than yours and focused on those who are not biblically literate, but sometimes are Christians. Why some of my posts are more or less viewed is sometimes a mystery; sometimes a post is more popular then I expected. Why I have readers in so many countries, is a total mystery to me. Grace & Peace, Zac

  4. Thomas Fultz, Ruling Elder Says:

    Wow! I am taken aback that your readership has the characteristics you describe. I have found your blog to challenge my lazy, unfaithful life, encouragement for pressing on toward the high calling, and insight into God’s ways through your Bible Study and faith-filled observations.of the Kingdom as it is coming about.

    I trust others have been ministered to as well.

    I pray God grants you effective mission work!

  5. Craig Pynn Says:

    Mary, As I’m sure you know, it’s a established truism in the blog world that headlines matter; the more provocative, the more people who will stop and read. But 900 to 1200 words causes many (me included) to move on, thinking we will come back to it at some point, but alas, good intentions are exactly that… Also, speaking as a marketing guy, I think you would be remiss to start a new blog and start over from ground zero, IMHO.

    The real question I think, is what do you mean by “bearing fruit?” It seems to me there are many metrics beyond readership. Is your writing “bearing fruit” for you personally? Or, perhaps it’s better that serious Bible study bears serious fruit in just a few lives—as some comments above indicate.

    I say this because for the past 3+ years I have been doing a personal Bible study, the Daily Moravian Readings, and write 700 to 800 words about the 3 daily readings (Psalms, OT, NT) four to five times a week. I post each essay (sans headline) at a blog (, which is mostly because that’s an easy way to organize my writing. I think I have two subscribers and about zero readership. But that’s OK because writing’s how I grapple personally with the Word (including the really obscure parts like 1st Chronicles where we are in the OT at the moment). So, in that sense I’m very happy with the fruit it’s bearing for me.

    I hope that you are not discouraged because fruit often grows where we least expect it.


  6. Rev. John Campbell Says:

    Mary, I am a reader of your writings that I receive by email. So I don’t know if I count in your statistics.

    I enjoy reading them. I am a pastor and always on the look out for inspiration. My observation has been that most church goers do not like to take the time for Bible Study. Perhaps this is because I am in the PC(USA). In my little church I only get two or three of my members that come for a bible study plus three others from outside the church.

    I like how you are approaching Colossians. And I am enjoying reading your thoughts.
    Together in Christ,

  7. I agree with Rev. John Campbell. I have stayed with you because this is one more way of being fed. I have admired your work during your stint in PCUSA and followed you closely as you wrote about your illness, since it paralleled my own. Please keep teaching those of us who want to learn, either in this format or in shorter postings directing us to other places of learning. God bless you in whatever path you take.

  8. emd5542 Says:

    Good morning, Mary. I’ll just add AMEN to the above comments. I only know from experience and observation that study of God’s Word is hard work and folks will shy away rather than stand out as beginning students. Community Bible Study does raise comfort levels but in church settings my experience is that people prefer to be talked at or be permitted to just sit and absorb. You set the bar high as it should be. I love learning with you and read every word, commenting only sometimes. Maybe throwing in questions will engage us in dialogue with you and with one another. Just keep ’em comin’ pastor-preacher-teacher. Gratefully, Eleanor Duffield in VA

  9. Mary: I concur with the other posts. Your blogs are valuable to me. As Ms. Duffield suggest maybe response questions. I find it hard to see if my work is bearing fruit as well. (Imagine a congregation where the parishioners remain in their cars and by the time the amen is stated in the benediction the engines are turned on.) I am sadden to see the numbers are down, but I do think for better or worse controversy adds readership. (Perhaps some of the increased numbers are due to the other side of the controversy trying to do “recon”.) I know I miss it when you are not writing — even though I know rest periods are necessary.

  10. Jodie Gallo Says:


    I think items 3 and 6. Bible studies that just keep going back to the same 19th century doctrinal points do not “bring the word to life”.

    I think there are a large number of people for whom Bible study is like listening to the same classical music piece for the 1000th time. It provides a nice musical background while you go about your business. And if you play a different note, or change the beat, they will complain that you are playing it wrong. They know it by heart and you disturbed them. They came to hear you play Debussy the way Debussy is supposed to be played.

    There is a time for that.

    But Scripture was never meant to be background music. It was meant to stop you in your tracks, change the way you do business, change the way you think about other people, change the way you lead, change the course of human history. It was meant to challenge religious people. To cause you to struggle with God.

    For that you are going to have to up your game. .

    And yes, you have stumbled on the fact that there is a political faction that wants nothing more than to tear down the church with fighting. As long as you were feeding that faction you were getting a lot of press. They didn’t care whether you won or lost so much as they cared about promoting the boxing match. Because it is the match itself that destroys the church, not who wins or looses. If your stop feeding that faction, your readership will plummet.

    At least for a while.

    Jodie Gallo

    • Jodie: Surely not all of those who cared about the issues that Mary litlgated, just wanted to tear the church down? That trivializes the issues and is not accurate.

      • Jodie Gallo Says:

        Pretty much. The “issues” are rarely “the” issue. One must always monitor what greater effect one’s actions have, and what purpose they ultimately serve.

  11. Pat Williams Says:

    At the time you started the Colossians study I was getting into WBS again and starting a new Beth Moore at the same time. As someone mentioned, I too have your e-mails in my list of unread, but I ended up with some 100 un-read e-mails that I haven’t had a chance to get to yet, but they are waiting for me to find the time.

  12. Gerard Nelson Says:

    I do hope that you will continue this study; I have read (I think) all of the emails and collected them for a time when I have finished reading (600 pps or thereabouts) Genesis: The Beginning of Wisdom by Leon Kass (highly recommended, by the way, although by a Jewish scholar).

  13. Mary, My guess is that readers most appreciate your reflections on life from your view of the Word. Or, to play on your tag line, readers like it when you bring the Word to our experience of life (as opposed to you bringing life to your experience of the Word). So, topically addressing life more than serially addressing Scripture.


  14. Says:

    I have been greatly blessed by your commentary on Colossians. In-depth thoughts about Scriptures I sometimes skim over! Thank you.

    Judy Lageschulte

  15. John Erthein Says:

    Mary, I’ve appreciated your careful work for a long time now, whether on denominational concerns or this bible study. Thank you for donating your time and talents to these things. Keep it up!

  16. Terri Woodarf Says:

    Mary, I have your posts going to a mailbox on my laptop. I am in a Bible study right now and leading a parenting course so my plate is full. My plan is to use your blog after my Bible Study finishes it current study. They are doing a study that I led last fall. I am looking forward to diving into Colossians.
    So please keep on blogging!

  17. Mary

    Interesting thoughts here. I probably am one who has not read much of your study on Colossians. Not sure why. Guess I receive several devotions or messages in my mailbox everyday. Most are short, others a bit longer. I think I found your study a bit long to read, so I often stopped midway through. Some days I didn’t read at all, which interesting as Colossians is one of my favorite books.

    I think people are interested in news, whether news of the church, or the world in general. I appreciate when I hear a thoughtful pastor writes some challenges for me about something happening in the world. I started following your blog when your cancer appeared and appreciated how you wrote about sickness, faith, healing, etc. I might have forwarded one or two to a friend dealing with cancer.

    It will be interesting to hear what your readers have to say about your blog. Best of luck!


    Martha Stewart, MFT 23 Altarinda Road, Suite 102 Orinda, CA 94563 925-254-8538


  18. Sarah Says:

    I also get email notification and often read the blog entry in the e-mail, I don’t know if that get’s counted like it does if someone actually goes to the blog. If I don’t have time to read it for that day, I put those e-mails in a folder for just your blog e-mails. Jan is always a busy time for a farm wife getting ready for the tax man, as Our “April 15” is actually the last day of Feb! I had set these aside till I was less busy, and had planned to print them off as a complete study to follow at a later time. I was excited to know that you were going to post a study on this topic. Sorry that the blog statistics have been discouraging for you. Please keep up the work, it is very much appreciated.

  19. Bruce Pope Says:

    I forgot to tell you that Psalm 32:8 flashed through my mind!

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