6 Lessons, Blessings & Cautions from 2 Years of Blogging

2Last month, the second anniversary of NewSmallChurch.com passed by without notice. No, I don’t feel sad that none one sent me a card. Hallmark doesn’t sell “Your blog is two years old today!” cards.

I just didn’t remember it myself. I’m not big on anniversaries.

But we have passed that two-year mark, so I decided to take a moment to reflect on what’s happened in the last 24 months and what I’ve learned from it.

Mostly, it’s re-affirmed the premise of this blog and The Grasshopper Myth – that playing the numbers game in ministry is a dangerous thing.

Yes, reaching more people is better than reaching fewer people. This blog and my book have reached ten times more people in these two years than I expected to reach in my lifetime, and I’m profoundly grateful for that. After all, we write, preach, teach and pastor to touch people’s lives. It’s appropriate that we want those efforts to have a positive impact on as many people as possible.

But readership, like church attendance numbers, can only tell us so much. And some of what we think they’re telling us is false.

I may have learned more in two years of blogging than I have in any other two year span of ministry. Here are some lessons, some blessings and some cautions.

 

1. All Real Ministry Is a Marathon

As a Small Church pastor for over 30 years, I’ve gotten used to doing ministry without seeing immediate, tangible, numerical results. I know I’m in a marathon, not a sprint.

But blogging has a totally different dynamic.

Blogging is about immediate gratification. It has given me a faster sense of accomplishment than anything I’ve ever done in ministry. From the moment I hit publish, I can watch readers come in. Within an hour there are hundreds of clicks. On a big day, there can be thousands. For a guy whose ministry has never attracted more than a couple hundred people, even on a big attendance weekend, that’s heady stuff. If I’m not careful, I can find myself obsessing over it.

It’s ironic. Here I am, obsessing over the number of readers coming to a blog post about how numbers shouldn’t be so important to us. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad. I guess it’s a bit of both.

 

2. An Anonymous Click Is Indistinguishable From a Life-Changing Read

I can see when people click on one of my posts. I can even get stats on how long the average person spent reading it. But numbers can’t tell me the most important thing about what I’ve written. They can’t tell me how much a person’s life and ministry was changed by it. 

I love the days when over 1,000 people read a post, pass it around and get a great conversation started. But there are other days when 1,000 people read my post, shrug their shoulders and go on.

I get disappointed by days when I’ve written something that I think is really good, helpful and important, only to see 100 or fewer people read it. But I know that on some of those days, one or more of those readers is in tears by the end of the post, because it lifted a burden that has sat on their shoulders for decades. They and their ministry are changed for the better.

It’s the same in pastoring. The size of the crowd is not an accurate measure of the size of our impact.

 

3. When the Numbers are Up I Feel a False Sense of Pride

On my biggest day, I had almost 5,000 readers. It takes 6 months for me to speak to that many people in my church. By noon that day, as I watched the numbers rise, I felt an electricity that has to be something similar to a drug high (a feeling I’m completely unfamiliar with).

As the numbers rose, I couldn’t concentrate on other tasks at hand. I had an appointment with a church member who was struggling with some very serious life issues, but instead of going into that meeting in prayerful consideration of those needs, I started feeling resentful of her. She was going to eat up more than an hour of my precious time! An hour without checking in on my soaring numbers. Didn’t she know how important I was?!

My numbers mattered more to me than her pain.

I was just about to walk into my office to meet her, when I realized my sinful attitude. I paused at the door of my office and prayed. I repented of my foolish pride. Then I laid my pride aside and spent the next hour comforting and praying with someone who had gone through more agony in the previous six months than I have experienced in my life.

The numbers weren’t so important any more.

 

4. When the Numbers are Down I Feel a False Sense of Failure

On the days when no one seems to care about what I write, I’ve had to struggle with many of the “what’s wrong with me?” feelings I though I had overcome years ago. Sometimes, the article I wrote is literally about how numbers shouldn’t matter so much to us, but there I am, getting upset when the numbers don’t come in.

The flip-side of pride is shame. Neither one is Godly or helpful.

Obsessing over numbers feeds both.

 

5. Conversations Mean More than Statistics

One of the blessings of the last two years is all the people I’ve had great conversations with. From pastors who have been blessed by this ministry, to church leaders who are excited to have a tool to give to the pastors they work with, and more.

I’ve learned more from the conversations I’ve had with them than from any statistical assessment I could possibly have done. I’m a better minister, a better Christian and a better person because of those conversations. I never met a statistic that could do that.

 

6. Relationships Mean More than Numbers

So many people have reached out to partner with me in ministry over the last two years. From other bloggers, to magazine editors, to denominational officials, to hundreds of fellow Small Church pastors. Of all the things that have blessed my life over the short span of this ministry, none have meant more to me than meeting you, partnering in ministry and becoming friends.

If NewSmallChurch.com ended tomorrow, I know that many of the relationships we have built will go on.

That’s what ministry is all about, because that’s one of the foundations that the body of Christ is built on.

Thank you to everyone who has read, commented, argued & reached out to me through this blog in its first 2 years.

Now, on to year 3!

 

So what do you think? Have you ever experienced the downside of increasing numerical success?

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(2 photo from Todd • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

15 thoughts on “6 Lessons, Blessings & Cautions from 2 Years of Blogging”

  1. I’m new to this blog but not new to the issues. I’m following with great interest, but want to wait awhile before I start weighing in so I can listen to the heartbeat and explore the existing content. Just wanted to say hello and thanks for providing this resource.

  2. Congratulations on your success. Your real accomplishments are not the numbers following you. It is the people like me that you have voice to when no one else was. You paved the way for the 82% of us to embrace our calling. That is revolutionary. That is kingdom building. The the things we accomplish because you built us you up, you will share in eternity. And that is immeasurable. Thank you Karl.

  3. I have found your blog encouraging, challenging and always interesting. I don’t think even we as readers will always know what impact your words have, or whether they are life changing or otherwise. They probably don’t need to be in some cases. Affirmation can be just as important in many circumstances, or the seed of an idea, or the still, small voice a persistent drip on a hard stone that doesn’t look like it will ever change…. Not until our race is won may we look back and see what things influenced us, what events changed us, what truth impacted us. Thanks for taking time out of your life to share with us and I am looking forward to year 3!

    1. Great point, Lia! If I can provide one of the 1,000 nudges people need to keep moving forward, that’s a great thing God can use me for. God can use all of us that way. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Hey Karl huge thanks for writing your blog and your book. I recommend both to my clients and know it has helped me considerably in framing afresh my thinking on church growth. Love your work and jealous of your (reader) numbers!! But I promise not to obsess over it!

    1. Thanks, John! I love that we’ve been able to discover each other’s ministries this way. Partnering together is one of the great blessings of the body of Christ. Thanks for all you do.

  5. Your blogs uplift my spirit that their are many of us in ministry who may feel our small church ministries are not as valued as larger church. Personally, I need a ministry coach like you every day in my life!

  6. Thank you Karl for your ministry of “presence” and encouragement – I keep the Grasshopper Myth on my desk, it’s underlined and dog-eared – like cool water in a parched land… I actually at least scan your postings and read often as opposed to just deleting others… I get the ups and downs of numbers from our Sunday attendance and I try not to let it bother me, but sometimes it does. Keep up the good work and congratulations. Grace & Peace to you and yours

  7. Karl, Happy Anniversary, Your blog has blessed me. Realizing in God’s time the pews will be filled. We only have 14 faithful people who attend regularly, but we have ministries going on, just with the 14 of us reaching people in our community. God is Good. Thank you again for listening to what God wanted you to do for us readers..

  8. I am going to start asking myself “How many meaningful conversations did I have today?” (see point #5) Thanks for the good reminder for someone who loves stats. 🙂

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