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Year in Review 2017!

2017 has now come and, as of tonight, gone.   For some of us it has been a very good year, for others a very bad one.  Probably for most of us it has been mixed.  For the blog, it has been very good indeed.

So here are some of the important results!

First, some background.  As many of you know (some of you were actually here back then), we started this blog endeavor in April 2012.   So we’ve been going at this for five years and nine months.   The original purpose of the blog was to raise money for charity.  Rather than using my somewhat limited culinary skills and even more limited time by volunteering for a local soup kitchen, I decided that I could use my scholarly skills more productively by starting a membership-only blog.  Everyone thought I was crazy.  This is the INTERNET!!!  You can’t make people *pay* for it!

I ignored all the advice and scorned all the warnings and tried it anyway.  My original thought — fool that I was – was that we could raise something like $20,000 a year.  All the money would go to charities dealing with human suffering – principally hunger and homelessness.

I had no idea of the real potential – and now that we are at this advanced point I realize we are still nowhere near the real potential.  But here are some of the numbers.

The most gratifying is this: as of this past month we have surpassed $500,000 raised and distributed to charities.  That’s half a million.  We’re talkin’ some serious money here.

To my surprise (I just added up the numbers) this past year was over 10% better than last year.  We raised $134,000 in 2017.   That’s $367 per day, each and every day of the year.  Many thanks to all of you who pay your hard-earned money to be on the blog, and many, many thanks to those of you who, on top of your membership fees, have made generous and gratifying donations to the blog.  I sometimes wonder how I can keep going with this endeavor because of the time (and emotional) commitment.  But how can I stop???

In terms of other numbers: I have made just over 270 posts on the blog in 2017; that’s just over 5.2 per week, so still on my 5-6/week ideal, but more toward the 5 than the 6.   Altogether since starting the blog I have made 1666 posts.  I’m not sure what to do with that 666.  Make of it what you will.

Comments have increased, somewhat significantly.   This past year there were a total of 15,500 comments made on the various posts (and in response to other comments).  That comes to over 42 comments each and every day of the year.   The problem (for me) is that I have to look over the comments to make sure they are acceptable (my main criteria: are they related to the blog, polite, and non-political?) and then post them; and (bigger problem) I have to, and am committed to, answering each and every question, so long as I can (i.e. if I know an answer or can look it up).  Apologies for those of you who want long interchanges with me.  I’m afraid terse but direct answers/replies are all I can do.  I wish it were otherwise!

All in all, then, things are going very well indeed, and have the potential of getting better.   Here I’ll give just one reflection on the blog from my personal point of view as the kurios blogou (roughly translated: “Lord of the Blog”) and give one possible improvement we are thinking about implementing.

My personal reflection is the same one I have made every time anyone for over five years has asked me about the blog.   I enjoy very much making scholarship on the various topics we cover on the blog – the New Testament, the historical Jesus, the life and writings of Paul, the apocryphal books (that did not make it into the New Testament), the history of the early church, the formation of the canon, the manuscripts of the early Christian writings, and on and on – available to a wider public, so that this information doesn’t just stay with the scholars who do the hard work in researching it all.  At the same time, it’s a lot of work and the more the blog grows (which is the *point*, after all, to make it grow) the more work there is: more comments to approve, more questions to answer, and so on).  It takes a good bit of time out of my already hectic schedule.  My guess is that I spend probably 8-9 hours a week on blog-related issues, all told.

On one hand, that’s not *that* much time.  It’s not like it’s my full time job.  On the other hand, I do have other things to do with my life.   And 8 hours a week, say, translates into well over 400 hours a year, which translates into ten, count them, ten, 40-hour weeks of work that I could be spending on research for my next book or reading in fields I’m interested in (from the history of English literature to the mind-body problem to  astronomy to….  I’m interested in lots of things.) or doing other things, like watching soaps and eating bon-bons.

OK, I would never, ever watch soaps and eat bon-bons.  But I *would* watch a lot more football and drink beer…..

I have heard numerous solutions to this problem:  hire an assistant to review comments; get a grad student to do it; have guests write some of the posts; etc..  These are all very good ideas, but for various reasons are not practicable.   So for now we plow ahead, happily doing the work and raking in the cash.

Which brings me to the idea we’re exploring.   The only reason I keep doing this is because of the charities.  I don’t keep a dime myself and, in fact, pay almost all the expenses of the blog out of my own pocket.   But I’m always interested (keenly interested) in figuring out how to raise more money with the blog.

I often am told we should raise prices.  That’s obviously an option.  A year’s membership for $24.95 is a bargain – and is the same price as in 2012!  But for some people $2/month is a lot, and I don’t want to turn off people who can’t afford more than that.

SO, a blog member recently made a suggestion that struck me as unusually brilliant.  We already have an option of a one-month trial membership for $3.95 and a three-month for $7.95.  How about, for people who want to be year-long members, have the option of being a “sustaining member” at various levels, where a certain amount is paid each *month*, which, looked at from one point of view, is actually not much money, but over the course of the year actually *is*?

I’m thinking about it.  For example, we could have a bronze-level sustaining membership at $5/month; a silver-level at $10; and a gold-level at $20.   That would translate into some serious revenue for the blog, and for some members of the blog who really, really like what they’re getting here, it would (a) not be a burden and (b) be something they would be willing, possibly even eager, to participate in.

What do you think?

The ultimate objectives of the blog remain intact, here at the end of our sixth calendar year: to disseminate scholarly knowledge of the New Testament and the writings and history of early Christianity to a broad reading public, and in doing so to raise money for charities.  We are willing go do anything we can do in order to promote both objectives even better.   If you do have any suggestions, let me know.

Let me close by making two public expressions of thanks.  First, to my assistant from the beginning, Steven Ray, who deals with every single technical aspect of the blog, which are so mind-numbingly complicated at times that I cannot begin to explain.  He is an extremely hard-working computer genius and all of us owe him our deep-felt thanks.  And second, to all of you, who participate in the blog, paying your fees, reading the posts, sometimes making comments, and generally interacting, either as a silent observer or an active participant:  Many, many thanks for making this happen.

Finally, please accept all best wishes for a happy and fulfilling 2018!!


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Comments

  1. davitako  December 31, 2017

    This is fantastic!!

    Happy New Year, everyone!!!

    Thank you, Bart and thank you, Steven for such a hard work!

    Super happy and proud to be a part of this very important endeavour.

  2. RonaldTaska  December 31, 2017

    Thanks to both Steven Ray and you. It has been a lot of work for you two and we appreciate that work a lot. Happy New Year. In all honesty, any idea you come up with is fine with me.

  3. godspell  December 31, 2017

    You were ahead of the curve, Bart. More and more, they are making people pay for the internet. But it only works if you’re providing something people really want, and can’t get elsewhere.

    And of course, there’s only so many memberships/subscriptions one can afford. There are certain built-in limitations, but ad-supported sites are increasingly becoming impractical (the ads don’t make enough money and are increasingly intrusive), so the subscriber system is becoming a commonplace, and it comes with a great side-benefit–a lot fewer trolls lurking in the undergrowth.

    I’ve been fortunate with my blog, which I’ve never paid a cent for–I have a solid group of people who come by to discuss books with me, no trolling (because it’s too specialized), and it’s been very rewarding. I’ve had less than 100k views in over four years. I surely never raised anything for charity–half a million! I can barely wrap my head around that sum.

    Right now, I couldn’t pay more than I do, but I’d consider it in future. This and the New York Times are the only sites I pay to use. You’ll understand, if it came to a budget choice, I’d have to go with the Times. But I’d be tormented by the choice. Let that cup pass my lips, Lord! 😉

  4. DavidBeaman  December 31, 2017

    Dear Bart,
    I want to wish you and all your loved ones a happy and healthy 2018 and beyond. Your books and the blog have been very helpful and meaningful to me. The charity you provide to those in need both from your own funds and the funds from the blog is inspiring and speaks so very well of you.
    Sincerely,
    David

    P.S. The time spent on the blog is much better for you than drinking more beer would be. 🙂

  5. cmdenton47  December 31, 2017

    Thank you for this wonderful opportunity of conversing with a scholar.

  6. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  December 31, 2017

    First of all, I’m glad you ignored naysayers who thought your blog didn’t have a chance. This blog is very special, and no other blog in this genre can even come close to its excellence.

    Normally, if someone is at gold status, s/he would get something more in return as opposed to bronze status. Is there something in return for becoming a gold member? When a fee is taken out once a year, it’s not so bad. When it pings the checking account every month, it’s a different story. My worry is that it may cause some reluctance in making more generous donations throughout the year. If someone does choose to become a gold member, maybe give the option for it to be taken out all at one time.

    A few weeks ago, a call out was made for donations. One person posted what he gave and then another. It seemed to create an energy for inspiring several to donate. I think people connect more with visuals and a goal. I’m not sure it’s possible, but if there could be something on the side of the blog or something in our line of sight that shows a goal and the daily progression of it, I think it could drive our natural inclination to reach the finish line.

    I’m all for the blog generating more donations. However, I am not for placing people into a class-type system. Right now, everyone is the same. Some have free memberships because they can’t afford it. We don’t know who they are, and I like it that way. We’re functioning as a team.

    As far as your time and energy goes, I think you’re dealing with an opportunity cost, a term that stuck with when I took an economics class. In order to get something, you have to be willing to give up something else. You’re the centerpiece and driving force of the blog and there’s really no way around it. I know there’s been several who’ve suggested hiring an assistant, but honestly, I don’t believe they’re thinking clearly. Once you pull back, so will the members; that’s the opportunity cost. The only thing that I can come up with that may not impact the blog and help you out is by scaling back on the number of posts each week.

    If I ever become wealthy, I swear to make an obscene donation to the blog!

  7. rburos  December 31, 2017

    Again, thanks for your work on this project. At $25/year I am happy to purchase a membership and donate a free membership, because $50 is my upper limit. I’m not sure what one would receive at each of the levels, but it would affect my decision.

  8. Wilusa  December 31, 2017

    Personally, I hope you won’t change anything.

  9. Pattylt  December 31, 2017

    No, no,no ! Thank YOU! Do you know how rare it is for an everyday Joe or Jill to have access to a reknowned scholar that shares his/her knowledge and answers our questions? I am beyond impressed by your gift of time and energy put into this blog. If you ever harbor a doubt if it is at all worth it, let me assure you it is. Beside my fascination with religion (considering I have none), I am also “into” European history, medical history and cooking. Excepting the cooking, I don’t know of any high level scholars that offer a blog for the lay public in other fields. Some of them may have blogs but they are so scholastic that I would never ask a question on them. I am not intimidated to ask on yours and Thank You for that. Best wishes for 2018! Now on to the next 1/2 million.

  10. Greg Matthews
    Greg Matthews  December 31, 2017

    I contribute to a number of other charities. Dropping this blog over a price increase would not be a difficult decision for me to make. As a member since nearly the beginning, however, it is a choice I’d rather not make.

    There are a number of other scholars who blog and don’t charge anything.

    Without any tangible benefit to the higher price it’s an expense I would not be able to justify. Note, “tangible benefit” doesn’t mean post more. I would be happy if you posted 2-3 times a week as long as all posts were original. No blasts from the past and no re-posting from your books. I’ve read them all already.

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  11. pstrst@pacbell.net  December 31, 2017

    Sounds like an excellent idea. I would probably do the silver level. It might be nice to give some special recognition to the gold level members as an incentive to join at the highest level–maybe give them first dibs on submitting topic ideas or something like that.

  12. tcasto  December 31, 2017

    I work with two non-profits and both use sustaining memberships as a means of increasing donations. $8 a month is easier than cutting a check for $100. Or at least so it seems. Keep up the good work.

  13. Raemon  December 31, 2017

    I like the idea of some premium membership levels, but perhaps there should be some nominal distinctions/gifts/recognitions. That seems to be the usual approach.

  14. Jim Cherry  December 31, 2017

    Happy New Year Bart!
    Many, many thanks for all of your hard work in making this very educational blog available.

  15. AlbertHodges  December 31, 2017

    I am a new member here and came here after watching some of your Youtube videos. I want to say something to you that I bet would be what at least a few others think as well. First, a disclaimer.

    I grew up Quaker. Over 35 years ago, I studied all faiths and decided that only two could be true or made sense…Catholicism/Orthodoxy or Orthodox Judaism. After about a year in prayer over this, I became Roman Catholic. Still believe it and pretty sure that I always will.

    However, over the last decade my desire to understand the origins of Christianity and how the Jews at the time of Christ lived/believed has greatly increased. While I already have a Master’s in Nonprofit Management, I enrolled at UNCC just to be able to pursue independent studies and take a few classes with Dr. James Tabor regarding early Christian Origins, especially related to the archaeology of the time. I hope at some point to take classes with you at UNC Chapel Hill (I live in Greensboro and run a Catholic ministry there). We will see how life unfolds. I also take classes online at Holy Apostles College and Seminary with my ultimate goal of getting a Ph. D. in Catholic Theology and to write when I retire on Josephology…the theological study of St. Joseph in the Catholic tradition.

    I tell you this because I want to thank you for the difference you have made in my academic/faith journey. While I hope to take classes some day with you, I know that may never happen. I follow a number of scholars regarding the Hebraic Roots Movement as well. What I enjoy about everything of yours I have read or heard on Youtube, is that you seem to be an honest scholar…seeking truth…and teaching truth. You recognize and acknowledge your own beliefs and will change your opinions over the years as you learn and study more. This is absolutely a rare trait in many of the popular scholars today who seem at some point to go from objectively teaching to promoting sensational theories that seem designed to sell books rather than just offer POSSIBILITIES as to what MAY have been the historical truth. I trust your opinions, what you teach and what you think. With some of the others, even some of the ones that I respect their scholarship, I have to filter out their opinions. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being a trustworthy guide and teacher.

    Now my suggestions. First, keep your lower pricing for your basic offerings since they seem to be helping you achieve your stated goals of increased income for charities as well as to make your scholarship available to more people. Consider adding a most pricey service for those of us who would LOVE to ask you questions or seek opinions from you regarding our own theses or theories. I do not know whether you have time or not for this, but I know I would pay a lot for that from time to time.

    Secondly, I have run a successful ministry and nonprofit for almost 25 years in NC. I am more than willing to offer any technical or administrative help I can to you for free, if you need such help. I am just learning biblical studies, but I have LOTS of experience and have a certain expertise in nonprofit management that is yours for the asking.

    God bless you, sir. Thank you again for the service you provide to Truth and learning. I pray your New Year is a happy, healthy and successful one!

    O. Albert Hodges, M.A.

  16. Tobit  December 31, 2017

    Happy New Year, Bart. One of the main reasons I stay subscribed is because of the good causes the blog donates to. I try to keep my questions short, hopefully the blog will never become too taxing for you!

  17. Seeker1952  December 31, 2017

    Is writing the blogs, on the one hand, or, on the other hand, authorizing the comments and responding to questions more time-consuming? I hate to bring up what might be opening a can of worms but if it ever comes down to a choice between continuing the blog and responding to questions, I vote for the blog itself. And maybe periodically the blog itself could address questions, e.g., somewhat like the readers’s mailbag does now but also including a series of short responses to selected (and well-formulated) questions.

    As I say I hate to suggest it because being able to ask you questions is in some respects the most valuable (and unique?) aspect of the blog. But if the blog grows as you want it to grow it’s just going to become more and more time-consuming to answer all questions.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 1, 2018

      It’s about 50/50. I’ll keep up the current approach till it becomes unmanageable. So far so good!

  18. John4
    John4  December 31, 2017

    Yes. Sustaining membership levels sounds like an easy one, Bart. Wish I’d thought of it. Sign me up, lol! 🙂

    And to piggyback an earlier suggestion on to this excellent sustaining membership idea, cut your workload by limiting commenting privileges to bronze or higher sustaining members. Everybody gets to read. But to kibitz, ya gotta kick in a little extra.

    Thank you so *very* much, Bart, for all of your hard work!

    • mathieu  January 5, 2018

      Limiting commenting privileges to bronze or higher sustaining members is a really good idea.

  19. doug  December 31, 2017

    I love reading and learning from the blog and the fact that the money goes to help those in need. But $5 a month ($60 a year) might be a little steep for some folks. I think the levels of payment is a good idea (some folks can afford more than others), but maybe the levels could start at $2.50 a month.

  20. Seeker1952  December 31, 2017

    How did it happen that, for early Christians, faith rather than works came to be seen as what made people right with God and brought salvation? It seems clear that Jesus himself taught that the good works of the Jewish Law, thoroughly inspired by love, is what qualified people for the inclusion in the imminent kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed. Jesus’s death and resurrection must have had something to do with it. However, early Christians, despite Jesus’s death, still expected the kingdom upon his return–which was expected shortly. I can understand how, after the resurrection and as he gradually came to be seen as divine in important ways, there would be more emphasis on Jesus himself and less perhaps on what he had taught. Still, there seems to be a missing link as to how good works came to be replaced by faith. Perhaps it was the interpretation of Jesus’s death as atonement for sin that made works less important? Perhaps atonement made works beside the point?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 1, 2018

      Yes, I think that’s it. Once Jesus’ death is what mattered for one’s relationship to God, then it didn’t make sense to say that one could behave in some way to earn that relationship — becuase if you could, then why would Jesus have to die?

      • Seeker1952  January 1, 2018

        Thanks for the response. I can’t think of a better reason.

        But I want to sharpen my point a little. Not only did the early Christians expect Jesus to return but to return IN JUDGEMENT, similar perhaps to the sheep and goats story. Judgement would seem to put a very heavy emphasis on good works.

        I suppose the early Christians must have thought they would be judged based on whether or not they had faith–or maybe they thought that good works were done in response to atonement, e.g., out of gratitude or even out of joy?

    • Robert
      Robert  January 1, 2018

      “… for early Christians, faith rather than works came to be seen as what made people right with God and brought salvation …”

      This way of interpreting Paul became especially popular with the Protestant reformation so I would be wary of attributing it too widely or easily to “early Christians.” There are better ways of reading Paul within his own Jewish context and clearly the synoptic gospels, decades after Paul, still attributed a great deal of importance to following Jesus’ teachings and following at least the most important moral laws. There are indeed seeds of atonement/ransom/liberation theology in the New Testament but it really isn’t the sola fide caricature of Luther’s theology. Fundamentalist evangelical Christians tend to exaggerate these motifs with some later medieval atonement theology and ignore the other rather obvious parts of Paul and the other New Testament authors which do not fit their view of easy faith and cheap grace.

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