Today I am going to post the blogging equivalent of a “state of the nation” address. We’ll call it a “state of the domain.” I wrote this post earlier and realized that I had not been entirely honest and forthcoming, so have added information to it. I realize that this information (discussing readership, privilege and so on) may be confused with boasting or some other ignoble desire, but I assure you it is nothing of the sort. Because at the end of the article I ask for your help, I feel it is only fair if I provide full disclosure (or close to it). If you know me, you understand how hard it is to post an article of this nature. So let’s discuss the past, present and future of this site with a view towards increasing its impact on the Kingdom of God.
As you may already know, this blog began quite by accident. I first reserved the domain challies.com in 2002 in order to create a family site. And indeed, that is exactly what the site was for the first several months. I would post irregular photographic updates of my children in order to let my family see how they were growing up. At some point I became interested in recording some of my thoughts and subsequently wrote several articles primarily for my own benefit. I posted them online to allow my family to read them and was surprised to see Google pick them up and even more surprised to find other people reading and enjoying them. Over the next months I posted articles only very irregularly and at some point the site became a bona fide blog, though at the time I had never heard that term. In November of 2003, when readership was beginning to increase, I decided that I would commit to daily blogging and have done so since.
The reason I provide this background information is to show that I never had any real strategy to grow or promote the blog. I don’t know that I’ve ever done much to deliberately promote the site. I did not set out to become a blogger and certainly never would have considered that people would care to read what I write. The point is that this site has just sort of happened to me. I sometimes feel that I have just been along for the ride and that I am little more than a spectator.
In recent months I have had the opportunity to meet with several readers of this site. They have been able to provide a unique perspective on what I do well and what I do poorly with Challies Dot Com. A question people tend to ask is what I foresee for this site in the coming months or years. I have to answer that, quite honestly, I have not thought a lot about it. I most often take this site just one day at a time. Most often when I have attempted to do any type of forecasting the results have been less than encouraging (some day I’ll have to see just how many series I have begun and not finished). I do think ahead to future articles and postings but rarely truly plan ahead more than a few days. In some ways that is a good thing, as it allows for spontaneity, but in some ways that is a liability as it encourages me to do less research and planning than I otherwise might.
So what is Challies Dot Com now? I am not entirely sure. I suppose it is, in large part, my brain and sometimes my heart placed on display for all to see. I write what I think about, and what I think about is formed largely from my time spent with the Lord and my time immersed in good books. The primary emphasis of the site, as I see it, is discussing and interpreting contemporary Evangelicalism through what I hope is a discerning, biblical lens. And if that is, indeed, the emphasis, I would like to keep that intact as I feel the topic is worthy of such prominence.
Since mid-2004 the site has grown dramatically in terms of traffic and inbound links, the two most common measures of Internet success. While I keep the numbers private (I’m not entirely sure why), I can post a graph that plots the growth of the site over the past 12 months. As you will see, the site continues to grow almost every month. As something of an aside, the growth in traffic has led to a great increase in the amount of bandwidth the site consumes. As of next month I may need to once again increase my hosting plan in order to accommodate the increase.
I make no money from the site other than a small amount from the Amazon affiliate program that is paid out in gift certificates (which I use to fund birthday presents for my American relatives). On the whole this does not bother me, though I occasionally consider adding some type of advertising to the site. I do, however, receive many tangible benefits: I get all the books I could ever hope to read (and, frankly, a lot which I would never want to read); I have been blessed with some wonderful gifts from readers of the site; I have become friends with people I would otherwise never had opportunity to meet; I receive encouraging emails from brothers and sisters from all over the globe; and I have been offered some wonderful opportunities, the most notable of which are live-blogging major conferences. Benefits that are less tangible but no less appreciated are: the prayer support of many believers; the privilege of introducing readers to new blogs through the A La Carte and King for a Week sections; and the responsibility of owning a popular web site.
That final benefit is an important one. As readership increases I feel a greater desire and responsibility to be a good steward. While it would be easy to see each visitor to the site as merely a “hit,” the fact is that each hit represents a person created in the image of God, who, like me, is most likely searching for answers and desiring to grow in faith.
All this has led me to wonder what the future of this site might be. I am ready, I feel, to invest more deliberate effort in the site. As I assume is obvious I already dedicate plenty of time to the site, but often the time does not necessarily correlate with effort. What I mean is that I am more ready to begin planning ahead and to dedicate effort to longer, more in-depth series. I am ready to serve the readership with articles that, having been more thoroughly researched and better-written, will be able to bless their hearts and minds. All the while I wish to ensure that the site maintains accessible to all believers, not just those with advanced knowledge of theology. And I would like to maintain the personal nature of the site, lest it become something less than a blog.
And so, as I gaze towards 2006, now only a few days off, I would like to ask for your input. I promise not to be offended and am honestly asking for honesty. If you know me, you know that I have any easier time dealing with criticism than praise! You can either post your feedback in the comments area or send me an email. While this site is and will remain my site (and I say that in as non-offensive a way as I can) I am eager to hear from readers what you feel is done well and what is done poorly. Here are some questions that my guide you (and do not feel that you need to answer any or all of them):
- What do you feel the emphasis or emphases of this site are and should be?
- Are there areas of the site that you feel merit more attention?
- Are there areas that merit less attention?
- Are there areas I should do away with altogether?
- Should I increase or do away with the Community Blog?
- Do you think I should consider video blogging or podcasting?
- In short, what I can I do in 2006 and beyond to serve the church, to serve you, and ultimately to serve our Lord?
I look forward to your honest advice and input.