Things have changed around here, and I am not talking just about the format of this website.
While I was in Israel, I gave Dr. Frank Page an earful one day. “You have absolutely ruined Baptist blogging,” I chided. Now, as anyone who reads this blog knows, I have an open and undeniable man-crush on Frank Page. I believe that God’s grace brought Frank Page to the convention presidency in 2006 and then to the Executive Committee in 2010(?) “for such a time as this.”
But that doesn’t change the fact that Dr. Page and all his reasonable, peace-loving, unifying efforts have put a serious crimp in the blogging world.
Let me share some facts and figures with you. Since its inception, SBC Voices has grown in the neighborhood of 50% per year (based on page views). Last year, we topped out somewhere around 1.2 million page views for the year. As of June of this year, we were on track to surpass that number in 2013 (not by a 50% margin, but significantly). Then, things changed.
Boy, did things change.
1) Google did away with Google Reader
May the bird of paradise fly up Google’s nose. May an elephant caress Google with his toes. May Google’s wife be plagued with runners in her hose. May the bird of paradise fly up Google’s nose.
Sorry, I’m still sore about that one! Google Reader was the engine that drove our very popular aggregator, one of the unique reasons this site was so active. Why did Google do away with it? I suspect it was a plot of certain bloggers who wanted to silence SBC Voices. Scoundrels. I have no proof, but the lack of proof just shows how good their conspiracy was, doesn’t it?
Other feeds are available, but none of them was designed to work with our blogroll format, so we could not continue with it despite its popularity. We tried a twitter-based feed, but that did not seem to work well. Eventually, Tony redesigned the homepage that we have now. It is actually working well as a portal to other blogs, but the traffic to our posts has not kept pace.
2) The SBC is as peaceful as it has been in a decade.
All that peace and love Frank Page has promoted is KILLING us!
Since the early days of blogging, we have traded in conflict. The IMB and its onerous policies was the first battleground. Then, the war shifted to “Big Tent vs Smaller Tent” views of Baptist life, leading to the “Baptist Identity” wars. Strange to look back on it now, but Calvinism was not a huge issue then. There have always been trigger issues – moderate alcohol consumption, tithing, women in ministry – that ignited debate. There have been battles over leadership at several of our entities, which gradually morphed into the mother-of-all-battles, the Calvinist Conspiracy!
And, without a doubt, the battle over the big C has dominated blogging in the past few years. Tensions escalated slowly until they hit a fever pitch with the release of the Traditionalist document in 2012. As a result of this turmoil, Dr. Page stepped in and formed his Calvinism study group, which presented its report last summer. I doubt that there are many who would be fool enough to say that the Calvinism Committee solved all our problems or ended all debate, but what they did (it seems to me) is put all of this in perspective, and to help us see that Calvinists and non-Calvinists of all stripes could work together and cooperate in missions. (Of course, it is possible that one side or the other has gone underground and will break out with some kind of unforeseen guerrilla warfare tactic, but I don’t think that is the case).
The simple fact is that controversy drives blogging, or at least it has. A couple of weeks ago, John MacArthur hosted an anti-charismatic conference called “Strange Fire.” During that conference, MacArthur’s right-hand man referenced an article I wrote here, and falsely labeled me as a charismatic. For about three or four days, our traffic returned to levels from our Google Reader days! I probably could have milked that controversy a little with a couple of follow-up articles, but that kind of thing does not interest me and we slowly returned to our new normal. That kind of blog traffic we can do without. But that incident showed me that the lack of significant controversy may be driving our numerical lull as much as anything.
3) Perhaps, a sense of shame hit us all.
Honestly, there are times when I would sit at my computer and wonder how Christian people could behave as badly as bloggers sometimes did. And yes, I’m sometimes amazed at the power of my own flesh when I sit at the keyboard. Some of the most irenic, high-minded bloggers today used to be battle-bloggers. Perhaps they gradually realized that the Kingdom was more important than many of the internecine battles we have engaged in. Perhaps they simply got tired of treating others the way that bloggers have so often treated other Christian bloggers. Perhaps we just all realized that there were bigger fish to fry than those we were pursuing.
4) Dave has been lax at the controls of SBC Voices.
The simple fact is that in the last 6 months or so, a series of circumstances – personal and ministry-related – has forced me to be much more absentee as a blog administrator than I should have been. Not only have I written less (which may or may not be a good thing – not for me to decide) but I have spent less time interacting on posts, less time searching for new writers and good posts to republish. When the blog is not managed, things seem to dwindle.
I keep telling myself that I need to get back engaged and be more faithful in writing, in managing this blog and in promoting it, but then things come up and once again, I don’t. Writing is not a hobby for me, it is a calling, and I want to see this blog prosper, but it takes an amount of time I haven’t really had and am not sure when I am going to have.
The result of all these factors (and perhaps others) has been a reduction in our daily traffic that amounts to between 25 to 35 percent, within a few months. We have gone from having between 3500 to 5000 views a day (on weekdays) to averaging less than 3000 (I’ve not really done the most recent math). We’ve stabilized at that lower number, with spikes when a topic hits or some controversy rears its head.
I get the impression that there is a general lull in blue-collar blogging (whether a new era or a temporary calm is hard to say) and there has certainly been one here. I’m not sure if the big-time blogs are down or not (Stetzer, Wax, Rainer, etc), but they operate at a different level than the blogs like this one. What affects us may not touch them.
So, how should we respond? We aren’t going to get Google Reader back (those communists!), so is there something we can do to move SBC Voices forward? There are some options, of course.
Looking to the Future
1) We could fade away.
It is kind of ironic, isn’t it? Many of the leaders of the Baptist world railed against bloggers and cursed our existence (metaphorically – not sure any of them actually swore at us). I’ve sat in meetings listening to luminaries lower the boom on bloggers. More recently, though, many of the entities and their leaders have opened the doors to us. We are no longer viewed as lepers in the Baptist world.
Who’d have thought that acceptance would also be a curse? We are no longer outlaws, the outsiders who aggravate and irritate those in power. Many of the key bloggers of the “wild west” days of Baptist blogging are now actually convention employees!
There is a greater openness today among our leaders. I am amused when I hear newer bloggers complaining about how closed and secretive leadership is today. They should have been around “back in my day.” Many of our leaders seem to have realized that they cannot simply act in a vacuum. If they do things in secret, bloggers are going to talk about it openly.
Here is the irony. The fact that leaders are more open, that they have befriended bloggers, that things are not what they once were may tend to do what the leaders wanted to do back in the wild west days – hinder the work of bloggers!
It is not my intent to just fade into the night, at least not yet!
2) We could rake some muck!
There are blogs that specialize in muckraking and yellow journalism, looking to create controversy where none really exists. We will simply not do that. This is the SBC and controversies will come. Some leader will say or do something silly or aggravating. An issue will arise. Past controversies may again rear their ugly heads.
In Teddy Roosevelt’s famous 1906 speech, “The Man with the Muckrake,” he referred to the Bunyan classic, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” saying this:
In Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” you may recall the description of the Man with the Muck Rake, the man who could look no way but downward, with the muck rake in his hand; who was offered a celestial crown for his muck rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor.
In “Pilgrim’s Progress” the Man with the Muck Rake is set forth as the example of him whose vision is fixed on carnal instead of spiritual things. Yet he also typifies the man who in this life consistently refuses to see aught that is lofty, and fixes his eyes with solemn intentness only on that which is vile and debasing.
Unfortunately, some bloggers refuse to leave behind their muckrakes. They are fixated on the ugly, the dirty – “the filth of the floor” – and keep their vision fixed on the lower things. This is, of course, the conundrum of blogging. One of our roles is to hold those in power accountable and to call them on their misdeeds. We have done that – sometimes well, sometimes poorly. But there is a fine line between holding powerful people accountable and becoming muckrakers. It is a hard line to draw, but we must constantly be seeking to define that line!
Yellow journalism is also a temptation in times like this. The term refers to those who create controversies, who make up stories to draw readers. There are blogs that labor hard to create controversies where not exist and to build even the smallest molehill of disagreement into a mountain of division. That tendency must be avoided by those whose desire is to honor Christ.
The best thing to do with muckrakers and yellow bloggers is simply to ignore them. Do not react. Do not respond. No, I am not talking about trying to silence them. They have the right to say any outrageous thing they wish. But with their right to speak out as they please comes our right to simply ignore the raking of muck and the self-serving creation of controversy. I have no right to silence anyone, but neither does anyone have the right to demand that I listen! I will admit that one man’s yellow journalist is another man’s truth-speaking hero. Again, I am not naming names (and will delete comments that do so) because these categories are so subjective.
My point is that I think muckraking and yellow blogging have been common, are not godly activities, and should be ignored. It is my intent that SBC Voices will not ride that artificial wave to greater traffic.
3) We can keep plugging away!
That is pretty much what I intend to do. Keep writing. Keep posting. Keep on keeping on.
SBC Voices has had a unique place among SBC blogs. Most blogs are focused more on the writings of the author. You go to Ed Stetzer’s blog to read what he says, not to talk about it. SBC Voices is a discussion forum. We write things and then you discuss them. It is obvious that after about 25 comments, the post itself is generally ignored and the discussion takes on a life of its own! But that is who we are. We are not a star-power blog, but a place where people come to talk about issues.
That is why the changes that were forced on us, making the discussion a little more of a challenge, have been difficult. We are continuing to seek ways to facilitate that discussion. We continue to seek good writers who will share their thoughts with us. I’ve had to, for the time being at least, give up my 3-posts-a-day plan. Simply don’t have the articles! But I’d love to get back to posting 2 or 3 times a day if we can get the posts.
If you’d like to contribute let me know. But first, consider the following.
Some Guidelines for Potential Contributors
1) If you contribute to SBC Voices, people will tell you how wrong you are – frequently. If you are hyper-sensitive to criticism, SBC Voices is probably not for you. I have been called just about every name in the book over the last few years as I have managed this site (much of the criticism probably true). It goes with the territory. If you put your thoughts out there, someone is likely to disagree. Some are going to forcefully disagree. It happens!
We’ve had some pretty good writers come through SBC Voices, who wrote well but were just not set up for the discussions that followed. This site is just not for everyone. But if you are willing to have your ideas challenged, this may be a good place for you!
As I’ve told many before, I have no money to offer anyone, but we can offer you an audience. It may not be what it was six months ago, but it can still be significant!
2) We are not interested in muckrakers, yellow bloggers or controversialists. We are free to deal with controversial topics (that is our bread and butter), but not in a belligerent or disrespectful way. Now, here’s the catch. In the general world, everyone gets to decide for themselves what is muckraking and what is not. For the time being, at SBC Voices, I make those decisions. There is always our blog owner Tony to appeal to, but frankly, to this point, he has not interfered with my editorial decisions. He may someday, but so far, not.
I try not to make those decisions based on point-of-view. I have turned down articles from both Calvinists and non-Calvinists (and offended people on both sides by doing so) because I thought they were excessively combative or conspiratorial. I am probably unfair, as people have accused, but I try to make wise decisions. The point is, for the time being, the decision is still mine.
3) We like people who write well. To be honest, bad grammar and sloppy writing drive me nuts (except when I do it, of course). But what you need to do here is clearly develop an idea about the Bible, about theology, about ministry, politics or some social trend, articulate your position clearly and let the discussion commence.
4) We desire writers with a unique perspective on ministry issues. We are primarily a blog for SBC pastors. If you write about what is grinding the rubber on your road, it will probably speak to other readers.
5) If you simply wish to rehash the Calvinism issue repeatedly, other sites might be better. There are sites that will publish pro-Calvinism articles. There are several sites that love non-Calvinist or anti-Calvinist fare. I am not interested in going over that ground again and again. Thoughtful articles on Calvinism issues will always be considered. But we need to move beyond just gnawing the bones of that topic, ad nauseum.
So, that’s where I am right now. I hope to do better as a blog editor and writer. I am constantly looking for people who want to contribute. Now, it’s your turn!