The State of the Mission
An update on my readership statistics, reader survey results, and a financial update.
In this post I want to do something different and give you an update on what’s been going on with my work. Call this my “state of the mission” update.
My core mission is to help conservative American Christians, especially men, successfully adapt to the 21st century. In doing that I want to give insight people can’t get anywhere else, to live not by lies, to build up not just tear down, have skin in the game, and also pay it forward by helping others doing similar work. I want to be honest, independent, fair, excellent, serious, and authentic. I engage on issues where my skills, background, and knowledge enable me to make a contribution: cultural analysis and frameworks, men’s issues, cities, elites, conservatism, etc., some of which go a bit beyond the missional core. I try to give people information that helps them make sense of and adapt to this unprecedented world we live in. My “three worlds of evangelicalism” thesis is a good example of this.
How are things going? I’ll talk about about where I stand statistically, and then the results of my recent reader survey and a financial update.
Current Audience Statistics
Building an audience isn’t the only thing that matters, but it isn’t nothing either. It doesn’t matter how accurate or insightful the things I write are if nobody reads them. At the same time, I don’t want to simply chase eyeballs at the expense of mission. While I want to work hard to gain readers and listeners, I also try hard to militate against losing missional integrity in doing that. My thesis is that there’s enough of an audience to make this project viable.
Here are the current stats.
For the newsletter, I recently reached a milestone of having over 15,000 free or higher tier subscribers. As of this writing, I have 15,104 total. My open rate is in the mid to high forties range (as a percentage).
That’s pretty good - equivalent to a megachurch in readership. My goal is to influence the influencers, to provide information and perspectives that help those who have influence over others shape their own work. So I don’t necessarily want huge raw readership (like, say, Jordan Peterson), because I’m also reaching people indirectly via the people I influence. I’m gratified when I see others referencing my work. For example, someone wrote in my reader survey that he hears the pastor of his well known church in NYC semi-regularly say things that originated here. So I know it is having an impact. That also comes with a ton of responsibility to be as diligent as I can in delivering high quality and accurate material.
I also recently hit 500,000 downloads on my podcast (excluding Spotify and Youtube). That’s not that great, honestly. I get about 3000-3500 listens per episode and that level has been relatively flat for a while. I need to figure out what to do with the podcast. It’s a question mark for me. Right now I’m trying more interviews, because those seem to get more listens.
My Twitter following is closing in on 25,000. And I’m selling about 300 copies per month of my modern English translation of John Owen’s Mortification of Sin, which continues to get great ratings on Amazon. My three words of evangelicalism article had the most readership of any print edition article at First Things last year. And I’ve got a book length expansion of it coming out in January.
I have a decent sized audience but need it to get bigger to achieve the level of reach I aspire to have, and so that I’m more able to drive the conversation and become too big to ignore. I believe I need to get to a level of 50-100,000 free tier subscribers to do that. That’s roughly 3-6X where I am now. I’ve been steadily growing, but need to find a way to bend the growth curve upward to hit that which doesn’t involve becoming a provocateur, etc. That’s a big lift.
Boosting my number of free subscribers is my top metric goal right now. I can very much use your help to get there. Ways to do that:
Directly recommend people subscribe. Nothing has more driven subscribers here than direct recommendations to do so by people like Rod Dreher, Doug Wilson, and Mark Galli. If you’ve got a sizable reach of your own, this is by far the #1 way you could help me.
Link to me in your writing.
Pass along my work to your friends or others to whom you think it would be appropriate.
Have me as a guest on your podcast if you have one (especially one with a lot of listeners, obviously).
I want to close out this section with a huge Thank you! to all of you who have been loyal readers and have already done so much to share the word and financially support my work. Without you, this would never have been possible and I don’t ever want to forget all that you all have done to help make it happen. If you ever heard somebody reference something like my three worlds model, remember that you played a part in making that happen.
I recently asked for your feedback through a reader survey, and want to say thanks to the 500 or so of you who responded. I want to share some of what I learned.
First, my audience is overwhelmingly male - more than 90% - which I expected.
Women are always welcome to read, but my target market is men, and that’s who my content is focused on.
Something that did surprise me was the extent to which my audience was evangelical. I would have thought I’d have more Catholic or secular readers, based on the number of folks I’ve connected with over the years.
I’m a bit surprised, but certainly gratified, to have to many mainline Protestant readers.
The generational background of my readers:
I have always said that this is a post-Boomer project. It’s not anti-Boomer. But the Boomers are typically very attuned to what I have called the positive or neutral worlds. I am focused on today’s negative world, and the strategies for the future. So unsurprisingly my work is less resonant with the Boomers and Silents, who are only 16% of my audience. So not only does my audience equate to a megachurch, but it’s also a fairly young one.
I was pleasantly surprised to see so many Zoomers checking in, as I would not have expected my work to appeal to the youth demographic. It’s awesome to see.
Based on this data, if I had an audience avatar, it would be a Millennial evangelical male. Here’s the professional background results.
As you can see, there’s a lot of career diversity here.
I wanted to keep the survey short and did not ask about race or location. My assumption is that my audience is majority white and American, though I do know that I have many non-white and international readers.
One reason to do the survey was because I was very keen to find out which topics resonate most with you and which ones add the most value to your life, ministry, career, etc.
The results surprised me a little bit. The #1 topic people wanted to hear more about was men’s material. Several people said they missed the old “masculinist” content. I have written more about that lately, and will probably look to beef that up since so many people want it.
A cluster of suggestions with a similar level of interest was concrete ideas for operating in today’s world. If you add to this a smaller cluster of people asking about more examples of success or people doing it right, this is probably the top area of demand.
I was somewhat surprised by this as my more practically oriented articles typically don’t get the best engagement. I have historically included them mostly because I really want to be sure to stay positive and constructive, not just critical or analytic. I also don’t want to hold myself out as a life coach or guru and am deeply hesitant to give direct advice. But maybe I need to do more in the space of trying to give people directly actionable ideas to consider.
Some specific areas people asked about I will not be able to comment on because I lack experience or knowledge. I don’t know a lot about other countries, alas. Similarly, I’ve never been to seminary and so try to avoid theology. I’ve always said that this is in the genre of cultural criticism, not theology or Biblical studies. Obviously I’ve read the Bible, but my “wins above replacement” in topics like that is pretty low.
A third cluster of suggestions was around cultural and institutional trends. A few people also said they liked my cities stuff and elite theory. I also got a few suggestions for more on aesthetics and additional coverage of mainline denominations.
In terms of what people wanted to hear less of, the results did not really cluster into any big piles. The mini-piles that were created unfortunately were in direct conflict with where people said they wanted to see more or conflict with the core audience: men’s issues, evangelicalism, etc. Some people also said they don’t like political posts, which I hope I don’t do too many off.
Some people said they did not like the cities oriented topics. This is my legacy work which I have been trying to ramp down. I mostly only include it on this site because I want to be sure that this includes a comprehensive reference to all my ongoing work. I would expect this to remain niche and decline over time.
The questions about what topics people are looking for help to better understand, and the “anything else you want to tell me” question didn’t generate a lot of common themes, but did give me a lot of ideas for potential future articles. So thanks for those.
A few people did criticize the graphics as well as the video quality on podcasts and some editing issues. I agree! I very much would like to do a complete graphic refresh, but am not financially positioned to hire a first class person to do it right now. But it’s on the list. As is kitting out a better podcasting studio.
Everybody will tell you that the way to be successful is to focus on a specific niche. I’ve always thought that my work is too broad and I should niche down. At the same time, I don’t think my strength is as a deep expert in just one narrow area, or “technical” expertise in some field like urban planning. I’m better at bigger picture frameworks and the connections between domains. At the same time, I do want to find a way to become more focused on the topics at the intersection of a) what will help conservative American Christian men live and operate in this world and b) what I can make a high value contribution to.
Thanks so all of you who financially support what I’m doing through being a paid subscriber or member.
This work is not yet fully self-sustaining. The support generated by it covers about 2/3 of my base financial need. The rest is being covered by bigger donors and other work such as my recent study on the future of Appalachia.
My top goal for now is growing free readership, not getting more of you to become paid subscribers. I am paying all the bills at the moment. At the same time, this does need to become fully self supporting at some point, and I do have some major support ending this year. The truth is that money is actually integral to mission because if there is no money, there is no mission - I’d have to go do something else.
So it would be very helpful for you to become a paid Subscriber here.
The new year will be here before you know it. If you are an individual, church, or other organization, I would appreciate if you would consider budgeting to include me as someone you want to support in 2024. For individuals, I will be running a campaign for my Member program at the end of the year as usual and that would be a great opportunity for you to help.
Mine is one of the single most capital efficient ministries you can support. I’m reaching a megachurch worth of people who skew both influential and young. And doing it with just me. There aren’t very many places to get better leverage than that. So please keep me in mind in the coming months.
I hope you found this update informative. Thanks so much for all your support and for taking my reader survey. I have also opened up this post to comments from anyone.