The 2022 CRC Synod was painful for many people, but it boosted readership on the Reformed Journal.
I spent some time as the calendar turned looking at our numbers for 2022. Several of our most viewed blog posts dealt with Synod themes. Laura DeJong’s immediate reaction, “The Day After,” posted on Thursday, June 16, drew 83 comments and had almost 13,000 page views. The day after “The Day After,” Heidi DeJonge’s “Forty-five Years in the Christian Reformed Church” had over 9000 views and drew 62 comments. (Tim Van Deelen’s piece “52 Snakes,” posted a week before Laura’s, also drew large numbers. Why? My theory is the title worked as click bait, and people thought it was about Synod. Turns out it actually was about snakes.)
Just to prove the secret sauce for big numbers wasn’t Canadian CRC pastors with similar last names, Jim Bratt’s “Stewing Over Synod,” posted on July 29, also had about 9000 views and (so far) drew 97 comments. The internet favors blunt over subtle, and Jim’s piece was blunt. And powerful. (More on bluntness and subtleness below.)
We publish a blog post daily and an essay every Monday. Blogs, by nature, can be nimble and respond quickly to current events. It’s not unusual for the blog piece you read on a Wednesday to have been written Tuesday night. Our essays are different. They’re typically written weeks before they are posted. They may address current events, but not in the moment. Two of our most read 2022 essays dealt with culture war topics: Mark Hiskes’s reflections on the pressures teachers face in our polarized society, “Afraid to Teach,” had almost 10,000 views, and Wes Granberg-Michaelson’s “The Real Question in the Abortion Debate,” also was read by a wide audience.
I’m asked sometimes about the difference between an essay and a blog piece. Besides length, blog entries are generally small op-eds. As for essays, look at the etymology of the word “essay,” which comes from assay, meaning to weigh something or test its quality. Two widely read essays in 2022 reflected on this past summer’s RCA and CRC Synods precisely in this manner: Tom Boogaart’s “We Are Better Than This,” hardly even mentioned those gatherings but the reality of those proceedings stood behind every word. Daniel Meeter’s “Two Synods,” placed those gatherings into a historical context. Although the readership of these essays was above average, the two combined didn’t draw as many readers as Jim Bratt’s “Stewing.” As I said above, the internet favors bluntness over subtlety.
I don’t. As editor, I care about our numbers, but I’m not going to turn our site into a sledgehammer. I appreciate beautiful writing and don’t care what numbers Jim Schaap’s pieces about prairie life draw or care what numbers our poetry and poetry podcasts draw. A wise friend with a strong pedigree in the publishing industry has told me our poetry is consistently the finest material we publish. I’m sticking with his opinion.
None of which, by the way, is intended as some sort of veiled criticism of pieces we post that come on strong. I admire those who, like Jim Bratt, say things with conviction. Perhaps no one outside of Jim has done that as well in this space as Kate Kooyman. When Kate started blogging for us, she worked in the CRC Office of Social Justice. These days she works with a state senator in Michigan. In November’s election, the blue wave in Michigan meant that Kate’s boss was promoted to Senate Majority leader. Great for Kate, but not great for us, as new responsibilities meant she had to step away from posting on our blog. I am grateful for her many posts, and promise to hold the door open for Kate to return someday.
In 2022, we published 52 essays, over 365 blog posts, 26 book reviews, and close to 100 poems. We also posted 25 poetry podcasts and 11 other podcast episodes. Only a fool would attempt to elevate any of this over others, and I’m that fool today. While grateful for all of it, and deeply thankful for the regulars on these pages, I was especially moved by a few guests. Dave Larsen is on his way to becoming a regular, and I loved his heartfelt and humorous stories, perhaps none more than the one we published last week about his grandfather smuggling a salmon home from Norway. I also was moved by Kama Jongerius’s reflection on her many feelings following retirement from parish ministry during the pandemic and subsequently finding a church home on Zoom. Another first-person account that stood out was Terry DeYoung’s story. I loved how Terry effortlessly weaved his lived experience with a disability into the piece. I’m humbled and honored that we get to publish such heartfelt and beautiful articles.
What were your favorites? Or maybe it’s not an article, but a favorite writer?
Our total number of page views in 2022 came in just under 900,000. This year I want to get over a million, but not for any reason I can articulate other than it sounds impressive. Who knows what 2023 will bring? If the CRC Synod decides to act like the utopian hippie dreams of the Age of Aquarius, with harmony and understanding and sympathy and trust abounding, then our numbers might go down in 2023. But we will remain faithful to publishing Christian writing that delights readers and engages the world in a Reformed way.
Finally, two shout outs. First, to the people whose daily work makes this site go: Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell, John Hwang, Rose Postma, Deb Van Duinen, Keith Starkenburg, and Laurie Orlow. Second, to our regular bloggers: Jared Ayers, Jim Bratt, Laura de Jong, Heidi De Jonge, Scott Hoezee, Jennifer Holberg, Brian Keepers, Rebecca Koerselman, Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell, Deb Rienstra, Jim Schaap, Katy Sundararajan, Tim Van Deelen, and Allison VanderBroek. Huge thanks to each, and to you, who read and support us. Happy New Year!