Crunching the Numbers on Bearings’s First Year

Big Data. Analytics. They’re not just for corporations, health insurance companies, and advertising agencies anymore. In an era obsessed with return on investment and concrete measurements of success, churches, spiritual communities, and religious institutions are evaluating their own relationships to numbers.

Take the United Church of Christ, for example. It hosts not only The UCC Data Hub, but also a Center for Analytics, Research, and Data. And the UCC is by no means alone: denominations and organizations across the nation have jumped on the data analysis bandwagon. The United Methodist Church offers “Analytics 101 for Churches.” Religion Dispatches recently published an article entitled “Data-Mining the Denominations: The Southern Baptists in Four Charts.” Entities like Church Analytics and MonkDev promise to help faith communities strategically align data and mission. And let’s not forget the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA), which tries to pull all of it together.

Of course, not everyone accepts that the twenty-first century’s love affair with statistics is a positive development. Some religious leaders bristle at the thought of running churches like corporations. For example, United Methodist pastor and blogger Jeremy Smith, the founder of Hacking Christianity, has questioned the “temptation of church analytics” and wondered whether “the seduction of the power of data and human behavior analysis might overcome prudence and reliance on our faith and the fidelity of God.”

Smith raises an excellent point. That said, we’re still contemplating numbers here at Bearings—and we like to think we’re doing so in a mindful, faithful way. Since our blog has just completed its first year of regular publication, we’ve been evaluating how things went. And as part of our evaluation process, we’ve engaged in some number-crunching of our own.

Using a variety of metrics, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular Bearings blog posts from the past year. In order to determine the pieces to include, we studied which pieces received the most views on the Bearings website; which pieces reached the most people on Facebook; which pieces garnered the most “likes,” comments, shares, and clicks on that social media platform; and which posts had the highest rates of Facebook engagement.

After spending lots of time with Microsoft Excel, we offer the following list of twelve Bearings posts for your relaxed summertime reading pleasure. In order to convey the breadth of the blog, we’ve included the voices of twelve different authors.

Taken as a collection, the pieces offer insight into where Bearings has been in its first year. They also highlight the themes, topics, and questions that have most resonated with our readers.

 

Show more
image001

Navigating Life-as-Ministry

Written by The BTS Center’s Executive Director, Robert Grove-Markwood, this piece was one of the first two posts published in Bearings. Together with a companion piece by Bearings editor Elizabeth Drescher, Bob’s essay offered an initial introduction to The BTS Center’s ministry-related blog. It laid out the publication’s purpose, discussed the metaphors that gave rise to Bearings as a title, and outlined some of the questions that Bearings bloggers seek to address.
Read More
Show more
20141213_HS_Damariscotta_Mills_Aerial_Photo_Desaturated

Praying the Neighborhood

In her inaugural essay for Bearings, Heidi Shott—Canon for Communications and Advocacy for the Episcopal Diocese of Maine—chronicled her participation in an experiment that sent people out “from congregations . . . to walk their neighborhoods and to pray about what they observed and for the people they encountered.” Ultimately, The BTS Center owes its ability to claim affiliation with an “award-winning” blog to this particular Bearings piece, which garnered the Episcopal Communicators’ 2015 Polly Bond Award for Theological Reflection. Congratulations, Heidi!
Read More
Show more
20141219_KB_from_the_bottom_giandomenico_ricci_desaturated_cropped

The Return of the Holiday Prodigal: It’s Complicated…

Last December, blogger Kelly J. Baker contemplated paying a Christmastime visit to the church that had spiritually nurtured and fed her as a young adult. She’d been away for a long while, and part of her longed to re-connect with the faith community that meant so much to her. But when it came time to take action, get into the car and go, Kelly experienced conflict: she wanted to see how the community had fared, but she was afraid of what she might find. Kelly’s work garnered a lot of attention on Facebook and on the Bearings website—perhaps because it so skillfully captured and conveyed the angst of “church prodigals” and “C&E (Church and Easter) Christians.”
Read More
Show more
20141224_PS_pacific_ocean_from_space_by_blueforce_4116

Descent and Altitude: Eyeing Hope in the Gaze of God

As Pamela Shellberg. The BTS Center’s Scholar-in-Residence, jetted across the country last December on a variety of work trips and holiday-related visits, she found herself thinking about God. Sitting in an airplane at 35,000 feet, she wondered why God would choose to “leave the realm of the beautiful for the realm of the agonizing” in order to fully share in the experience of being human. That’s a profound theological question, and we’re glad that Pam is around to help us reflect upon it.
Read More
Show more
Abernathy_Children_on_the_Front_Line

Selma’s Prophetic Call to Ministry Leaders

Just before Martin Luther King Day, the movie “Selma” was released in movie theaters, and Elizabeth Drescher, editor of Bearings blog and a consulting scholar at The BTS Center, went to see it. As she wept over the traumatic Civil-Rights-era events portrayed in the movie, Elizabeth was haunted by a nagging sense that “many Christians today would be unlikely to give up their time, let alone risk their safety and their very lives to bring about God’s justice.” In the aftermath of Charleston and Baltimore, Elizabeth’s pressing exploration of race, religion, and righteousness is a must-read.
Read More
Show more
20150313_elm_prays

Ordained in Community: A Tale of Exile and Coming Home

Alyssa Lodewick—Associate Director of The BTS Center and co-editor of Bearings blog—wrote this narrative of exile and return as she prepared for ordination in the United Church of Christ. Having fled the church as an angry, heartbroken young woman, Alyssa eventually mustered up enough courage to re-approach the institution that had been the source of so much pain . . . only to encounter an unexpected, healing welcome that permitted her to reconsider ministry as a vocation.
Read More
Show more
20150403_RSL_Keep_Calm_and_Let_go

Self-Giving God, Self-Giving Church: Letting Go of the Church into the Love of God

Published the week before Easter, Lutheran pastor Rebecca Schlatter Liberty’s essay offered productive suggestions for dealing with disruption and transition. As Rebecca shared her theological reflections about God’s self-giving nature, she encouraged readers to focus upon what might be gained, rather than upon what might be lost, during times of change. Who knows what might be waiting for us, and for our churches, if we prove brave enough to release what we have always known?
Read More
Show more
revgalblogpals_some_of_our_founders

Women Clergy Seeking the Digitally-Integrated Real

A few weeks ago, Martha Spong—UCC Minister and co-editor of There’s a Women in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments, and the Healing Power of Humor—accepted the inaugural Antoinette Brown Catalyst Award on behalf of RevGalBlogPals, the online community for clergywomen that she directs. In her inaugural essay for Bearings, Martha recounted how RevGalBlogPals was born. Her words about finding companionship, friendship, and support online speak to everyone who understands that God’s ability to create spiritual connection pervades both physical and digital spaces.
Read More
Show more
Down at Every Laundromat in Town

Coming Clean on Bringing Millennials Back to Church

In his most recent Bearings essay, Lutheran pastor, author, and blogger Keith Anderson critiqued some Mainline leaders’ reactions to Rachel Held Evans’s book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. His essay gave rise some of the most intense conversation and commentary on Bearings blog thus far. Apparently, talking about millennials’ absence from organized religion, worship “snoozefests,” and overly-domesticated sacraments in a single blog post is enough to generate debate.
Read More
Show more
20150521_UMCWomen

What’s the Point of a Pastor?

When Adam Copeland, a Presbyterian minister and Director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary, asked “What’s the Point of a Pastor?”, he dared to question the effectiveness of some ministers. In Adam’s estimation, pastors who are so desperate to be liked that they become “quivering masses of availability” (hat tip to Stanley Hauerwas) often prove problematic. They instinctively want to give people what they want, rather than what they need—and such tendencies are troubling in a world where God calls upon people to push beyond self-interested desire. So what do healthy, helpful pastors act like? Take a look at Adam’s piece to find out.
Read More
Show more
20150604_tricycle

Re-Imagining the Story: Can the Mainline Church Put Away Childish Things?

Parables are found in the most interesting places. In “Re-Imagining the Story,” UCC pastor Maxwell Grant analyzed the movie “Toy Story 3” while wearing ministry-colored glasses. What did he find? A story about children’s playthings that parallels (sometimes in surprisingly prescient ways) contemporary narratives about the Mainline church. Whether you’re a fan of Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Andy and the gang, or whether those names mean nothing to you, you’re sure to discover thought-provoking material in Max’s post. (Just ask Pam Shellberg, who had never seen the “Toy Story” movies, but was intrigued enough by Max’s piece to watch them . . . and produce a "Toy Story"-inspired blog post of her own.) 
Read More
Show more
20150618_tools

Sustaining Ministry through Soulful Entrepreneurship: Finding New Tools for a Changing Church

Margaret Benefiel is an executive coach and spiritual director for religious leaders and organizations who was recently named Executive Director of the Shalem Institute. As the author of books like The Soul of a Leader: Finding Your Path to Success and Fulfillment, she knows a thing or two about vocational satisfaction. In her most recent piece for Bearings, Margaret chronicled her own experiences as a “soulful entrepreneur” and offered advice to individuals who desire to “live their passion,” make a positive difference in the world, and earn a sustainable income. Margaret’s post is for everyone who seeks more than a simple paycheck from their job or vocational pursuit.
Read More

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this recap of Bearings’s first year, and we look forward to sharing our next summer feature—a list of “must-reads” for twenty-first-century ministers suggested by our Bearings bloggers. We’ll publish that piece in a couple of weeks. Until then, take good care.

Cover photo: Untitled, by Jeff Sheldon, n.d. Via Unsplash. Licensed under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 / Desaturated from original.

Alyssa Lodewick

An authorized minister in the United Church of Christ, Rev. Alyssa Lodewick is the Associate Director of The BTS Center and a co-editor of Bearings. She earned Master of Divinity and Master of Social Work degrees from Boston University. Before Alyssa allowed herself to pursue a religious vocation, she spent the first part of her professional life working for a variety of nonprofit organizations and academic institutions, co-editing To Educate A Nation: Federal and National Strategies of School Reform along the way. Connect with her on Twitter @AlyssaLodewick or via email.

h