Our Annual Reports
At the end of each year, we create a report on what we accomplished in the previous year.
2021 Annual Report
In 2021, we continued to lay the foundation for the Word‑n‑Will ministry. The following are the major accomplishments for the year:
First Paid Staff Member
This year we added our first paid staff member when Ken Gilmore joined our staff in July. Ken has been on our board of directors since we became a non-profit in 2018. He joined our staff as co‑president and is working part‑time. His responsibility is to provide leadership in organizational strategy, fundraising, promotion, and to assist Bible study development.
Ken was on the staff of Keystone Church in Saline, Michigan for the last 27 years and the lead pastor for the last 15 years. He decided to step away from his role as lead pastor to pursue a Ph.D. in Biblical Exposition from Liberty University.
We are extremely grateful to have Ken as part of our staff. His passion for our ministry, his many years of pastoral leadership experience, and his other areas of expertise have been a real blessing.
This year was the first year where fund raising was a high priority. Previously, with no paid staff, it was not a high priority.
In May, we applied to the Praxis Nonprofit Accelerator program. This program is designed to support “founders in the growth stage of their ventures.” They select 12 applicants each year and help them become “more effective in leveraging philanthropic capital.” Unfortunately, we were not one of the 12 accepted applicants.
Currently, we do not have any finished products so we really can’t expect to raise very much money from people who use our Bible study lessons. Consequently, it is imperative that we find sources of major support so that we can add staff and increase the rate at which we produce our lessons. We believe foundations could be one of these sources of support.
This year, we researched and came up with a list of over 40 foundations who have a track record of supporting ministries like ours. We reached out to these foundations near the end of the year but have not yet received any positive feedback.
We also reached out to people that we know who could possibly become major supporters of our ministry. We asked to meet with them to share about our ministry so that they could make an informed decision about whether to provide us with support. We have had some success with this type of fund raising but probably not as much as we had hoped. We have also received donations from people who received our newsletter.
As a nonprofit, we have always kept track of our expenses, but we never had a budget. When fund raising became a priority, we realized that we needed a budget because foundations and major donors would want to know where we stand financially. Consequently, this year we created our first budget.
Expanded Target Audience
Prior to this year, our target audience for our eLearning Bible studies was small groups. We realized that there was no need to have such a specific target audience, so we expanded our target audience to include any type of Bible study group. The group might be a Sunday School class, a Bible study group, or a small group. Consequently, we updated the content of our lessons and our website to align with this expanded target audience.
Our goal for this year was to complete lessons 5, 6, and 7 of the Gospel of John. We did complete lessons 5 and 6 and did a lot of the groundwork for lesson 7. We also made numerous updates to all the lessons as we discovered ways to make them better and as we received helpful feedback from users.
We also reconfigured the organization of these lessons for the Gospel of John. Previously, we had the study of the Gospel of John divided into 27 lessons. We realized that many study groups would find a 27 lesson study to be too daunting a task. To resolve this problem, we broke our lessons into four modules with either six or seven lessons in each module.
We plan to create a review lesson for each module. After a group finishes a module and before they begin the next module, they can work through the review lesson of the module they previously completed. This review lesson will give them a quick overview of the previous module and lay a solid foundation for the next module. This lesson that reviews a completed module, allows a group to complete a module and then take a break (for example, during the summer) before coming back to the next module.
This year we produced our first quarterly newsletter. We are using software called ConvertKit to enroll subscribers and to create and deliver our newsletter. With this software, our newsletter is only sent to people who subscribe to receive it.
We currently have 108 subscribers. Of these subscribers, 77% opened our newsletter when we initially sent it. When we resent the newsletter to those who did not open it, 33% of them then opened it.
The purpose of the newsletter is it to inform people about our ministry. We want people to know what we are trying to accomplish, why we believe this is important, and what we are doing to make this a reality. As people read our newsletters, we hope they will begin to use our Bible studies and support our ministry.
We upgraded the software we use to create our eLearning Bible studies. We were using Articulate Storyline 3, which is a non‑subscription software. The company has another more robust product called Articulate 360, but it is subscription based at $1300 per year. Fortunately, we discovered that as a non‑profit we could purchase the subscription version for half price and then get an additional 15% off with a three-year subscription.
Articulate 360 has all the functionality of Articulate Storyline 3, as well as additional functionality that will save us time and enhance the process of creating the lessons. For example, as we create a lesson, we can send a link to anyone who is willing to review the lesson. They will then be able to submit their feedback for a slide in a text box adjacent to that slide. If there are multiple people reviewing the lesson, each reviewer will be able to see the feedback of the other reviewers.
Because Ken is a student, he was able to purchase Adobe Creative Cloud at a student rate. While he was on staff at Keystone Church, he regularly used this software and is now using it to create graphics for our ministry.
Last year Seth purchased Accordance Software to replace his BibleWorks software which was no longer being updated. He has been slowly transitioning from BibleWorks to Accordance.
We made numerous updates to our website this year. We reworked its content so that it aligns with our expanded target audience, updated its security, and added new content. We now have a User Feedback page and a Newsletter Subscription page. We also reworked the Donate to Our General Fund page to include information about service charges that apply to online donations.
2020 Annual Report
In 2020, we continued to lay the foundation for the Word‑n‑Will ministry. The following are the major accomplishments for the year:
This year we rolled out a brand-new website for Word-n-Will. We changed the URL for the website from a .com to a .org to make it clear that we are a nonprofit organization. We hired a website developer to help us redesign the website and to give it a modern look. The website uses a better hosting service and a much better theme. All of the website’s content was reworked and reorganized. This includes the ministry’s mission statement, which consisted of 35 words, and has now been shortened to 14 words.
Business Card and Flyers
We also had our web-designer design a new Word-n-Will business card and two flyers. Because we did not see much use for the business card with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we have not yet ordered them. The flyers were designed for recruiting. One flyer was designed to help with recruiting small groups to work through our prototype lessons and to provide us with feedback. We used this flyer in the spring, and we did get one small group to work through the first three lessons. The other flyer was designed for recruiting future staff. We have not yet used this flyer, but we plan to update it and use it in 2021.
Small Group Feedback
The small group that worked through our first three prototype lessons, met virtually in the spring. About half of their members provided some feedback. The feedback was more negative than positive. They felt that the lessons were too long, too repetitive, and too academic. We took this feedback to heart and came up with a game plan to address each of these issues.
Reworked Prototype Lessons
Based on the feedback that we received from the first small group that worked through our lessons, we made significant improvements to them. The lessons are now shorter, they have less repetition, and hopefully are somewhat less academic. We also made other changes as we discovered other ways to improve them while working on the next lessons. We made updates to these first three lessons on multiple occasions this year.
Because the small group that reviewed our first three prototype lessons believed they were too academic, we began to question whether we had identified the correct target audience for our Bible studies. We had hoped that the average small group would enjoy working through our Bible studies and would find them helpful. However, because the studies are designed to begin to bridge the gap between the average church-goer’s understanding of the Bible and sound biblical scholarship, the studies have to be more academic than what most small group members are used to. Consequently, it may be unrealistic to have as our target audience small groups in general.
It might be more realistic to narrow our target audience to small groups that would be open to a more academic approach to Bible study. This might include University students, who are currently in an academic setting, such as those who are part of a campus ministry such as InterVarsity. We have reached out to a current regional director of InterVarsity to get his feedback on whether InterVarsity small groups would find our Bible studies helpful. In his initial feedback, he indicated that he thought they would be helpful to both undergraduate and graduate students. He plans to take a closer look at the lessons when he has time and to provide us with more detailed feedback.
New Lesson Creation
In addition to all of the updates that we made to the first three prototype lessons, we also finished our fourth lesson and completed the ground work for the fifth lesson. As we create new lessons, we not only look for ways to improve them, but we also look for ways to improve the entire process of creating them. We use OneNote to gather quotations from the commentaries and books written by scholars on the Gospel of John. This year we came up with a better way to organize these notes, which will make these notes easier to use. We are now developing a more detailed blueprint of a lesson before we begin any work on the slides for the lesson.
In February, Word-n-Will opened its first bank account with a deposit of $14,500. From this account we have spent a little over $2,200 this year.
Seth purchased and installed a new microphone. It now hangs from the ceiling, and it can easily be moved out of the way when not being used. This new setup makes the recording of the audio much easier. Seth also added five new commentaries on John to his extensive library of Johannine commentaries.
2019 Annual Report
In 2019, we continued to lay the foundation for the Word‑n‑Will ministry. The following are the major accomplishments for the year:
Studies for the Gospel of John
We completed the first module for the Gospel of John. This module covers all of chapters 1 and 2 (except for the last three verses of chapter 2). It consists of three Bible studies. After we completed these studies, we went back and updated them several times based on feedback we received.
Completing the first module is significant because we can now have small groups work through this module and provide us feedback. This feedback will help us see what we are doing right, as well as things we need to change to make the studies more effective.
Although we had hoped to complete the second module of the Gospel of John as well, we did get a good start on it. We were overly optimistic to think we could create lessons for all of the first five chapters of John in 2019. We also spent more time than planned on revising the lessons after we had initially finished them. The updates to these lessons, though time consuming, will greatly improve future lessons.
We also continued to build our library of books related to the Gospel of John. We currently have 36 commentaries on the Gospel of John and about a half dozen other books about John. We also found valuable insights in books that are not specifically related to John that we were able to incorporate into the lessons.
In December, Seth took a WordPress for Professionals class at Washtenaw Community College. Seth took this class to become more knowledgeable about WordPress before beginning the process of upgrading the Word-n-Will website. Seth found this class to be extremely informative, and it will be very helpful as he works to upgrade the website.
Earlier in the year, Seth purchased a new domain (Word-n-Will.org) after it was pointed out to him that nonprofits usually have a domain that ends with .org instead of.com. After taking the WordPress class, he began creating a new website with the new domain using a new hosting service (SiteGround) and the Pro theme from Theme.co. He also spent a great deal of time working on the content for the new Home page. He wants this page to give anyone interested in our ministry a quick overview of what we are trying to accomplish, why we believe it is important, and how we plan to accomplish it. He hopes to have a fully functional redesigned website early in 2020.
Earlier in the year Seth updated the Gospel of John feedback form that is on the website based on feedback that he had received.
Bible Study Reviewers
We had planned to get several small groups to work through our first module of studies on John. We created a flyer that was sent to small group leaders this past fall, but there was no response from them. We now realize that we need to use a more personal approach. Seth has personally talked with members of two small groups who shared an interest in working through the first module on John with their small group in 2020.
We also hoped to get a least one biblical scholar to review the first module of the Gospel of John. Unfortunately, we did not make any headway on this goal in 2019.
Building the Team
We would have liked to add at least one new member to our board of directors in 2019, but were unable to do so. Concerning our goal of connecting with students who are pursuing graduate degrees in biblical studies, we created a draft of a flyer to send to students who are in these degree programs. The flyer is designed to concisely describe the mission and strategy of our ministry and to give students the steps they can take to learn more about our ministry and to connect with us.
We also contacted a person who works for a Christian publisher and got a ballpark figure of the salary for someone starting out in this field. Finally, we learned that the job market for people getting graduate degrees in biblical studies is currently very tight. In fact, one scholar tells his students who are pursuing graduate degrees in biblical studies to be sure to have a plan B and to be working on it while they are in graduate school. If we effectively connect with students in these graduate programs, we should be able to find some who would be interested in joining our team.
The expenses for this year where just over $1000, and we had our first sizable donation that covered almost all of these expenses.
This year we submitted our second application to Praxis and were rejected again. Fortunately, they improved the application process so we did not have to spend a significant amount of time on the application. Instead of completing a lengthy and detailed application, we simply completed a very short application, which they used to determine if we would be a candidate for completing the more detailed application. We don’t know if our application was rejected because our ministry is not yet big enough for them to be interested in working with us or because they are not interested in what we are trying to do.
Seth read two books on managing nonprofits. Although they had a lot of good ideas, he discovered that most of the issues they addressed are for nonprofits that are larger and more developed than our ministry.
This year we received permission to use some photos in our prototype lessons that were created by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These are photos of real people dressed to depict characters in the Gospel of John. These photos will help people visualize the events described in John.
We received feedback from a couple of new people this year. Some of this feedback resulted in us making some significant improvements to our Bible studies. Some of the other feedback has helped us see how we could improve our website, as well as improving the fliers we created to recruit small groups to review the first module of John.
2018 Annual Report
In 2018, we continued to lay the foundation for the Word‑n‑Will ministry that began in 2017. The following are the major accomplishments for 2018:
Board of Directors
Studies for the Gospel of John
We completed the first prototype study for the prologue of the Gospel of John. This prototype study is a fully-functional study that will be finalized after being updated based on feedback from selected reviewers. As we were working on the second prototype study, we discovered two significant ways in which to enhance the studies. We then went back and updated the first prototype study with these enhancements.
Although we did not complete prototype studies for the first module of John as we had hoped, which would be the first three studies, we did complete a large portion of the work on the second prototype study. We also completed additional pre-prototype studies bringing the total to six.
We also continued to build our library of books related to the Gospel of John. We currently have 37 books on the Gospel of John with most of them being commentaries. As we worked on the studies for the first six chapters of John, we gathered quotations from many of these books. These quotations provide scholarly insights as we develop the studies and some of them get incorporated into the studies.
This year we began to reach out to schools that offer graduate degrees in Biblical Studies with the long‑term goal of finding students who would join our ministry upon graduation. We made attempts to connect with Asbury Theological Seminary and Wheaton College. So far we have not connected with any students, but we have only begun to develop this process of making connections.
In addition to our board of directors, our ministry has been blessed by the work of Pat Browning. She provided helpful feedback on the Praxis application as well as the first prototype study on John. She also provided much appreciated and helpful words of encouragement.
2017 Annual Report
One of the goals completed in 2017 was to create the Word-n-Will website, and for this website to include an online strategy presentation and an e-Learning demo Bible study study. The Word‑n‑Will Strategy presentation describes the need for the Word‑n‑Will ministry and the four key elements of its strategy that I believe are necessary in order to address this need. This strategy presentation will be extremely helpful when recruiting people to be a part of this ministry. It will help prospective team members see the need the ministry plans to address and how it plans to address that need.
The e-Learning demo study is on the epilogue of the Book of Revelation. This demo study is an example of the type of studies that I believe the Word-n-Will ministry should create. For anyone interested in the ministry, it provides a clear picture of the type of studies that I want the ministry to create. This demo study includes both teaching and interactive content where the students answer questions based on their own study of the text. This demo study, like all future studies, can be accessed for free from any device that can connect to the internet.
Studies for the Gospel of John
I had hoped to complete the studies for the first module of the Gospel of John. Although I did not reach this goal, the amount of overall work that I was able to complete for the Gospel of John studies exceeded my expectations.
In the Fall of 2017, the small group in which my wife and I are members agreed to study the Gospel of John and to let me lead the study. Having taught the Gospel of John on several occasions since 1980, I had already read numerous commentaries on John. However, I decided to reread those commentaries and significantly expand the number of commentaries I was reading.
I am now reading and taking extensive notes on more than twenty commentaries. To facilitate the note-taking process, I am using a smart phone app called Office Lens. With this app, I take a picture of a page of a book and with two clicks turn it into a Word document. I then copy, paste, and organize the desired portions of the text into Microsoft OneNote. I can then quickly review what I considered to be important insights from numerous scholars as I’m working on a study.
I also began to create what I call pre‑prototype studies. These studies consist of a set of interactive slides that can be viewed on any device that has access to the internet. When we meet as a small group, the small group members access the slides on their smart phone, tablet, or computer. Although the slides do not include any audio, they give each small group member access to the visual content of the study. As I lead the study, I provide the needed verbal content while encouraging as much group discussion as possible. I believe these pre‑prototype studies will greatly facilitate the process of creating the actual studies. Creating these pre‑prototype studies has also expanded my e-Learning development skill set. I also created study questions and other handouts for our small group that should also be helpful when creating the actual studies.
One of the goals that was not reached in 2017 was the selection of a board of directors. I underestimated the difficulty of this task. However, good progress was made towards this end, and the members of the board of directors should be finalized early in 2018.
Because we did not have a board of directors, we could not begin the process of acquiring 501(c)(3) status. Without 501(c)(3) status, we also could not begin to raise financial support, submit an application to Praxis, or begin to recruit others to join the team.