A billboard will go up in New York's Times Square during Christmas and New Year's to promote and celebrate the evermore popular podcast "The Bible in a Year," but more is in store for the program that topped the charts shortly after its debut in January.
The creators of the daily podcast that leads listeners through the Bible's narrative have announced several new initiatives designed to highlight the show's success and attract even more listeners.
An all-new Spanish-language version of the podcast -- La Biblia en un año -- with original commentary and a new, native-Spanish speaking host, will be launched Jan. 1.
"The Bible in a Year Retreat" virtual event for listeners will take place Feb 18-20. It will have a limited capacity for participants but is "designed to help Catholics cultivate a lifelong relationship with the word of God -- one that extends far beyond the podcast."
The planned billboard will be unveiled Dec. 19 in Times Square and will stay up through Jan. 9.
"Through distraction and distress, our culture has lost a hopeful, historical biblical worldview -- but by the grace of God this podcast has helped thousands rediscover it," said Father Mike Schmitz, a priest of the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota, and popular Catholic speaker and author, who hosts the podcast.
According to Ascension, a multimedia Catholic publisher and the podcast's producer, "The Bible in a Year" to date has hit 142 million downloads and 3.3 billion minutes of listening worldwide. It gets 464,000 daily downloads, of which 90% are U.S.-based listeners.
"That U.S. audience of 418,000 would fill the largest football stadium in the country, that of the University of Michigan, four times over," according to a news release.
The featured guest on the podcast is Jeff Cavins, a Bible scholar and creator of the Great Adventure Bible Timeline. Cavins and Father Schmitz created the podcast with the backing of Ascension.
Each episode averages about 23 minutes and includes Father Schmitz reading through Ascension's entire "Great Adventure Catholic Bible" in 365 episodes, providing commentary, reflection and prayer along the way.
The reading chronology is based on the Great Adventure Bible Timeline reading plan, which organizes the 14 narrative books of the Bible into 12 periods to help readers understand how they relate to one another and to God's plan for salvation.
That plan is designed for three months, so Cavins expanded it for "The Bible in a Year."
What makes this reading plan successful is that it helps readers follow the story without losing a sense of the narrative in a non-narrative book, Cavins told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, in an interview shortly after the podcast debuted.
"Instead of just knowing stories of the Bible, we're trying to get people to know the story of salvation, of salvation history," said Cavins, who is a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.
Hours after its debut, "The Bible in a Year" shot to the top of Apple Podcasts charts. It was the No. 1 podcast in all categories Jan. 2-18. It was the No. 1 podcast in the "Religion & Spirituality" category Jan. 2-June 30 and from Oct. 24 to the present.
"We're humbled by testimonials from people of all walks of life who've started to apply a biblical worldview to their lives -- gaining clarity on God's will, overcoming addictions, returning to the sacraments or are converting to Catholicism, renewing marriages and relationships -- and many more incredible stories," Father Schmitz said.
In testimonials received by the podcast's creators, many listeners have said they found the program over the past year "a joy and a blessing" and an "anchor" amid the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Like so many others, I lost my way over the summer because of COVID. 'The Bible in a Year' has not only brought me back, but anchored me in place. For this I am forever grateful," said one.
"The Bible in a Year" is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other podcast platforms, and through Hallow, a Catholic prayer app.