Father Mike Schmitz might be the most unlikely podcast star … ever.
“The Bible in a Year with Fr. Mike Schmitz featuring Jeff Cavins,” rocketed to the top of the Apple Podcast charts within its first 48 hours of release. The podcast, which began on New Year’s Day, shouldered past secular fare like “Pod Save America,” “Office Ladies” and “Morbid: A True Crime Podcast.”
More than two weeks later, it’s still hunkered down in the no. 1 slot on The Apple charts — typically home to politically-charged shows, celebrity banter and podcasts tied to mega brands, like NPR and NBC News.
“The Bible in a Year” lacks that corporate synergy, relying instead on a nation eager to hear their faith echoed back at them. Or simply souls seeking a spiritual balm.
The podcast itself couldn’t be simpler. Fr. Mike’s radio-friendly pipes read a portion of the Bible, roughly 20-odd minutes, every day.
That’s it, plus an amiable introduction and some Biblical context from its host. The bite-sized nature of the show allows people to savor it without consuming too much of their day.
“It eliminates that barrier of entry for people,” Fr. Mike says. “Just press ‘play’ for 20 minutes every day.”
Like the savviest entrepreneurs, Fr. Mike found fame by making the kind of show he wanted to hear. The self-described podcast fan found his steady show lineup left him feeling distracted.
“I was getting all wrapped up about current events. They can’t define my life,” he says. It’s why he often turned to The New Testament in audiobook form, which “challenged and pushed” him without being a source of distress.
He figured others had a similar craving. Boy, was he right.
“The Bible in a Day” didn’t need a blockbuster marketing campaign or celebrity endorsement to crush the podcast charts. In fact, as Fr. Mike casually describes, the outreach campaign consisted of a few emails and Facebook postings.
The show’s sudden popularity caught its host by surprise.
“If someone were to ask me two months ago what kind of show could you create that would resonate so quickly and so across the board with so many people, I would not have chosen getting a microphone and read the Bible,” he says.
Fr. Mike isn’t a newcomer to the digital space, having uploaded a podcast version of his Sunday seminars and appeared on “Ascension Presents,” a popular YouTube channel.
The “Bible in a Year” podcast, based on Cavins’ “Great Adventure Bible Timeline,” can be heard on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other audio platforms including Hallow, a Catholic prayer and meditation app.
For Father Mike, feedback from the podcast has been swift and satisfying. At times, the response can be personal.
“I’ve noticed that the encouragement I received from people I know and care about matters a lot,” he says, a group that includes both family and former students. Fr. Mike currently serves as director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and as chaplain for the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
The podcaster says the show is helping him highlight the Bible in ways that otherwise might be challenging. “Bible” shares smaller stories in a way that illustrates how they’re part of “the” story, he explains.
“This is the story of how God has interacted with his people, their brokenness,” he says.
Fr. Mike understands the fickle nature of fame as well as what it means to be the so-called Flavor of the Month.
“I’m excited to see what happens as we move forward,” he says, adding the early success could dim over time, akin to New Year’s Resolutions being left behind with each passing month.
Hollywood finally acknowledged faith-based movies could turn a profit after Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” shocked the industry with a $370 million domestic haul. Smaller Christian films followed that up, routinely earning many times their small budgets (think “Fireproof” and “War Room”).
“The Bible in a Day” similarly shows the clout Christians can have in the podcasting space. The show’s speedy success, Fr. Mike says, also suggests a hunger that all the true crime roundups and partisan sniping can’t fix.
“We want the answers to the big questions … why am I here? Where am I going?”