Welcome to this special interview with Marilyn Adamson, the founder of EveryStudent.com.
EveryStudent.com is an website that tackles the hard questions about God and the Bible. Her website recieves a staggering 50 million visitors and generates 1 million conversions for Jesus each year.
What makes EveryStudent.com even more remarkable is that it's run from Marilyn's home, and she doesn't sell anything on her website.
In this interview, we'll be diving deep into Marilyn's story, exploring her background as a former atheist and how she discovered her faith.
We'll also be discussing the strategies and tactics that have helped EveryStudent.com become such a massive success, and what insights she can share for others looking to create impactful evangelical websites or apologetics ministries.
So, whether you're a a total evangelism newbie or head of a large church, get ready for a fascinating conversation with Marilyn Adamson.
Marilyn Adamson (00:00):
Last year there were over 50 million visits to the sites, and anything we offer is completely free and people only have to give their email address and when they're done, and Justin, this is going to horrify you, but when they're done with the series, I delete their email address.
Justin Brooke (00:22):
All right. So without further ado, we've got Marilyn on with us. Marilyn, thank you so much for being with us here today.
Marilyn Adamson (00:29):
Yeah, happy to be here. Thanks for asking me, Justin.
Justin Brooke (00:32):
Oh man, I can't wait to get into this stuff. So when it comes to every student, can you tell us a little bit about the background of how that all got started?
Marilyn Adamson (00:44):
Sure. I had been an atheist, and so when I came on staff with Crew which is a Christian organization, I wanted to use media to reach as many people as possible. And this was before the internet. So I was doing print media campaigns evangelistic articles, posters and newspaper ads for college campuses. And then in 1999 when the internet started really coming about, I immediately saw it as a great way to reach many people. And one person in our organization had a vision for it and raised funds for it. And then I hired an outside webmaster and host provider because I didn't want have to wait in line for our organization department to figure out to make it a priority. I wanted to be able to move fast on it. And so the site launched in 2000 and it was a site purely for non-believers to help them understand who God is or what it might be like to know God.
So I wanted to give them reasons to begin the religion, God. And so then eventually someone started inviting me to international conferences once the English site was up and then people started asking me to build it in other languages. So it's in 48 languages now. And then it was early on, well, how do you help these new believers? There were so many people receiving Christ on the site. And so we built another site called Starting with god.com to help new believers, and that's in multiple languages. And then someone showed me how I could more personally help new believers grow through a series of email messages. And so I started writing those and building those. So last year there were over 50 million visits to the sites. And
Justin Brooke (03:03):
Every time I hear from you, those numbers just keep going up. I know
Marilyn Adamson (03:06):
With me, I know. And then there were a little over a million people who asked Jesus into their life while on the site. And if you did the math on that, it would come to over 2,900 people every day. And we don't hype it. We don't have a big pray this prayer button. I mean it's very quiet.
Justin Brooke (03:29):
Yeah, it is. It's just a link at the end of the article. And they, if you've read this and you want to talk more about Jesus, click here. And that's pretty much on your website.
Marilyn Adamson (03:41):
Yeah. We tell them there's links at the bottom. One says, I just asked Jesus into my life. Another said, I may want to, can you explain this more fully? And another link says, I have a question or comment. And they're just sitting there. We don't say, please pick one. They're just sitting there.
Justin Brooke (03:59):
Right. So for everybody who hasn't already gone on and looked it up right now, the website is an article website. You have a bunch of questions, answers to questions, right? Because that's like you said, you were an atheist and you had a lot of these questions. And so you just created a website answering questions for people. And then at the bottom very simply, it says, did you just ask Jesus into your life or would you like to talk to someone? And that simple model plus God <laugh> has just gone through the moon to 50 mil. I mean, my day trade is in marketing and I talk with marketers, all seasoned pro veterans, and they don't have nearly as much traffic. They don't have a 10th of the traffic that you have. So it's quite amazing what God has done. Quick question. I know we have kind of questions here, but I can get a sense that the listener might be wondering, how do you translate your stuff? I don't even know my website to translate into one language, let alone 48. So what's that process?
Marilyn Adamson (05:04):
So we put the English on an Excel sheet, so the site structure will be in column in English, and then we I'll send it to a staff member with our organization in that country, and they fill in column B, and then the articles, they're just word docs and they translate it and send it back.
Justin Brooke (05:28):
Just that simple,
Marilyn Adamson (05:29):
Pretty simple. I do everything as simply as possible.
Justin Brooke (05:33):
You are amazing. I love it. I love how simple you do everything. Okay. So next question on the list here we already know what inspired you were an atheist and converted and that's what made you want to do. But what were some of the challenges that you faced along the way? I know this thing didn't just like right from day one, what did you face in all that battle?
Marilyn Adamson (05:54):
Yeah, the challenge that I continue to face, so it went up in 2000. It's been a lot of years but I find a reluctance among Christian organizations and churches to really use it. And I'll explain why. So we're going directly to non-believers a lot through Google advertising. And God has blessed that. But in terms of churches and organizations using it I find this is a very comfortable way to help. And so I think of all of the Christians that remain silent because they're not quite sure how to get into a conversation or they don't want to or, and yet I find that when Christians are aware of the site, God just brings people to you. And I'd like to just give you one fast example. I was in a hotel lobby in this woman said, are you with our convention? I said, well, I'm connected to a site that takes on the hard questions about life and God, why is life so hard?
And how do you even know God exists? And she looked at me and she said, I'm an atheist, but I'm searching. I said, you will love this site because it will give you reasons to begin a relationship with God and show you how you can start that relationship with him today. And she got tears in her eyes and I said, can I give you a card to the site? And she said, yes. And I, I've got dozens of examples like that. I mean, many, many. So a leader in the Salvation Army found the site and he got so excited about the messages on it because they're persuasive. They're not just informative. We're not just answering questions, we're persuading people toward God. And so he invited me to train all their officers at their upcoming national meeting conference in June. But okay, here's a challenge with churches and Christian organizations. Usually they'll ask, will this bring more people to my church? Will this bring more people into my organization? And I have to answer them. It will bring people to Jesus, but not necessarily to you. And it seems that so many, they want to build their organization, their church, which is understanding, but it's a little disappointing that Christians don't hear about the site and how they can use it and on just on a personal basis, how I can help them reach.
Justin Brooke (08:42):
Yeah. Well I think you explained it's such a great, I think so many people I think we want to do evangelism. I think sometimes we make fun of the layman that they just don't want to go out and evangelize. I think they do in their hearts, but it's scary. It's scary to just go up to somebody and ask 'em for a cup of water, let alone can I give you the life giving water? But I think your site helps make it less scary because of the situation you just explained. All you were just saying is with this site that does this thing, and that person was like, actually, that's exactly what I'm looking for right now. So your website can actually be a very powerful evangelism tool that helps people not have to know all the answers to all the questions. Because I've tried going down the apologetics, there's a lot of books you got to read if you really want to know how to answer your questions. And suddenly some of the atheists are really, really smart. So you have a great tool. Well, you were going to say something.
Marilyn Adamson (09:51):
Well, plus it's hard to be persuasive on an important question is Jesus, God, does God exist? Does God answer prayer? I mean, difficult questions that, but when they're alone with their phone and they're online, then their defenses can come down and God can really speak to them. And so I would much rather send them to the site because you also want to be polite, right? Yes. You want to take a half hour of their time to answer a question that they were really hoping you wouldn't get into all that. I mean, they're scared too, so you want to make it comfortable for them.
Justin Brooke (10:37):
Yeah, no, it's a great evangelism tool. I will definitely be telling more of my friends who are a little scared to go Look, just link people to this website and they'll take care of the rest. So next question was what are some of the things that you've done to try and grow? I know prayer first. We should always be seeking prayer first. Absolutely. Along the way, some, I believe God wants to partner with us and then we get to first pray, but then he also wants us to do some stuff as well. So what are some of those things that you've done along the way to help this grow?
Marilyn Adamson (11:14):
Well, I have to say, God has just brought things to me, brought people to me at the right time to train me or ideas that I needed. It's just been like God's saying here, you need this. So I have to say I've been responsive more than proactive in just going where God has opened doors and led. What
Justin Brooke (11:39):
Would some of those things that he's led you to or?
Marilyn Adamson (11:41):
Yeah, so the email series have been really helpful helping people. We even have one for Atheist that's on every student.com and we have one that goes through the gospel of John that's also on every student.com, because I wrote it Evangelistically it's 36 emails long, and anything we offer is completely free and people only have to give their email address and when they're done, and Justin, this is going to fortify you, but when they're done with the series, I delete their email address.
Justin Brooke (12:17):
Marilyn Adamson (12:18):
Yeah. I wanted to serve them and have them be in control. So we only send what they ask for and nothing else. We don't raise funds from them. We don't. I, the whole thing is helping them know God and grow in their relationship with God. So we did build a resource site called Every student.info. And yeah, there's lots on there that could be helpful to the audience.
Justin Brooke (12:49):
That has been brilliant. That's been one for me, the best ways I've been able to help you. I hope it's been helpful. At least I try. But when people come to me and they're like, I got a lot of friends who are doing well in business and they're a real charity that I can give my money to that's actually going to be doing something helpful and whatever. And so I hand them the every student.info and they look at that in the information is very impressive the numbers. So you just break down all your marketing numbers, how you're doing everything. You give 'em some case studies and things like that. So I think that's been and then also secularly in my business, it's been taking some lessons from that of how do I make my own company as I'm now trying to build, not necessarily a Christian language, just put a fish on our logo or anything like that, but how do I build a business that has Christian values? And so we're trying to add more transparency into what marketing methods we're using and how they're working. And then so people can see a little bit behind the scenes. And so I think that's been really, I loved learning from you with that resource that you've firstname.lastname@example.org, not.com, but info. And so you've used that to help you find donors to help. How have you used
Marilyn Adamson (14:18):
A little bit? Mostly it's to help Christians learn, get a mindset for using the internet to help people. It's still a little bit of a shift. We kind of gravitate toward face-to-face, meet in a coffee shop, open the Bible, and that's all good too. But not everybody will want that. And so it's a way to show I'll give you one other fast example. I was on an international trip and I'm at the gate with this woman and she asked me, are you on business or personal? And so I told her the same thing I told the woman in the lobby, same thing. I train anybody to say I'm with a website that takes on the hard questions about life and God and I with her, I happen to say it's from a Christian perspective. I don't know why I said that, but I did. She said, wait. And she reached in her briefcase and pulls out this huge Bible, and this is an international trip. I thought, who packs that? And she said, I'm a recovering alcoholic and a new Christian. I just bought this, but I had no idea what to do with it. And I said, go to, and I wrote down first starting with god.com and it will help you grow in your relationship with God. And I thought, how easy is that?
And it would really deeply help her. I hear from people all the time on how much of an impact it's had in their life. So at every student info, we also have examples of conversations and how easy it is to get into conversations. There's a free, free, I need to keep saying that. There's an e-book called The Ripple Effect that's on the homepage of every student done info. That would be really helpful.
Justin Brooke (16:16):
Yeah, I've read that one. That one's really good. I like that. Thanks. Okay, awesome. Well, I think you've talked about a lot of the accomplishments that you're proud of. Is there any other big accomplishment that you want to mention before I move on to the,
Marilyn Adamson (16:30):
There's one that's been kind of fun. Your audience might like this on building customer evangelists. So I read five secular books on it and then I started a group called The Findable, and I named it that because we've been found by God. And I said, if you want to help make Jesus findable to millions of others, sign up here. And I told them, I'm going to be asking you to do things in this one. You're going to have to take faith steps. The others, you didn't have to do anything but this one you would. So there are 6,300 findable around the world and kind of like I
Justin Brooke (17:15):
Talked to you there was 26 hundreds.
Marilyn Adamson (17:17):
Yeah, yeah. 6,300 what? And I try to write them every 10 days to build their faith, to give them ideas of things they could do and people really like that.
Justin Brooke (17:30):
Okay, so you got a little bit of you, you've helped trade. A lot of them have come from the website, if I remember right, first intro got introduced via every student. Then you probably trained them up a little bit with every student do info, and now they've graduated to this findable level where they're almost like a marketing army for you in a way, God's army, but mm-hmm. Very, very cool. Very
Marilyn Adamson (17:54):
Good stuff. So many of them went through starting with god.com to grow. And then that's where you see the sign up for the findable is starting with god.com.
Justin Brooke (18:05):
Okay. I love it man. What an awesome operation organization that you say it. How easy is that? There's a lot of work that you have done. So your obedience is inspirational to me as a newer Christian. Trying to figure out how to be obedient to see your walk is incredibly inspirational. So I thank you for that. No, thank
Marilyn Adamson (18:31):
Justin Brooke (18:33):
Alright, next one is how is your ministry adapted to all the digital changes? I know you pretty much started out website, but then there's like social media and there's SEO and Google ads and there's all kinds of things. And so how have you walked through that?
Marilyn Adamson (18:52):
Okay, so I did learn SEO at the beginning. We did really, really well. But then Google shifted and Google tends to reward sites that have thousands of pages and we're not going to do that. We have, we're
Justin Brooke (19:09):
Those who are wondering seo ranking high on Google coming up when somebody types in a question you want to rank number one, search generalization, seo, go ahead.
Marilyn Adamson (19:19):
Thanks. We come up right away for is there God for, there is a time where if you type in, God, we were number one. That was really fun. But then Google has changed. We worked really hard to increase the speed of our site to make sure that it pleased Google kind of thing. But I've pretty much given up on working on that. I think it's a lost cause. So
Justin Brooke (19:52):
It just changes so fast. It's very hard to keep up with that. It's a
Marilyn Adamson (19:56):
Lot and it's so competitive and we're just never going to have that many pages on our site. So
Justin Brooke (20:04):
For a lot of people, most people, it's very weird for them to hear you say, we've given up on seo because they're like, wait, how are we allowed to do that?
Marilyn Adamson (20:14):
Yeah. Yeah. So
Justin Brooke (20:15):
How do you even get visitors without seo?
Marilyn Adamson (20:18):
Well, so most of it is through Google advertising. I'm running Google ad campaigns in 14 languages and it's the same thing. I take the ad copy and I put it in column, Alex sell and I send it and then I build ads. It got more challenging when Google started wanting 10 headlines and 10 descriptions and it got a little more challenging. Social media, I've done a little bit. I did hire somebody who created a post. Well, I wrote the post and then she got them into the system. We have them every student.
Justin Brooke (20:59):
Where have you been on social?
Marilyn Adamson (21:00):
Where? In Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Justin Brooke (21:04):
Okay. Instagram's worked very well for us with our, hasn't, yeah,
Marilyn Adamson (21:08):
But I've just not a social media person. And so it's been a weak area for us and I've really focused on Google become pretty proficient in Google advertising.
Justin Brooke (21:22):
So Well, you sell nothing, everything's for free and your main source of traffic, let's remind everybody, 50 million visitors a year is all paid. Yes. Imagine what questions people have right now. How are you pulling that off?
Marilyn Adamson (21:42):
How are you doing that? So we get visits for an average of 3 cents for a person that actually comes to the site. We're seeing people receive Christ for under $2 a person
Justin Brooke (21:59):
And click in one of those links.
Marilyn Adamson (22:03):
And then I'm only advertising sites where we've got full follow up and growth ready for them in that language. So we have a crew will raise funds for us. God also brought a particular donor who has help significantly but then I know you've given to it. And so
Justin Brooke (22:29):
Who it would not, I mean, you don't even have to say it. You could just do the math. It's like, wait, how important is it in your mind to bring somebody to Jesus? Is it $2? Would you give $2 to bring somebody to Jesus? Well, you can actually do that with Marilyn. And so I've what, at the end of the year when I'm trying to divvy up, I'm like, okay, well some's got to go to Maryland because she's the most dollar for dollar efficient, getting people to Jesus. So we've got to keep Maryland going. But yeah, it is been a pleasure. It's part,
Marilyn Adamson (23:02):
And you didn't even see crew mentioned on the site. I mean, it really is all about God, right? And so God, I think God's just blessed for that reason.
Justin Brooke (23:14):
Yeah. So for everybody who is watching my background, like I've said, is in marketing specifically in advertising, and I've taught for 18 years, thousands of people all over the world. Three senses of is God is definitely involved. I, we would be amazed if we got visitors for 30 cents. Glad when we get a visitor just under a dollar. An 80 cent visitor is great. We're high fiving about 80 cent visitors. So 3 cent visitors, bananas, God has to be involved. It just does not exist anywhere. So yeah, going Amazing. All right, moving along. How do you measure success for your ministry?
Marilyn Adamson (24:10):
I know that when somebody receives Christ, they are significantly helped. They will grow six months or a year or more worth of help in growing. So I'm mostly looking for how can we reach more people so it's successful if I can continue to reach more people. And
Justin Brooke (24:41):
Well click that little blue link at the bottom. Yeah.
Marilyn Adamson (24:47):
I found it difficult to continue to build more languages because I realized unless you're doing marketing for those languages, the traffic isn't going to be as great. And so I've put my energy more in maybe 20 sites out of the 48. And I have encouraged people who are the site leader for that language to do local social media advertising. So anything that's on the ground or local, I leave to them. And the only thing I do in a coordinated way is the Google advertising.
Justin Brooke (25:28):
Well, let's circle back another time. I would love to talk with you about developments in ai be able to help you translate a lot more. I don't know if it would be helpful, would love to just have that conversation with you another time. Last question here. If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself when you were starting out? And also that's really what this whole podcast is about, is helping people who are yourself in 2000, their heart's position, they know they're called, they want to fulfill the great commission. What would you tell them to encourage them and maybe even guide them on the first couple of steps?
Marilyn Adamson (26:16):
First thing is trust God. If you're trusting yourself, you're going to get frustrated. Mean, yeah. And if you're shooting for goals that are closed doors, just don't keep pounding on the door. Go do what you can. Take the actions that you are under your control and stop trying to control what you can't. So as much as I'd love to see major church denominations and organizations go, oh man, we've got to use this and everything. They're just not going to
Justin Brooke (27:01):
God has given you a lane and he's blessed your name highly
Marilyn Adamson (27:05):
Given. I mean, I'm thrilled the Salvation Army is going to train everybody to do it. But see, they're not trying to build their own kingdom. They're just trying. And so that's the other thing is I would say you can't have conflicting goals. You can't be trying to help yourself and, and help other people at the, I mean, you can kind of, but not really. You really have to be very clear in your objective and stick to it. And don't give up. Do what God's called you to do and don't give up.
Justin Brooke (27:40):
So trust God, be obedient. Listen, don't keep banging on the closed doors and then be, get clarity around what you're supposed to be doing and just run that and trust that he's going to open the next door and the next door. That's awesome. It's, it sounds too easy, but that's what God's way I think is easy. And we just have to get out of our own heads. We like to complicate things. So Marilyn, this has been such a pleasure. You are always so inspiring. I am just fired up just even doing this interview with you. I have to talk to you more in my life. You let a fire in me. So thank you so much for being on.
Marilyn Adamson (28:21):
Well, thanks for having me, Justin. I appreciate it.
Justin Brooke (28:24):
No problem. See ya. Bye. Bye-Bye.