About 5 to 7 percent of people who set out to read through the Bible on their own actually accomplish that goal, according to most studies. But in Waterville, the success rate of a just-completed "Bible in 90 Days" program was well over 70 percent.
"I had always wanted to read the Bible but never did it," said participant Debbie Dazell. "Once I got into it, the Old Testament was a hard read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and once I got into the New Testament it was just great."
The reading program, developed by Texas software entrepreneur Ted Cooper and Zondervan publishers, divides the Bible into 90 sections of 12 pages each. Participants read for about an hour a day, which takes them through the whole Bible in three months, and meet once a week for group discussion and interaction.
John and Marcia Knollman, owners of Waterville Hardware and Paint, organized the Bible program for the community of 5,000.
The couple led the discussions five nights a week at different locations throughout Waterville. Participants were free to pick whichever site or night fit their schedule best each week.
The program began with informational meetings the week of Jan. 6 and the Bible readings began the following week.
"The first week, 240 people showed up," Mr. Knollman said. "Some people said they weren't going to do it, but were just curious about the program. The second week, 210 people showed up. Of those, about 152 people finished the Bible."
That makes a success rate of 72 percent, but the numbers have not been finalized.
Setting aside an hour a day to read Scripture was not always easy for the busy participants.
"I underestimated the commitment," said Wendylea Wyandt. "When I first started sharing with friends and family that I was doing this and trying to recruit some people to join me, they quickly said 'No, but good luck with that!' I didn't understand it at the time but I guess I was naive."
She said she missed a few days here and there and at one point found herself 13 1/2 days behind schedule. But she doubled up and almost caught up with the program, finishing the Bible in 92 days.
It was well worth the effort, Ms. Wyandt said.
"I enjoyed it immensely, and it was great for my own personal and spiritual growth and for connecting with different members of the community. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of this," she said.
Andy Kandik said the program "made me more aware of what God expects from me" and "deepened my faith."
"[It] helped me to understand the Sunday readings at Mass and relate to them in my life and helped my wife, Rose, and I grow together spiritually," he said in an e-mail.
The 12-page-a-day regimen was "a difficult assignment," according to Mr. Kandik, but the evening discussion sessions were enjoyable and enlightening.
"I really appreciate what John and Marcia have done for us. They worked very hard to make this project a success," he said. "Meeting new Waterville friends was a bonus."
The Knollmans went to extraordinary lengths to make the program work, believing that most Christians would love to read the entire Bible and that this program was a perfect tool to help them do it.
They spent nearly a year getting organized, meeting with pastors - with no takers - and making arrangements for materials to be available once the program began.
They also led all five discussion meetings every week, held on different nights at Zion Lutheran, Waterville United Methodist, First Presbyterian, and Waterville Community churches and in the Waterville Fire Department's community room.
"I figure I've put in about 75 hours a week for me, and my wife comes right along too. But it's been great," Mr. Knollman said. "A majority of Christians who stuck with it say, 'Wow, I actually did it!' It's been a real eye-opener to so many people. They got such a big picture of God in their hearts.
"I don't think there's anything we've participated in before that has made such a profound impact on people as this. It just blows you away."
He said he may help organize another "Bible in 90 Days" program, but for now he's got work to do at his hardware store.
"I have a whole lot of screens and windows to replace. People are calling: 'Are they done yet?'•" he said.
More information is available online at www.biblein90days.org.
- David Yonke