The how and why to ministry blogging
The written word is powerful. It can unify or divide, encourage or discourage, catch people by surprise or bore them to tears. Online, this word has taken on new meaning and influence via blogging. Of the millions of active bloggers, most publish communiqués of a personal nature: pithy, journal-style updates on everything from family life to technology to politics. The most successful bloggers understand that within the blogosphere, first-person counts.
The same is true for blogging pastors and ministry leaders. As a means to connect with people and convey spiritual truth, a blog can replace a stagnant ministry Web site or traditional print newsletter. Though blogs are often treated like a diary, they can also serve as community forums or news portals for updates on the happenings within your organization. Along with text, blogs can include photos and video segments. Some ministries post to a blog once or twice a week, others daily or hourly. There's even a new method on Twitter.com where you can post every minute of the day!
A blog is an interactive medium that helps you communicate more effectively about your ministry. It's a way to extend your reach beyond conventional communication. Good blogs are "sticky"—people tend to return regularly and catch up with postings on a daily basis. Savvy Internet users even use a "reader" that automatically pulls blog posts into a program that works in a similar way to e-mail. It allows readers to store posts, search through them, and read the text faster than they could on the Web.
Creating a blog takes relatively little effort on the front end. Most of your key decisions will be about who will blog in your organization, how you deal with feedback and how to market the blog so people can find it. Before you decide on these, however, you must find out which blogging tool best suits your needs.
Choose Your Weapon
There are three "powerhouse" tools for blogging, each of which is a good starting point. TypePad.com is easily the most powerful of the three and has an extensive feature set, including a blog-posting tool that looks and functions like a miniature version of Microsoft Word. Besides allowing you to post remotely, TypePad provides plenty of extra tools to both customize your blog and expand your audience. You can track visits, automatically add your blog posts to search engines and even include advertising links to generate revenue.
With its advanced editing features, TypePad allows you to create the basic HTML layout and then use Adobe Dreamweaver to add logos, side banners, extra photos, etc. As an added bonus, you can use any Web site address you want, such as the name of your ministry, instead of the TypePad.com address.
The downside? Of the three main blogging tools available, TypePad is the only one that charges a monthly fee. For $5 a month you get the basic one-blog subscription with limited editing options, while the $30-per-month premium plan allows for multiple blogs and editing the HTML in a separate editing program.
For those who prefer things free, Blogger.com provides an interface that's easier to use yet more limited in its tools. This service helps you start a blog quickly without many advanced features. Unlike TypePad, Blogger doesn't allow for extensive HTML editing, and you're unable to view usage statistics for those visiting your site. Customizing your blog is also more limited, as you might expect. In fact, it's easy to spot a Blogger post since the service offers fewer designs than TypePad.
However, Blogger.com does let you use third-party templates, edit basic template elements and post from a mobile device or via e-mail. In addition, you can configure your Blogger blog for private access for a select number of people within your ministry.
Josh Griffin, interim high school pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., calls Blogger "the easiest fully featured tool to use. You can start a blog in about four minutes and specialize it in about an hour. You can go from not having a church Web site to instant Web site, from not having a student ministries homepage to having instant online community. ... For entry-level users I think it would be hard for someone to suggest a better tool than Blogger."
Another option is WordPress.com, the most technical of the blogging tools, though not as powerful as TypePad. What WordPress lacks in basic capabilities can often be added through user-created plug-ins and third-party software agents found on the Web. For instance, although you can provide ad links on your blog using WordPress, the feature is slightly more complex and requires more plug-ins compared to TypePad.
WordPress' interface can be more confusing than the other blogging tools, yet the application has its share of fans. "I'd say WordPress is the best all-round blogging platform," says Dave Walker, who runs CartoonChurch.com/blog. "Word Press.org is for those who have a bit of technical ability and WordPress.com, the hosted version, is for beginners."
The Dos and Don'ts of Blogging
There's one simple blogging rule for beginners: Blog often. The best blogs rely on individual bloggers posting insightful comments as often as possible. Visitors may stick around awhile, but once they see that it's only updated once in a while, they will likely never return. In terms of ministry outreach, this is similar to preaching a great sermon once a year and hoping people will come back weekly.
"A blog will attract readers if it offers something of substance to the blogosphere," says Mark D. Roberts, a pastor, author and speaker who blogs daily at markdroberts.com. "For this to happen, the bloggers need to write on subjects about which they have some actual knowledge and expertise. Lots of new blogs include several bloggers, which allows a blog to have plenty of content without killing off the solo writer."
Tapping into your passion is also vital. "Blog about the stuff you're learning, blog about the stuff that makes you laugh," Griffin adds. "Be careful not to blog when mad, and be careful that you're being authentic. One of the big temptations of a blogger is to develop a 'character'—someone who is not the real you. ... Posts can be long or short—doesn't really matter. Just post."
In addition, plan out what you will blog about long-term. Extensive secular blogs such as Engadget.com or TechCrunch.com operate like newspapers; leaders make assignments to bloggers, schedule "coverage" months in advance and determine the focus of the blog for the entire year. Identify what your blog is about, where it is headed and whom you are trying to reach.
"You need to have the time to keep going with it," Walker says. "The Internet is littered with the dead blogs of people who set out with the best of intentions but gave up during the second week. My advice is to be creative, be different and do your own thing."
Essentially, blogging is no different from other ministry activities: It requires planning, a budget, discussion and involvement from many parties to be successful. As another tool in your toolbox of ministry, it has the potential to become a regular activity that draws readers and impacts more people for God.
John Brandon writes for several publications, including PC Magazine and Laptop, and is based outside Minneapolis.
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