By now many churches understand the importance and value of establishing web presence. For over a decade most congregations have utilized the “real time” benefits of e-mail to communicate with missionaries, members, and more. Churches have found various ways of creating a church website, whether through an in-house volunteer or by spending hundreds of dollars on a polished, professional presentation. However, more recently a new presence on the Internet landscape has become an increasingly important part of online communication: the blog.
What is a blog, anyway?
A blog (shortened form of “web log”) is essentially an online journal. It differs from a traditional website in the sense that it is designed to be dynamic—regularly updated with new information and content—rather than static, such as the virtual brochure that many church websites are designed to be. Blogs also have the capability of facilitating interaction between the author and readers through comment features, creating a sense of community.
Should I be blogging?
Should you blog? That depends. Successful blogging will take time and dedication, though it will have its rewards. Good bloggers should be comfortable with personal transparency and candidness. Be prepared to handle criticism and negative responses. And good bloggers should have personal discipline—to make sure that content is regularly updated and that the site doesn’t consume so much of their time that they neglect other, more important areas of life.
Because of the capability for interaction, though, blogging can be a much more relational activity than the web technologies that preceded it. Pastors and church leaders can utilize it to disperse information and teaching with the advantages of a broadcasting method, while simultaneously harnessing the benefits of interaction, including the opportunity to field questions from individuals in such a way that many can read and benefit from the responses. Because a blog is readily available over the Internet, this can also be a great way for interested people to find out what your church is about before attending—taking it for a sort of “test drive,” if you will. If your site allows for comments, consider developing a registration or moderation process before comments become available for public viewing.
Some pastors of GARBC churches have found blogging to be a stimulus for ongoing conversation. Pastor Will Hatfield of Campus Baptist Church in Ames, Iowa, began to blog with that in mind. “I saw the ministry potential of having a regular outlet to let people in my church know what I’m thinking about on a more personal basis.” Don Fields, associate pastor of Daniels Road Baptist Church in Fort Myers, Florida, says, “Some of the people in my church read the blog and then want to discuss what I wrote. This has led to some pretty interesting conversations.”
“In many ways, blogging has become a tool for a sort of stealth discipleship,” says Pastor Tom Pryde of Berean Baptist Church, Fremont, California. “A good portion of our church reads blogs, mine included, and the articles often give me opportunity to address topics that would not otherwise come up.”
While Pastor Pryde sees the potential spiritual benefits of blogging for his congregation, he also says it is effective only if people are reading and interacting with what is written.
“The process of writing out my thoughts is beneficial for the entire congregation, because writing seems to increase the effectiveness of my pulpit ministry,” says Pastor Pryde, noting how blogging seems to help him organize his ideas in a logical, clear, and concise manner.
Mike Hess, pastor of First Baptist Church in Roxana, Illinois, sees similar benefits. “Blogging provides for me an avenue to share my views, interact with others, sharpen my own writing skills, confirm or modify some of my theological persuasions, fellowship, fun, humor, and to provide information for either dialogue or debate.”
Pastor Steve Svendsen of Rice Lake Baptist Church, Rice Lake, Wisconsin, concurs: “The exercise of writing itself makes anyone a better communicator. In some ways it gives me more to talk about with people from our church who frequent my blogs.”
Interacting with others’ thoughts can be an important part of the blogging experience. “I read blogs to learn and to grow,” says Pastor Fields. “I write because I find that it sharpens my thinking and helps me learn more about a subject. It also helps me learn to articulate my thoughts in a clearer fashion. I also retain the information much longer when I write it.”
“I think I can more clearly articulate some things I’ve been thinking about,” adds Pastor Will Hatfield, “especially in relationship to specific ministry areas that I’ve worked on and written about.” As he was preparing for his recent ordination, Pastor Will Hatfield posted sections of his ordination paper at theworldfrommywindow.blogspot.com and invited readers to comment on his ongoing study.
What would I write about?
A common apprehension for someone considering blogging is subject matter—What do I have to say that hasn’t already been said? Pastor Fields offers helpful advice: “Although blogging is a ministry and you will have an impact on others, don’t view it primarily as a ministry to others. When there are few people reading and even fewer commenting, it can become very discouraging. If you view your blog primarily as a tool of personal growth, then it can be beneficial even when there are only a few people reading and commenting.”
Pastor Hatfield agrees. “Like Don said, don’t expect the world to come read your blog. Use it more as a communication tool with your congregation or the younger segment of your congregation. Use it for personal growth in writing as well.”
Pastor Svendsen encourages budding bloggers to work at writing in an area they are already working. “Rather than add a new discipline, add writing to your teaching, counseling, or community service ministries. I spent weeks preparing for a public debate when we were preparing to vote on a marriage amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution in 2006. Posting part of my presentation on my blog gave me more than just a one-hour audience for all the work. Likewise, I find myself giving the same Biblical counsel to multiple people with similar troubles. Posting Biblical counseling articles may help people I will never meet who are struggling with the same issues.”
Some bloggers find that a common theme develops after they begin to blog. “At first my blog was just random thoughts from my own study, but as it went on, a theme developed,” notes Pastor Pryde. “As unapologetic historic fundamentalists, we are naturally concerned with contending for the faith delivered in the Scriptures. However, in writing and interacting with the state of modern Christianity, and specifically fundamentalism it became clear that we needed to answer some hard questions and even address some of the old ones again. So the blog became an exploration of a big idea: ‘Proactive Fundamentalism.’”
What to avoid
Whatever focus you decide to address in your blog, it is important to remember basic rules of Christlike communication and conduct. “You should have an ‘others-focus’ to your work,” observes Pastor Svendsen. “You may not get thousands of readers, but your goal should not be notoriety. You never know who is reading (even if you use a stat counter). Write faithfully in obedience to the first and second great commandments.”
Publishing consistency is crucial, says Pastor Hess. “If you plan on only posting one post per week or month, then you are going to have a difficult time gaining a faithful readership. Consistently posting good posts with substantial content that both intrigues and engages readers will inevitably draw others to your blog and provide a reliable readership. Even those who disagree with you will be drawn to your blog if you keep it updated with good content.”
Awareness of the attention span of your readers is important. “Remember that most blog readers will spend one to two minutes (at the most) on what you have written,” advises Pastor Pryde. “If the topic draws them in, they might spend five to ten minutes, so it is a good general idea to limit my writing to sections that take between two to eight minutes to read. Sometimes long and detailed articles need to be broken into bite-size chunks.”
Finally, being a good steward of your time is vital when delving into the blogosphere. “Blog surfing is a great way to burn an afternoon better spent studying,” counsels Pastor Svendsen. “Be careful that you do not become consumed by something good to the exclusion of something better.”
Greg Linscott is a graduate of Faith Baptist Bible College and ministers as a pastor in Marshall, Minnesota. He blogs at