A practical guide for those who would like to try but don’t know how
My first blog entry in July 2001 was unspectacular. “My friend Sandy got me thinking about adding a journal,” I wrote. “I’ll give it a try and see how it goes. Nothing profound or unusual, just my random ramblings.” That kind of thing.
Since then I’ve written over four thousand blog entries, gained a readership, and built significant offline relationships through the blog. I’ve become very familiar with the benefits and challenges of maintaining a blog. And I’ve become convinced that blogging is one of the best investments that a ministry leader can make.
Here’s my thesis: you should consider blogging, because it’s really not that hard, and the payoffs are worth it.
Why You Should Blog
In his book The Conviction to Lead (Bethany House 2012), Al Mohler counters the popular notion that there’s a difference between the real world and the online, virtual one. “The digital world is itself a real world,” he writes, “just real in a different way.” If you’re not active online, you’re limited in your ministry to those who aren’t online, Mohler argues. “That population is shrinking every moment. The clock is ticking.”
One of the best ways to maintain an online presence is through a blog. Mohler says that we used to think that bloggers were all “twentysomethings in their pyjamas writing online rants.” But blogs are now “one of the most significant platforms for our cultural conversation.” It’s one of history’s “most cost-efficient way of communicating big ideas and solid content. If you are not writing a blog, you should be.”
I agree. Here are four reasons why you should blog:
It communicates. You don’t have to ask anybody’s permission. There are no gatekeepers between you and your audience. Anyone can start a blog in minutes and communicate directly to their audience. I remember being excited years ago when I had an article published in a magazine with only a few hundred subscribers. Now, anyone can reach an audience that’s virtually unlimited without any intermediary, and to communicate on their own time rather than on someone else’s publishing schedule.
It connects. Through blogging, I’ve found friends who share my interests. I’ve made connections that have led to friendships and ministry opportunities. People have stayed in my house, started attending my church, sent me books, donated to my church plant, and invited me to speak. I’ve gained access to well-known leaders and thinkers. I never would have guessed that a blog would build so many significant offline relationships.
It clarifies. Philip Yancey once explained why he writes: “I write books to resolve things that are bothering me, things I don’t have answers to.” His books are a process of exploration and investigation. That’s what blogging is as well. I write to think my way through issues. It’s a good way of disciplining myself to think through important issues I might otherwise avoid.
It gives you control. Other online platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, are under someone else’s control. A blog is completely under your control. Popular blogger Michael Hyatt compares it to the difference between a home base and an embassy. A home base is “digital property you own and control,” like a blog. An embassy is a place “you don’t own, but where you have a registered profile.” If you’re serious about building a platform, Hyatt argues, you need to start by building a home base that’s under your control, and from there use tools like Facebook.
Blogging has helped me communicate, just as it’s helped me build relationships and clarify ideas. It’s given me a place to write that’s under my control. Even if nobody read my blog, it still would have helped me. But people have read my blog, and it’s given me opportunities and relationships I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Why You Might Not Want to Blog
There are two reasons that you may not want to blog.
Blogs require regular feeding. The Internet is littered with blogs that someone started and then neglected. Blogs take work, and the work goes on long after the excitement wears off. The work is worth it, but there’s no question that it takes time and effort.
You probably won’t become famous. Author and pastor Ed Stetzer said that being a famous blogger is like being a famous player of Dungeons and Dragons. There are some famous bloggers out there, but most of us will not be widely known. The blogosphere is crowded, and you may only influence a small group of people, and that’s okay. Building an audience takes time.
How to Start and Maintain a Blog
Starting a blog is actually pretty easy.
First, choose a focus. Some blogs are personal. Some have a focus on theology, leadership, or some aspect of ministry. Some are designed for the members of a church or ministry. The best blogs have an overall theme or focus. Choose something that will sustain your interest. Make sure that the theme isn’t too narrow, or you’ll quickly run out of ideas.
Second, read other blogs. Know what’s out there. Learn what you like and don’t like from other bloggers. Don’t copy them, but get an idea of what works. Do a quick Google search such as “pastor blog” or browse through the top 200 ministry blogs (http://churchrelevance.com/resources/top-church-blogs/) to give yourself ideas.
Third, make a plan. Brainstorm ideas so that you don’t get stuck. Decide how often you’ll post. Regularity, not frequency, is the key. I’ve found it helpful to come up with a routine. I try to post interviews on Wednesday, links on Saturday, and two other posts on Monday and Friday. Having a structure like this really seems to help.
Fourth, choose a platform. You don’t need to be a technical genius to maintain a blog. I prefer Squarespace (http://www.squarespace.com/), because they do everything for you. I can handle the technical work, but I’d rather spend my time writing. Plans with Squarespace begin at $8 a month, but I’ve found that it’s worth every penny. They even register your domain name (your own Internet address like mine, http://www.DashHouse.com/) at no extra charge if you buy an annual plan.
If you’re on a budget, you can use a free platform like WordPress. You can use the free hosted version (https://wordpress.com/), which means that you don’t have to worry about a complicated setup. You can also install WordPress on your own server, but this requires some work and a small amount of money. Michael Hyatt has produced a video that explains how to do this in just twenty minutes (http://michaelhyatt.com/ez-wordpress-setup.html).
Don’t let the technology overwhelm you. Find a system that meets your needs, and refuse to be intimidated. Get help if you need it. It’s worth the small investment of time.
Fifth, get writing. Produce great content. Slowly build an audience. Be generous with what you write. Use your blog to serve others instead of as a tool for self-promotion. Use Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to promote your blog posts without being obnoxious. If you produce good content that is designed to serve others, and you persist, you will build a readership.
“Leaders have a message,” writes Al Mohler, “and should be ready to use every available platform and technology to get it out to others.” He’s right. Blogging isn’t hard, and it’s a great tool for every pastor and ministry leader. So . . . get blogging!
Editor’s Update: Since this was written in 2013, some technology has changed. You may wish to supplement this article with a more recent comparison of blogging platforms.