Dec 15, 2005

Blogging: A great tool for ministry

Blogging: A great tool for ministry
by Terry Wilhite

Blogging is the newest Internet craze, right up there with podcasting. Blogging is Internet-based journaling that can be seen by a worldwide audience and while not invented specifically for pastors, small group leaders, or student ministers, it is one of the best communication forums I've seen in a long time for church leaders. Blogging allows you to do daily Internet journal entries and have the software automatically organize those comments in chronological order. Depending upon the preferences you establish, you can archive your entries by month or year so that your audience can easily retrieve past blogs.

How can we use blogging in ministry?

Small group leaders can post topics of the week and offer a virtual discussion by allowing group members to comment. Pastors can share thoughts of the day. Choir directors can post practice or rehearsal instructions. Student ministers can publish their group's "news headlines." Personally, I've found the format to be just the ticket for sharing breaking technical news for ministry along with tips, tools, and techniques. The boundaries are only limited by your imagination.

Blogging is meant for ministry for several reasons.
First, it fits most of our budgets. In other words, it's free. In fact, you don't even need a Web site of your own.
Secondly, it's easy to set up. It's almost as simple as browsing the Internet. There is no software to buy or download because all the set up work is done through your Internet browser.
Thirdly, blogging fits our ministry communication style. It's a great way to share short nuggets of information. Further, pictures can easily be included with your blog as well as links to other Internet sources.
Fourth, it's an informal medium that fosters relationships – what we're all about in the first place.

Setting up a blog is simple.
First, you'll need to decide where your blog will reside. You can obtain free space on the blog provider's computer or if you have a Web site, you can publish your blog to the computer where your Web site is hosted.

Next, you'll need to choose a template that will determine the overall look and feel of your blog, including its color, typestyle, and general format. Once the design decisions are made, you're ready to start making blog entries. First, you'll be presented with what looks similar to a small Microsoft Word interface that will help you create your blog entries. An entry will consist of a title, your message, a photo, if you choose, and finally the date you created the entry.

Above the box where you'll type your message you'll see buttons that will allow you to bold, underline, or italicize text. Creating a link to an Internet Web site is as easy as choosing a word, clicking on the chain icon, and typing in the Web site address in the entry window that appears. And including a picture is as easy as clicking on the picture icon, searching for the photo on your computer, selecting it, and uploading it into your blog entry. Blogs allow you to date stamp your journal entries so that viewers know when your journal entry was made. The date and time can usually be set manually or automatically.

The best entries are short, personal, and conversational. In other words, blogs aren't usually well thought out treatises, but conversational dialogs with readers. Speaking of which, you can set your blog to either accept reader feedback or not. Should you allow this feature, users can click on a link underneath your blog entry, make their own comments, and then see links to their remarks.

The "Blogosphere," that is, the universe of blogging, already contains every imaginable topic. Those in ministry are also quickly embracing the media. How do you keep up with all of your favorite blogs? The solution is called "RSS," which stands for Really Simple Syndication. Blog sites usually include a small orange square, the logo for RSS, which means that you can actually subscribe to blogs. To clarify, instead of making the blogging rounds everyday, the information comes to you. That task is done using RSS News Reader software. An Internet search for "RSS News Readers" will turn up a passel of them, but the best way that I've taken advantage of this technology is with a new, free Web browser called Firefox. The browser is not only faster than Internet Explorer, less susceptible to security threats, but makes subscribing to blogs fast and easy.

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