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 in ministry use blogging? 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 Website 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 Website, you can publish your blog to the computer where your Website 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 your entry was created.
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 Website is as easy as choosing a word, clicking on the chain icon, and typing in the Web address in the entry window that appears. Including a picture is also 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 greatly 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. Ministry types 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. It is available from www.mozilla.org. The browser is not only faster than Internet Explorer and less susceptible to security threats, but makes subscribing to blogs fast and easy.
Check out my blog for more from the blogosphere.