The rapid adoption of Internet-based communication and digital technologies by some communities of faith stands in a long tradition of enthusiastically embracing new means of communication to spread the gospel and nurture faith communities. At the same time, the skepticism about these technologies, and the concern about possible dangers and abuses, stands in an equally long tradition. The invention of the telephone is a good example. At that time, numerous voices in the press, in academic communities, and in various faith traditions expressed concern that the telephone would damage human communication because nonverbal cues are not accessible by telephone. There was a danger, some people said, of losing a commitment to human community. Good relationships might be damaged because of impersonal voices over a phone line.
Anyone who has lived hundreds or thousands of miles away from loved ones can testify to the power of telephones to nurture relationships, not damage them. But anyone who has experienced repeated phone calls interrupting dinner discussion can also attest to the necessity of discussing guidelines for telephone use. The newest communication technologies present the same kinds of opportunities for nurturing community as well as dangers from unwise use.
Blogs—originally called Web logs—created by pastors, rabbis, and other religious leaders are becoming increasingly common. Blogs are more like diaries than any other form of website is, and it is no accident that the country with the most blogs, Japan, has a long history of diary writing. A blog can be used like a diary for recording responses to specific events or issues on particular dates, but it can also be more like a weekly or monthly newsletter column, carefully crafted like a newsletter article would be. Both of these styles of blog entries are commonly used by ministers and rabbis. Blogs are easy to set up using common blog websites like Blogspot and Blogger, which are free and have many attractive templates for users. Because they are inexpensive and easy to use, blogs offer a lot of communication impact for a small cost in time and money, and the opportunities offered by blogs for people in congregational leadership are manifold. First, they provide one more way for congregational leaders to communicate in a personal and authentic style about things that matter. Because the diary medium stands behind blogs, communication on blogs is expected to reflect honest emotions and personal experiences. Some degree of intimacy is a characteristic of communication on blogs, something that is exactly right for our time with the growing emphasis on authenticity and personal connections that is apparent in so many forms of new media.
Blogs are a perfect medium to tell stories about what faith looks like in practice. Testimonies, stories about people whose lives are being changed because of their faith, and stories about those who are serving in the community or overseas are perfect for blogs.
Because blog entries are always connected to specific dates, blogs provide the opportunity to discuss current events in the wider culture and their connection to faith. Upcoming congregational events and ministries can be described in order to encourage people to participate. Toward the end of each week, aspects of the upcoming worship service can be highlighted, with an encouragement to invite neighbors and friends. Recent events can be described as a way to talk about the significance of what happened or the way God was present in those events.
Brian Bailey and Terry Storch, authors of The Blogging Church, talk about blogs as the perfect place to share “the why behind the what.” The worship bulletin and the congregation’s website might give the date and time of the kickoff event for a new ministry, perhaps a new children’s program, an outreach into the community, or an upcoming mission trip. The minister’s blog or the congregation’s blog are good places to explain why the ministry is starting, what motivated its leaders to dream it up, and what they hope participants will gain from it.
A blog entry can convey “the why behind the what” by telling the personal hopes of the leaders or a story that lies behind the dream. A blog post could give a personal testimony about last year’s version of the same ministry or a similar ministry in another congregation. The vision for the ministry can be addressed in a personal and honest way.
A congregation’s blog entries can be viewed as a series of building blocks, each one communicating a piece of what the congregation considers to be valuable and essential for faith. In many ways, this lightens the pressure on the person writing the blog entry. Each blog post needs to tell only a part of the whole story, to vividly and faithfully represent something about this congregation’s identity and values, but it doesn’t have to say everything. An ideal blog post is only two- to three-hundred words, which is only a few paragraphs. A blog post is like a short sermon in that it can really only make one point. No one sermon can say everything about the life of faith. A person who preaches regularly hopes and prays that, over time, all those sermons will serve as building blocks to communicate the big picture of God’s goodness and the faith journey God invites us into. In the same way, blog posts don’t have to say everything about the congregation, just one thing told in a compelling way, one piece of the big picture of the congregation’s life. In that way, blogs are different from congregational websites, which need to represent in a more systematic way the life of the congregation.
Blog posts accumulate over time. Viewers can scroll backwards to see the development of thoughts over months and even years. The building blocks that are created with each blog post remain online for people to access if they want to. Therefore, some consistency in the values expressed is a good idea.
Many blogs related to congregations are the solo product of the minister, who uses the blog to talk about the congregation’s life, reflect on current events, and describe his or her faith journey. Coming up with a blog post every week, or several times a week, can be quite a challenge for one person.
To relieve some of the pressure on ministers and pastors, congregations should consider the possibility of a congregational blog, a joint production of a team of people. Someone needs to be responsible for overseeing the blog, but several people can do the writing. Perhaps the senior minister writes a few posts each month, while others—associate ministers, congregational lay leaders, other staff—are also responsible for one or two posts every month. Posts can be brief: a story, a quotation from a book, a short reflection on a Scripture passage, a description of an upcoming event and why it was planned.
Members of the blog team need to enjoy and appreciate the blogging medium. Effective blog posts cannot simply be recycled announcements from the bulletin, newsletters, or website. They cannot be official pronouncements or minutes from meetings. Because honesty, authenticity, and a personal approach are essential on a blog, team members need to understand the significance of these characteristics in communicating the congregation’s identity and values.
Blogs have a distinctive voice: conversational, personal, and informal. They speak the language of our culture and time. Congregations and congregational leaders can use blogs wisely and strategically to communicate the heart and soul of a congregation. Websites, digital photos, blogs, sermon downloads, social networking websites, and other new communication options offer a congregation a wonderful opportunity to consider the implications of all the ways it can express who it is and what it values.
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Adapted from Reaching Out in a Networked World: Expressing Your Congregation’s Heart and Soul by Lynne M. Baab, copyright © 2008 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.
A congregation communicates its heart and soul through words, photos, actions, programs, architecture, decor, the arts, and countless other aspects of congregational life. In Reaching Out in a Networked World, communications expert and pastor Lynne Baab examines technologies such as websites, blogs, online communities, and desktop publishing. She demonstrates how a congregation can evaluate these tools and appropriately use them to communicate its heart and soul, to convey its identity and values both within and outside the congregation.
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