This is the first of three posts exploring in turn starting, building and sharing a blog
Like many aspects of the internet and in particular social media, blogging divides the world. On the one hand, in some circles it seems that everyone blogs copiously and effortlessly. On the other hand, a good number of people just could not imagine themselves blogging. In fact, it is not that difficult, and there are many different ways to blog.
So why would you contemplate it? Someone once said that reading opens the mind, conversation broadens the mind, but writing disciplines the mind—and this is certainly my experience of blogging. To have to put something in writing actually forces you to be more disciplined in your thinking. An ill-thought-out opinion needs a rationale once you write it down; a hunch needs evidence; and an argument needs thinking through. I have found myself both deepening my thought, discovering ideas, and even doing research leading to journal publication just through the discipline of blogging things I would otherwise have only thought through vaguely.
So what are the reasons for blogging? Starting with the simplest, and moving to the most ambitious, blogs can be used in at least the following ways:
1. To express your own thoughts mostly for yourself
This approach uses a blog more as less as a personal diary, but one that you don’t mind others reading. They might be interested simply because they know you, or because they might find your reflections helpful, or because you are wanting to keep them informed, perhaps through a particular process of life, such as relocation, suffering, or other significant change. Or it could be that you are an irrepressible extravert!
2. To serve a local community
This approach uses a blog as a magazine or collection of resources. I would recommend that most churches use a blog rather than investing in a bespoke church website; blog software can do just about everything you need for the online presence of a small or medium-sized church. You might be a church leader or lead an interest group, and a blog can be used for announcements, sharing of ideas and as an accessible online archive of material.
3. For networking, sharing ideas and campaigning
This approach uses a blog as a focal point for disseminating information or generating support. This kind of use requires more regular attention and maintenance, usually done by more than one person.
4. For more serious campaigning, publishing and resourcing
Blogs with longer articles which have significant investment of time and research can be as substantial as journal articles, and such blogs can be quite serious research projects for the authors. They will often have a team of contributors, and will only fall short of recognised research because of the lack of a peer review process.
Before you start blogging, it is important to be clear what your aims are, and whereabouts on this spectrum you will start and will want to end up. You might start in area 1, but find that people are interested in what you say, so that (for example) you end up in area 2.
The reason for being clear is that what you are aiming for will determine the amount of time, effort, energy and possibly money that you want to invest. As you move down this list, you will need to be prepared to match the time and effort you put in with the goals you want to achieve. There is nothing wrong with writing a blog which no-one reads; the writing itself will have been beneficial. And that is fine if you are aiming to be in area 1, but of course won’t work if you are aiming to be in area 4!
How much time do you need to invest? As much or as little as you like. It is possible to set up a blog from scratch in about half an hour, costing nothing (most things are free if you know where to look), and you could write some thoughts once or twice a week in about 15 minutes a go. So in an hour you could be a regular blogger!
At the other end of the scale, one blogger I know, whose blog is near the top of the Theology and Religion blogs in the UK, posts about three times a week and invest five hours on research and writing for each post.
Two keys things to remember
First, if you are going to build any kind of ‘following’, then you need to post regularly material which is of interest to the people you are trying to reach. And it is going to take quite some time to build this following, so you need to be ready to post regularly for some time. Even if you are in area 1 above, people will be more inclined to listen to you thinking out loud if you are doing it reasonably regularly. And it might be good to settle on a time of day, or a day of the week, when you put aside some time to blog.
Secondly, blogging works best when it works with your current work, personal or ministry life, rather than being another thing to do. If a programme on TV stimulated some thought, don’t just tell your friends, write a blog post. If you were challenged by a Bible reading, or stimulated by a sermon, write a blog post. If you have written an article for the parish magazine, post it as well (assuming it is appropriate to share more widely)…and so on. Blogging things that you are doing, or writing, or thinking already is a much more efficient way of working.
So why not have a go? You won’t regret it, and in the end if it is not of any help or use, you can always stop!
In my second post I will explore the practical issues in how to set up and build a blog, including what technical things you need to think about and how to address them.
In my third post I will look at how to promote your blog and share it more widely, from my experience of doing this over several years.