In the old days, church members received their church newsletter every month or two, printed on paper and sent by snail mail. It almost always included a “Message from the Minister.” Today, the message is a blog sent by email, but it’s roughly the same thing—except better.
A blog can be forwarded to friends.
A blog can be shared on social media.
A blog means your message can reach far beyond your congregation.
Writing lasts forever. Your blog will probably live somewhere on the Internet, which means anyone could stumble across it at any time. It might be exactly what someone needs in the moment, years from now when you have forgotten ever writing it.
I’ve been blogging for years in my spiritual community’s e-newsletter and on my own website. It comes naturally given my previous career in journalism, but bloggers come from many backgrounds and write in many styles.
I don’t recommend blogging for everyone (see below for reasons not to blog), but it has advantages. I’ll tell you what I’ve learned.
Reasons to Blog
Writing is a wonderful tool of communication, and email is still an excellent way to reach an audience. Truly, most people will read more than 140 characters if you capture their interest. A blog can be a sunny hello or a deep conversation.
In a ministry, a blog can build community. You can use it to promote events, thank volunteers or offer behind-the-scenes glimpses into the spiritual community. You can even ask for money and explain the rationale.
Better still, a blog can be a second weekly lesson. You can elaborate on what was said Sunday or choose a different topic. (Mine are usually different.) A blog is more narrowly focused than a talk. You only have to make one point.
Sometimes you can say things in a blog you might not say from the platform or in a class. You can address the occasional uncomfortable topic without demanding an instant reaction. The reader has time to mull it over and let your points sink in. And your audience is not captive. If they don’t like it, they can delete it.
If you’re a minister, blogging keeps you in touch with congregants during the week. It’s the contemporary version of visiting their homes.
Where to Blog
Most weeks, I publish the same blog in five places:
- As part of our spiritual community’s e-newsletter
- On our website, unityofwimberley.com
- In an email to my own list of followers, most who signed up to receive my blogs after I spoke in their churches
- On my own website, ellendebenport.com
- On Facebook
Most of my blogs are 800 to 1,000 words. I think 700 words would be better, but I don’t always have time to be pithy. (It takes longer to write short.)
Sometimes the blogs are different—one geared to our spiritual community, another for my own email list—in the same week.
And sometimes I use guest bloggers. You can follow the blogs of other spiritual writers or ministers and ask to reprint their stuff, if you like it. Invite congregants or staffers to write the blog once in a while, too.
What It Takes
Write at least once a week. Monthly isn’t enough to build an audience; they’ll forget about you between blogs. You’re developing a relationship here, so be attentive. Even though you might occasionally use guest bloggers, the same voice nearly every week seems to establish the strongest connection.
Continual Ideas for Topics
Some people are a fountain of ideas, and others have to dredge their brains for something to write about. What’s been on your mind this week? What’s the most interesting question someone has asked you about spirituality? What more can be said about last Sunday’s talk topic? Ideas can come from the latest book you’ve read, a popular movie, and of course the news. You’re helping people apply spiritual principles to ordinary life. Make it about them, not you.
Expect to spend two or three hours a week writing a blog. Unless you’re writing just a paragraph or two, in which case you might consider blogging daily.
You don’t have to be the world’s greatest writer, but you do have to get the spelling and punctuation right, or your credibility will be damaged. (What does he know about spirituality if he can’t even spell it?) Find an editor or at least a proofreader. Any retired English teachers or journalists in your ministry? They would probably love to give your blog a once-over before you hit send.
Who will be receiving this blog? You’ll need their email addresses. And be sure these people want your blog in their inboxes. Invite them to sign up for it, to opt in.
An Email Platform
With permission to email your readers, you can use Constant Contact, Mailchimp or other programs to design and send your blog. Cheap and easy. If you foresee event sign-ups online or selling products, services or tickets, you might investigate more powerful programs. Or you already might have those fancy features on your website.
Don’t Blog If:
You hate writing. Blogging can easily become a dreaded chore. Sometimes the incessant demand for blog ideas and finding the time to write hangs over me, and I love to write. You don’t have to blog. There are other ways to communicate. Facebook Live seems to be all the rage.
You expect it to grow your community. I’ve had a few visitors who were fans of my blog stop by on a Sunday when they were in town, but I expect most people will discover your blog only after they’ve started to attend regularly. Unless one of your blogs happens to go viral. I don’t think anyone knows how to make that happen.
You expect everyone to read it. I email our community’s newsletter to 350 people a week. Just over half of them open the email at all, and about 60 readers click through to read my whole blog. Typically, they are the congregants who are already most plugged into the church. Sometimes they let me know they have forwarded the blog to friends, which is gratifying.
You’re hurt if people don’t leave comments. Comments on blogs aren’t the community discussions they used to be, except on Facebook, which often elicits lively commentary. But in that wide-open forum, God knows what people will say.
You’re attached to being understood. People will read your blog through their own heavy filters, which might bear no resemblance to the point you were trying to make. They will sometimes excoriate you in the comment section, based on a complete misunderstanding. I can usually, but not always, resist the temptation to set them straight.
Blogging is not the only way to communicate with a congregation or beyond the church, and it requires time and commitment. But if you haven’t tried it, consider it.
One more thought: Not everyone will take the time to watch a video or a livestream. They’d much rather skim through a blog. Either way, you’ve connected with them, and that’s what you really want.