An Introduction to Blogging on the Internet
by A. Scott Moreau and Mike O’Rear
In this edition of Missions on the Web we provide links to numerous sources to help you enrich your experience with the blog world.
The first time my son1 showed me his blog (web-based journal), I remember thinking, “Who would want to read your private thoughts online?” If you are involved in missions, the answer could be anyone you work with, from supporting churches to partnering ministries to college kids looking for an authentic experience. A well-written blog engenders intimacy with readers, inviting them to sit down and listen to what you truly feel. From a research angle, blogs serve as a casual reference for mission strategy, global church news and real-world struggles. The give-and-take of stories online is a powerful tool for impacting relationships, within the Church and for the world at large.
In this edition of Missions on the Web we provide links to numerous sources to help you enrich your experience with the blog world. Our focus is not on individual blogs (although there are many excellent ones); rather, it is on blog-related tasks: searches, site-building, improving exposure, etc. Our resulting webpage is found at www.mislinks.org/practical/blogs.htm;2 we invite you to browse the page as you read the article.
FINDING A BLOG
There are multiple strategies one can use while searching for blogs, each rewarding in its own way. Using a blog-specific search engine will provide you quick access to individual journal entries. This approach searches for specific topics rather than specific bloggers. Google offers a blog-focused search (blogsearch.google.com) with several useful features, including the ability to limit results to those within the last day (or even hour) to ensure timeliness. Technorati (technorati.com ) is devoted exclusively to blog searches, and, unlike Google (which owns Blogger), is not affiliated with any blog host. Bloglines (www.bloglines.com ) allows subscribers to “clip” articles from separate blogs into a portfolio for later review, dramatically improving the usability of blogs for research.
Of course, blog search engines have their limitations. Most blogs are based on reaction; the author experiences something and chronicles his or her response to the event online. Typically, search engine results find blogs with only one or two entries to your topic of interest. If you are looking for an extended relationship with a few choice blogs, a different search strategy is required.
OSCAR, a UK-based missions information portal, has compiled an impressive list of missionary blogs (www.oscar.org.uk/oscaractive/blogs ), sorted by continent and area of ministry. Recent posts are available on the OSCAR site, allowing you to sample various styles.
In a similar fashion, the Missionary Blog Watch (www.missionary-blogs.com/missionary-blog-watch.html ) “keeps an eye on Christian missionary blogs to introduce you to interesting posts, new bloggers and developments.”
Once you find blogs that appeal to you, Blogdigger (groups.blogdigger.com ) can compile the updates of multiple blogs to one convenient location, allowing you to quickly scan for new postings from your favorite bloggers.
Because of their personal nature, the best way to find blogs you enjoy will be through referral. Thankfully, most bloggers are happy to advertise their favorite blogs in a column to the side, commonly referred to as the blogroll. The blogroll may be found under titles such as Blogs I Enjoy, Friends List or My Subscriptions, and commonly feature similar topics and style as the host blogger. The process can be overwhelming (and highly addictive), but working your way through a friend’s blogroll is the best approach to finding blogs that appeal to you. Our collected blogroll appears at the end of this article.
CREATING YOUR BLOG
Creating your own blog can be as simple as adding a new page to your existing website. Urbana (www.urbana.org/blogs ) uses this approach to highlight relevant issues and attendees’ reactions to its missions conferences.
Several tools exist on the web for integrating blogs into your site, such as WordPress (wordpress.org ), a self-hosting blog tool that can create and format your blog on a website of your choice. For more options, check out Idealware’s excellent review of the top seven blogging platforms (www.techsoup.org/learningcenter/webbuilding/page5516.cfm)3.
Blogs are all about letting people get to know you and your opinions. However, organizations often object to placing such private material on their official websites. Thankfully, there is an abundance of blog hosting services. Blogger (www.blogger.com) appears to be the popular choice for middle-age professionals. The high-quality templates combined with Google’s search capacity makes this “push button publishing” extremely user-friendly. Typepad (www.typepad.com), another popular choice, hosts some of the highest-quality blogs on the web, but requires a monthly fee for its services.
Those more involved with youth ministry would be well-advised to join an online community. Xanga (www.xanga.com) hosts free blogs in a format designed for blogger interaction. In addition to blogrolls, the site emphasizes the formation of blogrings, groups of bloggers who read and react to one another.
Current blogrings focus on such diverse topics as YWAM, medical missions and Christian leader development. MySpace (www.myspace.com), the most popular youth blog site, features groups with titles like “I Want to Be a Missionary” (groups.myspace.com/james127missions). While the average user of these sites is a teenager, there are conversations taking place here we would be remiss to ignore.
IMPROVING YOUR BLOG
Everyone has his or her own opinion about what makes for a good blog (in fact, several blogs are dedicated exclusively to this topic). However, if you want your blog to engage a particular group—be it youth, missiology professors or major donors—you will need to tailor your approach to their expectations. The following sites offer practical advice on content and presentation of missions-related blogs.
eMinistryNotes (www.eministrynotes.com) was developed by Campus Crusade for Christ staff as a site for discussing effective internet ministry. The archives are full of suggestions, both technical and aesthetic, for blog users to increase traffic to their site. Despite the name, Church Marketing Sucks (www.churchmarketingsucks.com) is a valuable resource for even the most conservative user. “The blog to frustrate, educate and motivate the Church to communicate,” features articles like Top 10 Blog Design Mistakes and Where’s the Church on Facebook.
Missionary Geek (missionarygeek.blogspot.com) highlights the technical aspects of a missionary blog, linking to valuable online tools for the computer-savvy blogger.
Alternatively, Copyblogger (www.copyblogger.com/blueprint-for-a-brilliant-blog-launch) discusses developing a style with both words and images.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project (www.pewinternet.org) has collected comprehensive data on internet use in the United States, creating fascinating profiles of internet use in varying age demographics.
The Nonprofit Blog Exchange (nonprofitblogexchange.blogspot.com) features excellent advice for ministries on possible blog content and style. Additionally, their blogroll features dozens of well-designed nonprofit blogs for study.
Ultimately, the best way to increase blog traffic is to actively participate in the blog community: read other blogs, comment on posts and tag your favorites. Most users will notice your interest and at least give your blog a glimpse. And, of course, the highest compliment in the blogosphere is to add someone to your blogroll.
The typical blogroll features a diversity of content and style. Below is a samplng of the blogs read by the authors of Missions on the web. These are not our recommendations of blogs that every evangelical missionary should read nor are they blogs we necessarily agree with; instead, they are merely a variety of perspectives that we examine in order to better understand how God is working in missions today.
• Aquila Network (aquilanetwork.org/blog). We first discovered this blog while researching for our article on Business as Mission (for a complete list of our BAM blogs, see www.mislinks.org/practical/bam.htm). It maintains an attractive format while highlighting global economic developments of interest to missions.
• Christianity Today (blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog). Despite a focus on international justice and the American political scene, CT manages to feature a balance of valuable voices. The tone is neither right nor left, simply evangelical.
• Indian Evangelical Team (www.ietmissions.blogspot.com). A popular church-planting ministry founded and led by P.G. Vargis, this blog features prayer requests and mission updates.
• Leave It Behind (www.leaveitbehind.com). Brian Bailey co-wrote The Blogging Church, a new resource on churches and the web. His personal blog drifts from movie reviews to technology releases, with several valuable links sitting in the archives.
• The M Blog (guymuse.blogspot.com). A Baptist church-planting missionary in Ecuador lets us into his day-to-day life. His stories regularly discuss striking a balance between his Baptist values and the poor, charismatic house church culture in which he ministers.
• MinistryTube (ministrytube.blogspot.com). Jon and Mindy Hirst’s site features an ever-growing “Directory of Mission Agencies, Ministries and Ministry Staff on YouTube.”
• Missions Misunderstood (missionsmisunderstood.blogspot.com). While reading The M Blog, we found this site in his blogroll. Despite his occasionally unorthodox opinions, we felt it worthwhile to show you the power of a truly articulate blog.
• PeopleRaising (www.PeopleRaising.com/blog). A blog devoted exclusively to missions fundraising should not be so enjoyable to read. The archives are full of practical advice, dispensed in earnest single-paragraph posts.
• Under the African Rain (www.undertheafricanrain.com). This is the story of a young woman beginning her international missions career with SIM. As men who have been working in and around missions for decades, we enjoy the fresh perspective.
Blogs are an ideal medium for sharing what is on your heart, whether it be cross-cultural mission strategy or a eulogy for your cat. The links we have provided are meant to promote worthwhile blog development, in missions and the Church at large. If you are aware of a site that should be included, we invite you to email us so that we can consider including it on the MisLinks page.
1. Our thanks to Stephen O’Rear for his help on this issue of Missions on the Web.
2. All URLs start with http:// unless otherwise noted.
3. Since Idealware charges a fee for access to its research, we have pointed readers to TechSoup’s free reprint of the article.
A. Scott Moreau is editor of EMQ and a professor in the Intercultural Studies department at Wheaton College Graduate School (Wheaton, Ill.). His email address is A.S.Moreau@wheaton.edu, and the Wheaton Missions Department web address is www.wheaton.edu/intr.
Mike O’Rear is the president of Global Mapping International (Colorado Springs, Colo.), which is dedicated to providing access to information for church and mission leaders, especially in the Two-thirds World. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and the GMI web address is www.gmi.org.
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