Hopefully by now you have pretty well figured out that a blog can be an important arsenal in your tools for ministry. A blog is in fact nothing more than a simple web page that is catalogued by date, and can be an easy way to publish sermons, share random thoughts, or even provide up to date announcements for the people in your parish.
As the owner of a site that aggregates ministry blogs, it seems that the majority of ministry blogs tend to use Blogger, the service owned by Google. I began my blogging career on Blogger, and for many years it was the way to go. The advantages of course were the price (it’s hard to beat free) and the convenience. However after one establishes an identity on the net, these often is a point where one gets tired of that “blogspot.com” address, and the limitations of the Blogger service.
Luckily there are many other services available. A lot of folks used to “graduate” to Typepad, which was the first major competitor to Blogger. Typepad was and continues to be a lot sexier than Blogger, but one has to pay for the service. I find that Typepad users are also often Mac users, for they seem to have money to spare.
These days there are other options. The one that I favor is the one I am using right now — WordPress. WordPress began as a stand-alone blogging software that required one to enter into a relationship with a web hosting company and maintain the software on their host. It could be a bit technically challenging, yet it was how I hosted one of my other sites for many years (until the hosting provider lost my blog!!!). The advantage of this is great flexibility in that one could add all sorts of third party plug-ins to the software to do pretty much anything that one wanted to do. In fact, without much tweaking, WordPress to be modified to function as a full fledged content management solution (which is the subject of another article).
Another service that I find interesting is run by the owners of Typepad and is called Vox. I find that Vox is a “social-networking” blog service, kind of an adult combination of MySpace, WordPress, and other services than allow personal connections. I played with it for a while as a secondary site, but it didn’t really lend itself to serious writing, so I have dropped it.
Part of the task of any would be blogger is to determine up front the purposes of the blog. Is this simply an online journal, a way of allowing a few friends or church members the possibility of holding you accountable in some areas? Is this a site geared toward publishing long form articles, or is there another purpose? Determining your purpose helps to determine the service that is best for you.
One of the great advantages of all the blogging services is the fact that they all generate an RSS feed which can be subscribed to by other services. In fact, this can be used creatively to update one’s “regular” church site with dynamic, up-to-date content. My church, for example, uses a Google Groups group for our e-mail updates list. Google Groups publishes an RSS feed of every e-mail that is sent by our group, and our main church website subscribes to that feed and updates our page with these announcements as they come in. This saves me time in that I don’t have to update our news page as regularly since it’s done automatically.
In my next article I will talk about a couple of “offline” blogging editors that I find help the publication process a great deal.