Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Book Review - "The Blogging Church"

(This post concludes this month's focus on blogging as a ministry tool...)

Book Review - "The Blogging Church" by Brian Bailey with Terry Storch.

Marketing expert Seth Godin says "Brian Bailey makes two things crystal clear in this book: if you've got a church, then you need to spread your story. And if you need to spread your story, blogs are now an essential tool. Time to pay attention!" Brian has uploaded to Google a video clip about the book. One of the most interesting features of the book is the inclusion of several short chapters by pioneering bloggers such as Robert Scoble, Dave Winer, Kathy Sierra, Guy Kawasaki, as well as leading pastors who have seen the benefit of blogging, such as Mark Driscoll, Tony Morgan, Perry Noble, Greg Surratt, Craig Groeschel and Mark Batterson.

Brian Bailey is an excellent writer and pioneer of blogging for the benefit of church ministry. Terry Storch has been a member of the leadership team at Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, where he was influential for many pastors to get started in blogging. He's currently involved in the dynamic multi-site ministry, in Oklahoma City, OK. The preface of the book explains...
"Blogging is a revolution in communication, community, and authentic conversation; a revolution that churches cannot afford to ignore. Welcome to the blogosphere - the new online home of the curious creature. If you're feeling a little disoriented and having trouble reading the street signs, don't worry, you're holding in your hand the field manual for the blogosphere."
This is a good summary of the book - it describes why blogging is becoming so important, why it's a powerful tool for churches, followed by practical details on how to actually get started. The chapters in the book are:

Chapter 1. The Story of Blogging
Chapter 2. Why Blog?
Chapter 3. Share News
Chapter 4. Cast Vision
Chapter 5. Reach Out
Chapter 6. Connect your Staff
Chapter 7. Learn from Others
Chapter 8. Spread the Word
Chapter 9. Get Started
Chapter 10. Build a Better Blog
Chapter 11. Build a Really Bad Blog
Chapter 12. Feed your Head: RSS
Chapter 13. Podcasting
Chapter 14. Warning Labels
Chapter 15. Built to Last
Chapter 16. The One Thing

Interspersed between these chapters are "Five Questions With..." blogging pastors and ministry websites: Mark Driscoll, Perry Noble, Craig Groeschel, Church Marketing Sucks, Tony Morgan, Greg Surratt, Mark Batterson. These questions focus on how and why they got started and what impact blogging has had on their ministry.

Overall the book is an excellent mix of why and how. Tips and discussion topics I found most interesting include: Don't bury the good stuff; Who is the blog for; the ten steps to a bad blog; pros and cons of comments; what problem are you trying to solve; what is the return on ministry; share the why behind the what; and, should my church become a blogging church. The final chapter gives some sage advice from several prominent bloggers including Guy Kawasaki, Dave Winer, Kathy Sierra, Robert Scoble and many others.

The authors have covered a lot of material in 199 pages, and no doubt had to work hard to keep the book focused and brief. As one who likes tons of detail and discussion, I would have loved to see more info on the use of blogs for team and/or individual ministries within the church, as well as discussion about the relationship between blogging and other technology tools for building community and improving communication (e.g. portals, forums, social groups, wikis, video, streaming, and online collaboration tools such as those developed by 37signals). Then again, all this material would be enough for another whole volume.

If you're trying to figure out whether your church should get involved with blogging, or how to get started in a way that will maximize impact on ministry, "The Blogging Church" by Brian Bailey with Terry Storch is a must-read.

Larry Baxter - Deacon and IT Ministry Leader, Calvary Baptist Church, West Lafayette, IN.
(and thanks to this book and encouragement from friends, a new blogger)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Helpful Blogs for Christian Leaders

Now that you know what blogs are and how to subscribe to one in an RSS reader, it's time to present some blogs for your consideration. The following are some of the most interesting and/or useful blogs I've been following over the past year. They're in no particular order, and to some degree reflect my own interests and background. (There aren't any 'offical' denomination or organization blogs in this list.) All of them are worth checking out, and I've added a new section to this blog called a 'blogroll' - basically a list of other blogs that an author has found useful or wants his readers to know about. I'll give just a few brief comments on each as to why I've found it useful. If anyone has some more thoughts for blogs to add or ones you think I should check out, please repond with a comment!

* Evotional - Mark Batterson

Mark is the Lead Pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC ( NCC meets in a movie theater and has an excellent public coffeehouse. Mark also wrote the excellent book, "In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day."

* Leading Smart by Tim Stevens and Tony Morgan Live, two strategic guys

Tony and Tim are co-authors of the practical series of "Simply Strategic" books (Growth, Volunteers, Staff). Tim is the Executive Pastor at Granger Community Church in Northern Indiana. Tony recently shifted from Granger to NewSpring Church in Anderson, SC, where he lives out his passion to provide createive solutions for communications, technology and NewSpring Ministries--the church's ministry that equips other church leaders.

* Jason Powell on Church IT and Kem Meyer on Less Clutter and Noise

Granger 'gets it' when it comes to creative church as well as use of cutting edge technology. Jason is their Technology Director and Kem is their Communications Director. Not only that, GCC has a ministry to help other churches with technology and creative ministry - Another good blog from GCC staff is Because People Matter by Mark Waltz, Pastor of Connections.

* Perry Noble is the Senior Pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, SC.

Perry writes about vision, leadership, creativity, and describes himself as 'out of his mind' (but in a good way!) Perry is definitely fired up about reaching people for Christ. He recently discussed how his church focuses on Six Things.

* Monday Morning Insight by Todd Rhoades

Todd is on the team at Leadership Network and previously was the developer of a of a website called His blog is about "Daily Innovation, Ministry Insights, and Thoughts for Pastors and Church Leaders". It's a well done website with a lot of resources for church leaders.

* Multi-site church revolution and Inner Revolution by Geoff Surratt

Geoff is the Senior Pastor at Seacoast Church in Charleston, SC and a Leadership Community Director for Leadership Network. A multi-site church is 'one church, multiple sites' and is a creative and growing form of ministry.

* Agile Ministry by James Higginbotham

James is a software architect, and volunteer ministry leader at Calvary Austin. His blog is on practical church leadership, management, volunteer recruiting, helping ministry leaders maximize their team and making church ministry more effective. I've only been following this blog for a while but we seem to have a lot in common.

For more ideas see Andy Rowell's an excellent list of 70 of the Best Blogs for Church Leaders. Andy is a Professor of Christian Educational Ministries at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. One particularly good blog he pointed out there was Gifted for Leadership - a Community of Christian Women.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Why Should a Christian Blog? (Part II)

Following up on personal reasons for blogging in my last post, here are some key reasons why Chistians should strongly consider blogging.

Blogging is a powerful and culturally relevant communication tool

Do you know who the Person of the Year was for 2006? It was you. Seriously! Time Magazine announced this special award in their Dec. 17, 2006 issue proclaiming the person of the year to be: "You (Web 2.0)", calling this "a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before."
"The new Web is a very different thing. It's a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter. Silicon Valley consultants call it Web 2.0, as if it were a new version of some old software. But it's really a revolution." reports Time.
Commenting on this award the Wall Street Journal had an article pointing out that the number of blog posts is closing in on one million per day, with another 100,000 videos uploaded per day. There are now over 50 million blogs and the number has been doubling about every six months - or a new blog every second. It's not a toy, or a nerd thing. Real people, political candidates, Fortune 500 executives, moms and dads, and your friends are blogging - sharing their story. The Wall Street Journal article also refered to the power of the user-content-generated web as "a new generation of openness, sharing, and community powered by the Web that some think may be recognized in hindsight as breaking down important cultural barriers and institutions in a very similar fashion as what happened in the 1960's."

Blogging can be used to spread the gospel

There have always been forward thinking Christians who have embraced technology for the sake of the gospel. Despite frequently being ignored or ridiculed, their efforts have made huge strides for the kingdom. In 1455 in the early days of the printing press Gutenberg published the Bible as the first book with movable type. HCJB missionaries in Equador pioneered the use of shortwave radio in 1931 to share the gospel in counties it had never been heard before. Since the 1950's the gospel has been brought to television. Every time a new technology is employed for the gospel, new people get to hear the good news for the first time, and in a way or format quite understandable to them.

Blogging can build up the body of Christ

The blogs I've read by Christian leaders have been full of encouragement, ideas, vision, teaching, and passion. They've also been a source of praise to see what God is doing across the country and across the globe with people living to glorify Him. They're an excellent tool for both teaching and exhortation.

Blogging can help foster authentic relationships

This claim is probably the hardest to understand for those not familiar with blogging or 'Web 2.0'. How can people at their keyboards really be building relationships? To be fair, it's the claim I have the hardest time understanding. This new mode of communication is all about being interactive, timely, heart-felt, and genuine. In some ways 'Step Up to the Call' is an experiment for myself to see what impact (if any?!) blogging can have on building relationships within Calvary Baptist, among fellow deacons and Christian leaders, and perhaps among other bloggers. My hope is that sharing ideas, vision, and stories can do this. (Comments and feedback from readers and friends will help alot with this!) Besides, you and I were named as Time's 'Person of the Year' last year - isn't it worthwhile to see if we deserved it?!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Why Should a Christian Blog?

Over the next few posts I want to discuss a recent statement that...
"Blogging is a powerful communication tool for spreading the gospel, fostering authentic relationships, and building up the body of Christ in a culturally relevant way."
There are many ways to share good news, and better ways to build strong relationships. Blogging seems impersonal on the surface (common on now, it's a geek at his keyboard, right?!) - so what specific reasons led me to start blogging?

My Top Reasons for Blogging

1. Stewardship - God wants us to pass on what he teaches us to others. Blogging is a great way to share this with a wider audienece. Paul exhorts us in II Tim 2:2 to pass on what we learn to other faithful people who will in turn share what they learn. It's interesting that two blogs I follow also listed stewardship as a key reason why they blog: Evotional by Mark Batterson, and Leading Smart by Tim Stevens.

2. Learning - I seem to learn best when I write things down and try to share it with others. I'm blogging not out of a sense of being an expert but as one who wants to grow in effectiveness and devotion serving the Lord. Writing and sharing really help me to learn myself.

3. Relationships - Most people would call blogging a lonely exercise of geeks, but I think it's a way for others to understand who I am, and for me to meet and encourage other people. I'm hoping that blogging about helping regular people serve an awesome God that I will get to know other Christians who share this passion.

4. Discipline - Spiritual discipline doesn't come easy. The prayer and seeking in God's word needed to do this will be a blessing. Yes, it will take time for me to do this, but I'm praying that the extra time needed for this ministry will crowd out lesser activities that don't honor God.

5. Worship - I'm expecting God to do a great and wonderful thing with His church and His people. Writing down personal thoughts in a public venue will help me remember and worship that it was all about Him.

One last reason that is a distinctly longer term wish - that my children and family may have a legacy of this spiritual journey - not a history of what I did but a diary of my heart and passion for serving God.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

How to Not Drown while Surfing the Net

Most folks who surf the net for a while find many interesting sites that they bookmark and return to frequently to see if there's any new information. At some point the time it takes to do this requires you to give up eating, productive work, or bathing?! Wouldn't it be nice if you had a way to immediately see what was new, on all the sites you're interested in, in one screen? This is not only possible, it's easy!

RSS - Really Simple Syndication - is a popular feature of web sites and blogs that readers can use to easily find out when new material is available. How can you use this to follow this blog or other sites that use RSS? Here are some options:

1. If you already use an RSS reader, add this as a new feed:

2. If you don't have an RSS reader yet, click on the orange icon and
Subscribe by RSS. This will take you to the feedburner page where you can choose from a variety of web based newsreaders. I would recommend Bloglines. If you're a big fan of Yahoo, the MyYahoo option is very good. Likewise if you already have a Google account or use gmail, Google Reader is excellent (that way you don't need to sign up for any new accounts). Or... the most recent versions of Firefox, Internet Explorer and Vista let you use RSS feeds (aka Live Bookmarks) directly.

3. Just want to get new posts via email? No problem! Click here to subscribe via email - this will take you to a form where you enter your email address. You'll get a confirmation email - so be sure to click on the link that it sends you in the email to activate the email subscription. Unsubscribing is extremely easy, so go ahead and give it a try!

I'll give you some of my favorite blogs for Christian leaders soon so you'll have other feeds to read with RSS. (Or get a head start now with Leading Smart by Pastor Tim Stevens which reminded me recently that it would be a good idea on this blog to let people know how to subscribe.) For more detailed info on RSS and options to make use of it, see Getting Started with RSS by Paul Stamatiou.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Stepping Up to the Call

"What's a blog?" "It's some nerd thing."

So begins the conversation that pushed me over the threshold into the world of blogging. The question was asked by a new member browsing through our cafe library on seeing a book entitled "The Blogging Church" (by Brian Bailey with Terry Storch). The less than enthusiastic response came from our newest pastor. I chimed in with...
"Actually, a blog is a powerful communication tool for spreading the gospel, fostering authentic relationships, and building up the body of Christ in a culturally relevant way."
She turned back to the worship pastor with a surprised look and said "Wow! I like his answer better!"

I had been thinking about blogging for over a year but have held off, fearing it was too much of a toy that would chew up what little free time I have. Several things have changed my mind - reading several outstanding and encouraging blogs by pastors, the discovery of RSS (more on that later), and a new emphasis for our Deacons this year - to invest ourselves in relationships that encourage other leaders and to influence them to be bolder and more effective in ministry. I was the one who ordered that book, in (vain?) hope that one or more pastors might start blogging about our church's story. This cafe conversation drove home something very basic - people cannot follow where no one is willing to lead. If I didn't believe blogging was an effective tool for ministry and invest the time to do it, how could I expect spirit-led but techonology-challenged friends to do this?

In the 24 hour gap between creating the blog and making this first post, my life has become filled with chaos, stress, sickness, and a hand so sore I can't type. Add to that a dreadful sense of unworthiness and hypocrisy: who am I to pretend to have anything worthwhile to say? Regardless, I'm trusting not in myself but in God; so in obedience today I face a giant called 'doubt' with but a sling, and let fly a single stone.

The purpose of this blog, the goal of our deacons this year, and my own prayer for readers is this - that I, my brothers and sisters, would prayerfully consider how God has uniquely shaped us to serve in His kingdom and take some concrete steps to encourage and/or equip other potential leaders to step up to the call given to them in Christ. 'Stepping Up' is a call to build intentional relationships that will result in life transformation and glory to God.