by Sandra Glahn, ThM, PhD Originally presented at the DTS Women’s Conference, Dallas, November 2009
English is the most-used language in the world for people with access to the Internet. That’s great news for us, because you know this language! English is the language of …
- most theological resources
And your knowledge of the language gives you the potential for incredible influence. Two billion people are learning English, including people in “closed” countries such as China. And not only do you know English. You also have some Bible training. So you have almost everything you need to have an international ministry.
English + Bible training = advantage
English + Bible training + tech = über advantage
All you need now is a little tech savvy. And I mean a little. I polled some people and asked them their reactions to using technology in ministry. Here are some of their responses:
- “How should we use technology in ministry? That’s easy. Don’t. Talk to people face to face, sit with people in a ditch, cry with people when they need a friend”
- “Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and social networking, most interaction is done electronically, and no more human interaction is necessary.”
- “It’s too easy to be misunderstood on text, in emails, in IMs.”
- “Social media is an enormous time drain—folks playing make-believe farmers, aquariums, what-movie-star-I-would-be. You don’t really need a life. It can all be virtual.”
- “Perhaps too much information isn’t good for the soul, and some silence would be good.”
- “The Word become flesh and tabernacled among us. The best message was a gift delivered in person.”
Some truth here, huh? But on the other hand, technology allows us to have a global reach. We can train from afar.
- The Theology program at bible.org
- DTS online courses
- Ebooks available via download to anyone with wifi
Here were some additional responses about ministry via tech:
- “Not all technology replaces interaction; sometimes it improves it.”
- “It’s easier, less expensive, and more globally impacting to maintain a web-based ministry than a building.”
A $4 million research project that compared older generations with thousands of 16-to-19-year-olds in twelve countries found this: “The Net Geners … do not just observe, they participate… Technology is shaping their minds in a different way. Digital immersion may be encouraging a new form of intelligence that is strengthened through collaboration with other people and machines.”
Source: They’ve Grown Up Digital: How the Next Generation is Changing Your World
And here’s some good news. Technology allows us to capitalize on content. Instead of going one to two times a week to church, today someone…
- attends a worship service
- downloads a sermon to iPod
- listens again while working out
- shares content with a friend
- reads pastor’s blog
- learns how sermon affected others
- leaves a comment
- reads pastor’s responses, which include resources for further study
- posts sermon on Facebook
- hosts another discussion
Additionally, not all tech has to be cutting edge. Check out the “pager ministry” for a cancer patient. And instead of ministering only in person, we can minister while we sleep, through media. How’s that for getting a return on the investment in “talents”? So let’s talk about the little bit of tech-savvy you need. We’ll cover the following here:
- Your web site
- Your blog
- Social networking
Your web site should…
- Look professional. I like the simplicity of Michael Hyatt’s site. You don’t have to hire an expensive designer. You can get a free template or buy an inexpensive one from a place like Allwebco.
- Have a slogan. Take a long time to think through your slogan. What do you love to do? What is your brand? Steve King is known for horror. John Grisham is known for legal thrillers. Maya Angelou is known for great poetry. What do your friends think of when they think of you? My slogan used to be “engaging the culture on issues that matter.” But it was too long and vague. Now it’s “thinking that transforms.”
- Look inviting. Include your smiling face looking at your audience.
- Match tone to content. If you write lighthearted blog posts, your background should differ from a site with resources about bioethics.
- Offer free stuff. Give readers a reason both to return and to send their friends. That means you focus more on readers than on advertising. I do sell books on my site, but readers don’t get an annoying pop-up with an opportunity to “BUY NOW” when they get to my site. They get free stuff.
- Be easy to navigate. Keep an uncluttered reading field.
- Have web-modified writing. That means you include lots of paragraph breaks. You also put titles in sans sarif and copy in sarif, for easier reading. And make it big enough to read. About 12 pt type is good.
The advantage of a web site over a blog is that you don’t have to frequently update your web site.
The word “blog” is a contraction of “web” and “log” or “weblog.” It’s a type of website that’s usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. “Blog” is also a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog. (“I blogged this morning by posting an entry on my blog.”)
- Go with professional quality. You can get free templates for your blog set-up.
- Know the two big freebies: Blogger, WordPress
- Focus: Define your purpose. Are you writing about children’s books? Gardening? Home-schooling? Counseling? Bible Study? Financial advice?
- Choose your color and design accordingly. You would not want a gray background when talking about food. But you don’t want a black background when people need to actually read your words. But if photography is your deal, a black background could make photos pop.
- Create a slogan. This can match the one on your web site. These are not that easy to come up with, so spend the time necessary. And get some help from your community.
- Use “white space.” Don’t cram every inch with ads, quotes, giveaways and busy stuff.
- Keep important info above the scrolling line. That is, don’t make readers have to scroll down when they arrive in order to make sure they’re at the right place.
- Exchange services w/ friends: “Even the editor needs an editor.” So swap services with someone who will promise to let you know when you have typos. And you will have them.
- If you have doubts about a post, sleep on it. Run it by a friend. Even if you delete it later, it’s on the web somewhere. So think before you post. Never post when drunk, cranky, venting, or outraged.
- If you can’t post several times weekly, organize a group blog. Gather nine friends and assign each person to post every other week on a weekday.
- Use a less informal tone than in an article. Blog posts are generally conversational.
- Don’t make it too long. Aim for about 350 words.
- Spend time creating good titles. Your titles will do more to drive traffic than any other factor.
- Make the text itself visually appealing by dividing it with subheads and using short paragraphs.
- Keep content full of variety. Here are some ideas:
- Photos, video
- DVD recommendations
- Book reviews
- Contests, giveaways
- Commentary on current events
- Great quotes
At the time of this talk, here are the Top Three Traffic-producers at Tapestry (bible.org women’s leadership site)
- Living Christainly in a post-modern culture
- Racial prejudice at time of Obama’s inauguration
- The environment
- Ellen and her “wife”
- Respond to comments. When people leave comments, engage in a conversation with give-and-take interaction.
- Post regularly. But not necessarily daily. A good sweet spot for many is three times per week.
- Go for variety in content.
- Leave insightful comments on other blogs. Your name will link back to your own site, and readers who like your perspective will come looking for more.
- Create a blogroll. That is, on your own blog provide readers with links to sites you like.
- Include keywords. Use three or four words to describe each post so Google can direct readers to it.
Blogging has an advantage over other forms of social networking, such as Facebook.
- Potential for wider audience
- Opportunity for international presence
- All comments public, not private
- You get out a complete thought rather than a sound-bite
- It’s free.
- It gets the word out.
- It’s here to stay.
Thomas Nelson’s director of non-fiction marketing said, “Social media is about building community. If you engage in social media with a marketing mindset, you are going to be sniffed out by the online community and do more damage than good.” (“Twitterpated: Religion Authors Dive into Social Media,” Publishers Weekly, 7/21/2009). What he said is still true. Sure, you might want to sell books using social media. But readers hate being “sold to.”
- In the last two quarters of 2008, the age 34–55 group expanded by 276%. The number of members doubles every two months.
- It’s a great place to post information about meetings, lectures, news events,—as long as it’s not too frequent or impersonal.
Option: create a fan page where “fans” can post comments, photos, events, videos [update: I rarely use my fan page in 2014. Facebook’s algorithms changed, and my readership went down to between eight and seventeen readers!]
LinkedIn: For professional networking. The place to be if you are job-seeking. You can link your blog to your LinkedIn feed, but I don’t do that with mine. Not all of my blog posts are strictly professional, and LinkedIn is more for professional networking.
Twitter is similar to a blog, with shorter posts (140 characters). You or your ministry can create a page and invite other Twitter users to “follow” you. Twitter pages are less complex than Facebook fan pages.
Twitter: Has more than 4.5 million users.
A 2009 poll conducted for The Wall Street Journal found that only 14% of the general population used Twitter. Bloggers use Twitter much more than do members of the general population.. Those who use Twitter say they do so to promote their blogs, bring interesting links to light, and to understand what people are buzzing about. Other uses include marketing businesses, interacting with companies (24%), politicians (11%), and celebrities (9%). Source: Technorati
A Boston University professor tweeted an online course on the world’s religions in 140 characters or less: Taoism: “Confucius sucks. Ritual=empty. True Way = wu-wei, natural as flowing water. Be free, be qi, live 4 now 4 ever. Ahh!” His tweets relate directly to his 2007 book.
Christian author Scot McKnight: “I gained friends and I lost friends because it’s annoying for your Twitter feeds to have a hundred tweets by me in an hour.”
“Twitter’s most foundation-shattering contribution to date may turn out to be in the area of events and conferences.” For use with conferences:
- Remind people the event starts tomorrow—and then in three hours
- Receive feedback during the actual event
- Allow people to post questions during the event that can be answered before it’s over
Do You Use Twitter? Why or Why Not?
I polled some folks, and here’s what I learned:
- No. I kept getting requests from businesses.
- I do. I love the challenge of saying what I need to in 140 characters. I also really love that you can search other people’s tweets.
- I do not. Don’t know why.
- I already have access to a number of excellent ways to connect with the rest of humanity, FB alone is more than I need, why should I increase my exposure to the gimmick business? Happy now without the tweet.
- It’s enough for me to keep up with FB and still have a full life
- I am also twitter-free. Seems superfluous.
- How much can we really fill our minds with? Not to sound old or paranoid, but shouldn’t we proceed with caution on all this technology? The more we connect “virtually” the less we may find ourselves connecting “in reality.” (ooooh, scary sci-fi stuff)
- We now have a full generation that believes that all reality is delivered via electronic media and that everything else is superfluous. MTV, anyone?
- Erin (age 17): “I think it’s stupid.”
- The youngsters among us say Twitter is “for old people. ”
- I don’t need another distraction.
- It seems to be more for talking at people rather than talking with people. Facebook is better for talking with and I love being able to share pictures in the FB format.
- I do not Tweet because FB, texting, email and the cell phone seem to be all I need.
- I blog and I Facebook (see how all this technology has us verbing our nouns), but I see no need for Twittification.
“Facebook and Twitter are marvelous new tools, but they have not replaced the blog, which is still the best place for content of any length.” Other forms of social media such as Pinterest and Instagram are worth considering. Ask yourself what you hope to accomplish through social media, and choose the vehicles that work best to accomplish your goals. You can’t pursue every single option. Streamline.
So, how do you increase your ’net worth?
- Make wise choices
- Remember it’s better to give than to receive
- Think worldwide.
- For ministry, make www content a priority.
- Group blogs: Embrace diversity. Think internationally, interracially, and cross-genderly (yeah, I made up that word).
- Whatever you do, do it well.
© Dr. Sandra Glahn, 2009. You may reproduce these notes as long as you give appropriate credit, copy them in their entirety, and do not profit by using them.