Walk into almost any church, and the hierarchy is visually clear: up front on a stage, pulpit or podium stands the person ready to impart wisdom. Sitting quietly in rows are the worshipers, hoping for a good sermon. Why does this arrangement sound familiar? It’s exactly the structure used to describe “old media” like newspapers: know-it-all reporters deciding what’s important for the audience to consume.

Just as bloggers are busy busting that hierarchy to bits — claiming that news and information is all about having a conversation rather than being lectured to — so some Christians see that same potential in blogs: to break down church hierarchies and draw a wider audience into an authentic conversation.

In the Jan., 2007, book from Jossey-Bass, The Blogging Church: Sharing the Story of Your Book Through Blogs, Brian Bailey, writing with Terry Storch, shares his “unabashed enthusiasm” for church blogging. He writes that blogs are:

An incredible opportunity to share the story of the church with a new generation. … Too often, the church is seen as an exclusive club for the already convinced instead of a hospital for sinners. Through blogging, you can connect with your members in an honest, relevant way. You can engage the curious, the lost, and the tire kickers.

The book provides much of the nuts-and-bolts how-tos offered in other general-audience blogging books, such as Bob Walsh’s Clear Blogging, but the authors constantly set the more technical information against a church background. For example, on the question of having more than one church blog, they write, “There is always a need for church-wide communication, but you eventually reach the point where people in the singles ministry might be uninterested in this summer’s junior high beach retreat.”

Perhaps the most humorous and original chapter is entitled “Build a Really Bad Blog,” which has ten quick ways to torpedo your own efforts. Some examples of church blogging deadly sins:

  • Start your blog without getting buy-in from church leaders;
  • Force staff members to start blogging,
  • Or, worst of all, have someone else write a post and sign the pastor’s name (think Katie Couric’s library card.)

To find out how church blogging actually works on the ground, ReligionWriter emailed church-planter Ben Arment, pastor of Reston Community Church in Reston, Va., whom Bailey and Storch praised as an innovative church blogger. Arment responded to these questions by email.

ReligionWriter: How much time does blogging add to your ministry work load?

Ben Arment: I try to be very disciplined about the time I spend blogging. I think of post subjects throughout the day, jot them down, and then publish them on the following morning. It takes me just 30 minutes a day max to write them, so not long at all. I do spend another 30 minutes each day skimming through my blog roll.

RW: Are there any specific initiatives or projects that have evolved directly out of your blog (e.g. a church member makes a suggestion, and it snowballs…)

Arment: Our church recently moved to a new location, which required raising capital for new equipment and promotional expenses. I launched “the One Hundred” project on my blog, where we asked for 100 people to contribute $250 each. We raised $28,000 in just six weeks, and many of the contributions came from my blog readers.

RW: It’s often said that blogs are a “conversation.” Do you find that to be true? In your case, does it lead directly to interacting more with your church members?

Arment: Not for me. I think our congregation enjoys reading my blog to find out what’s going on in my life. It makes me more accessible as a pastor in that way. But I post much too often to stay on the same subject for very long. The comments and feedback I receive are wonderful however.

RW: For you, has writing a blog also meant “joining the blogosphere” — that is, reading and commenting on other people’s blogs?

Arment: My blogosphere is the community of church planters across the country that I have befriended through blogging. So yes, I comment and read other church planters’ blogs on a regular basis. When I attend ministry conferences, they are a lot like “blogger reunions” because I know many of the attendees from the blog world.

RW: What’s the biggest headache you have with your blog? And what’s the thing you’re most proud of?

Arment: Occasionally, people will take their frustrations out on me in the comments section. I’ve been criticized in this public forum, which is not much fun. =) I am most proud of seeing the impact of my ideas ripple through the church community. I see other pastors using my sermon series and outreach ideas at their own churches, which is really rewarding for me.

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The Dallas-based Leadership Network - the closest thing the evangelical world has to a church think-tank — released in February a glossy publication covering the newest and best ways to “do church.” The 63-page Innovation 2007 starts off with a provocative sampling of relevant statistics. Did you know the average American spends only seven minutes a day on religious practice? Or that the largest 10% of congregations contain 50% of all American church-goers? And that 37 million Americans live in poverty?

Changing social, religious and demographic realities make innovation “inevitable,” writes Warren Bird, executive editor and primary writer of Innovation 2007, in an email to ReligionWriter. “Language changes, technology arrives. Since culture is constantly shifting, so our way of bringing the same, unchanging Good News may change.”

If you haven’t heard these buzz words before — multi-site, externally focused, encore generation - Innovation 2007 offers journalists, church leaders and interested observers a chance to bone up on church trends. A quick sampling of successful innovations:

  • Using video cast sermons and other Sunday-morning content to create a “multi-site” church with multiple locations.
  • Preaching regularly on helping those beyond the church walls.
  • Creating house churches where believers gather for an intimate worship and discipleship experience.
  • Making church a place where people can admit and overcome substance abuse and other addiction issues.
  • Ministering to the needs of the “sandwich generation,” which cares for children and elderly parents at the same time.
  • Modeling financial generosity at the leadership level.
  • Helping people navigate complex health care services.
  • Pinpointing underutilized talent in a congregation and encouraging “ministry entrepreneurship.”
  • Viewing university outreach as a strategic investment, not simply an obligation.

But how to distinguish between genuine innovations and “what’s cool?”

“Innovative practices are changes that produce results - results that support values represented by the

Kingdom of

- and work across multiple geographies and denominations,”writes Bird in his email. “By contrast, ‘what’s cool” is fun alone and may not have any significant impact.”

Though the Leadership Network is focused exclusively on Christian congregations, Innovation 2007′s insights could potentially be applied in any faith community. Indeed, non-evangelicals may wish their faith communities had their own Leadership Network, where best practices are research, distilled and disseminated.

(Warren Bird says church innovation is “inevitable.” Photo courtesy of WarrenBird.com)

NOTE: Innovation 2007 is available for purchase


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