How to blog successfully: framework and tips for church leaders
By Michelle McDonald, Editor of anglican focus, Parishes and Other Mission Agencies Commission
I remember when I was a secondary student restlessly approaching my dad in the backyard of our Canberra home. As he dug a garden bed, I resolutely informed him that I wanted to be a biologist – not because I was particularly drawn to science, but because my English teacher was instructing my class in essay writing and I was really struggling. I thought I’d never get the hang of crafting text in such a focused and structured way, so I figured a career in a lab was where I’d end up. “It just takes practice,” is all he said in response to my lengthy ramble, and he was right. In the 35 years since, I have remembered his advice when learning other forms of uniquely structured writing, including for news stories, reports, manuals, book reviews, advocacy communications, theological reflections, speeches and blogging.
The benefits of church blogging
In a parish context, blogging requires structure, thought and crafting just as sermons, public addresses and theological reflections do. Effective and engaging blogging for a church audience is a form of ministry, serving to deepen parishioners’ faith and helping to grow a faith community.
Regular blogging also benefits churches by:
- Giving potential parishioners a feel for your style of ministry/leadership and what your community is like.
- Offering other writers in your faith community the opportunity to share their thoughts, knowledge and skills in a comprehensive and accessible way.
- Creating an online forum for discussion if you have “comment” functionality enabled on your blog or permit comments on social media blog posts and have the time/resources to moderate comments (however, be aware of potential defamation implications of others’ comments, including on social media pages).
- Helping to keep community members connected between in-person activities.
- Resourcing families and small groups.
- Encouraging engagement in advocacy and justice spaces or with the needs of the wider community.
- Generating stronger community and media profiles.
- Improving search engine optimisation, or SEO, which is all about making it easy for search engines to find your website (search engines, such as Google, rank sites higher in search results when they have fresh, relevant content).
What is a “blog”?
A “blog”, or “web log”, is an online platform for an individual writer or a group of writers to express a view about or discuss a specific topic. A blog post is an entry (or article) that is written on a blog, and includes text and a feature image at a minimum.
Church/ministry blogging may be described as a unique hybrid of personal blogging (as opinions may be expressed and ideas explored), professional blogging (which seeks to generate leads, such as event registrations and e-newsletter sign-ups) and niche blogging (which focuses on specific topics).
Blog posts can be incorporated into an existing parish website and/or posted on the parish Facebook page.
How to blog
The following is a suggested blogging framework for church workers, with tips also provided.
1. Choose a compelling and relevant blog topic, asking yourself:
- What questions, matters, concerns or needs are arising in discussions among my congregations, ministry members and peers?
- What will resource, encourage, nourish, challenge or inspire my audience?
- What have I been working on the most lately (ensuring that this ties in with something of value for your reader audience)?
- Do I have a key event or initiative that I want to promote (you could consider writing a blog on a specific ministry theme tied to that event or initiative and then insert a brief two-sentence invitation at the end with basic details and a registration link).
It can be tempting to cover multiple topics in a single blog post. However, it’s best to stick to one very specific key topic, such as “How to run Advent and Christmas prayer spaces” or “Tips when talking to people with Asperger’s Syndrome”.
If covering multiple topics is your tendency, then try framing your key topic (and headline/title) as a question to help keep you focused, such as “How do you ‘frame’ your weekly day off from ministry?”
2. Craft your blog’s headline/title
Some bloggers write their headline/title first, others write it last, and others draft it first and then revise it after writing commences or finishes. Do what works best for your crafting process and content.
Regardless of your approach here, ensure that you:
- Prioritise concise and clear (to maximise both SEO and clarity for the reader) over catchy and clever, although if you can achieve all four, go for it.
- Choose a headline that reflects what you write about.
- Answer any question posed in your headline within your post’s body text.
- Use numbers if possible, such as “3 steps to…” or “Ministry blogging: 10 top tips to effective engagement”.
- Aim for approximately 45 to 70 characters.
3. Consider using sub-headings for long blog posts
It’s a good idea to use relevant sub-headings throughout the text if the post is lengthy (i.e. more than 1,000 words in length).
To enhance SEO, use keywords in your sub-headings.
“Tagging” your sub-headings is a very easy and effective way to improve SEO. In many platforms this can be done by highlighting the sub-heading text, moving your mouse cursor to the ‘Paragraph’ drop-down menu in the tool bar and selecting the appropriate heading size.
This screenshot shows how to tag a subheading:
4. Consider your blog’s body text framework and reader value
While studying “News Writing 101” at university, I learnt about Canadian communications philosopher Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980). He is famous for predicting the Internet nearly three decades before it was invented and for his oft quoted phrase, “the medium is the message”. The key idea behind “the medium is the message” is that the medium through which content is communicated and hosted impacts the way it’s received because it’s the:
“…medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.”
We observe this, for example, in the way we consume news so differently across print and digital (online) formats. Recalling McLuhan’s famous phrase when crafting text for different kinds of writing and formats therefore hones my focus. As with all writing, blogging should be undertaken with both the medium and target audience in mind at all times.
In your first paragraph (2-5 sentences), use an engaging, creative and concrete lead to engage your readers, such as by one of these options:
- Telling a relevant anecdote/story (e.g. a personal anecdote or another person’s story).
- Asking a question and then unpacking this with a relevant hypothetical anecdote.
- “Painting a hypothetical picture” or “setting a scene” that connects with your main thesis/idea.
In your second paragraph (2 sentences), it’s important to communicate what the reader will learn, so ask yourself these two questions:
- What is this blog post about?
- Why should people care enough to read it?
Then use your answers to these two questions to write a two-sentence maximum “nut graph”, which is a journalistic abbreviation of “nutshell paragraph”, also known as the “kernel” or the “so-what?” paragraph. The nut graph is critical because it communicates value to the reader and helps the writer stay on track.
For example, the “nut graph” for this post is:
“In a parish context, blogging requires structure, thought and crafting just as sermons, public addresses and theological reflections do [this answers the first question, ‘What is this blog post about?’]. Effective and engaging blogging for a church audience is a form of ministry, serving to deepen parishioners’ faith and helping to grow a community [this answers the second question, ‘Why should people care enough to read it?’].”
In the body text, depending on the kind of content you are writing, consider including:
- Exploration and discussion of the problem/thesis/idea (e.g. based on what you have witnessed/observed, what you have learnt in conversation, what you have studied, and so on).
- Brief quotes from experts or other supporting text to support/illustrate your thesis/idea, such as from scripture, biographical content, journals, ministry books, song lyrics, poetry and prose (while providing hyperlinks to the source because search engines favour blog posts with links).
- Additional complementary anecdotes/stories.
- Carefully and sparsely selected statistics (while providing hyperlinks to the online statistic source to enhance SEO).
- Bulleted or numbered lists to help break up what would otherwise be large paragraphs of text (to make screen reading on digital devices much easier).
- A recommendation or suggestions.
If drafting a blog outline before you commence writing assists with structuring your blog, then try doing this – even if just initially until you get into the swing of things. An outline may consist of the headline/title and the key points you wish to make – these key points may form your individual paragraphs or separate sections under sub-headings.
To enhance SEO, write 600- to 2,500-word blog posts depending on the kind of content. And, ensure that you include strategic keywords in the body text, incorporating these in a natural way.
Remember that good content has purpose for the reader and needs to be crafted, so avoid a stream-of-consciousness approach. While it’s good to aim for at least 600 words (approximately 30-40 sentences in 15-20 short paragraphs), 400 words of quality well-structured content is better than 600 words of waffle.
5. Bring your blog post all together with a strong conclusion, for example by:
- Summarising the main thesis/idea of your post in one sentence.
- Then returning to the anecdote, story, picture or scene you started with in the next sentence.
- Then stating how your recommendation/suggestions will assist the reader in the next sentence.
- Then inserting a call to action, if appropriate (such as, “Want to learn more about this topic, then…?” or “I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please come along to…”).
6. Before hitting “publish” on your blog post, ensure that you:
- Proofread the text.
- Insert a relevant image, preferably featuring a “real” person/s (for copyright and privacy reasons, use an original image of “real” people ensuring that you have their consent or pay for a stock image or source an image from a licence-free site, such as Unsplash, StockSnap, or Pexels).
- Increase the chances of people finding your post (if your platform has the functionality) by:
- Ticking the relevant “Category” fields.
- Adding tags or selecting from existing blog tags (“tags” are labels that are relevant to your content – they appear at the end of posts and help improve SEO and link posts with the same tags on the blog).
- Add a meta-description to improve SEO.
- Use the ‘‘Preview” function (if available) to see what the post will look like.
7. Share your blog entry by:
- Using the blog’s social media sharing options (look for the social media icons at the bottom of the published blog entry page).
- Copying and pasting the blog URL (link) to share on social media or in emails and e-newsletters.
This screenshot shows where the social media sharing options and tags may appear:
Different kinds of writing and formats require tailored approaches, such as specific frameworks with the audience kept in mind, so a message is communicated succinctly and effectively. As my dad said to me in the garden all those years ago, practice is key – we always have to start somewhere and the more we understand a given medium and utilise a given framework, the better our writing gets. In church/ministry blogging, taking a structured approach, while being mindful of the audience and search engine optimisation, will help bloggers to meaningfully engage current and prospective parishioners.
I am always looking out for interesting blog posts written by our Diocese’s clergy and lay people for republication in anglican focus, so please email me at [email protected] if you have a blog post that you’d like to pitch to me for sharing with our news site’s readers. Happy blogging!