Near the end of 2018 I went through the long list of blogs I’ve subscribed to over the years and was both surprised and dismayed to see how many have gone dormant or closed down. By definition, these were blogs I enjoyed reading and that had proven beneficial to me. Obviously there will always be some measure of attrition, but there was so much this year that I know there must be some common factors at play. I am going to think about this more in the weeks to come, but today want to simply outline three different kinds of Christian blogs and list the similarities and distinctions between them.
The blog. The first one is just the blog—the blog blog if you will. This is the blog as it first sprang into popularity in the early 2000s. It’s a site run by an individual (or perhaps a couple) who has chosen to share his or her writing online. Here are a few common marks:
- It is closely tied to the identity of the individual who runs it. The site’s primary identity is its author.
- The website is often very personalized, so you expect to find a photo of the author along with a short biography. This allows the author to be identifiable and relatable, which promotes a personal connection with readers.
- It is most often written in the first-person (i.e. “I”).
- Much of the content communicates the thoughts and experiences of the author. It may be simply informational (e.g. missionaries reporting from the field) but more commonly uses those personal thoughts and experiences to communicate truth and teach lessons. Most of these blogs are “thinking out loud and in public.”
- It tends to be somewhat specialized so that its primary focus is a specific area of interest or expertise (e.g. motherhood, missions, pastoring, etc).
- The blogger has total editorial freedom. He or she can write on any topic and publish any article without first submitting it to an editor. In this way some blogs have a measured tone and display great writing quality; some blogs have an unhinged tone and reflect terrible writing quality. It depends entirely on the individual.
- The blogger may publish sporadically or according to a rigid schedule.
- It usually includes some form of advertising or affiliate program so the individual can earn at least a small income.
The group blog. The next kind is the group blog, which involves several people blogging together on one site.
- The site’s primary identity is its theme and is only loosely tied to the identities of the individuals who run it. The greater the number of writers, the less any one of them has his or her own identity.
- The website itself tends to be generic rather than personalized.
- Many of the articles may be written in the first-person, but it’s also possible they will be written in a more formal and less personal tone. There may be less of that “thinking out loud and in public.”
- It tends to be specialized around a common theme—the theme that brought the writers together in the first place (e.g. historical theology, racial diversity, discipleship, Indian women).
- The bloggers have considerable freedom to write on any topic and share any article. Some of these blogs have an editorial process, though the majority do not. Some group blogs have a measured tone and display great writing quality; some group blogs have an unhinged tone and reflect terrible writing quality. It depends on the contributors themselves.
- The contributors tend to publish articles on a daily or weekly basis according to an agreed-upon schedule.
- It usually includes some form of advertising or affiliate program so the team can earn at least a small income.
The ministry blog. The ministry blog involves an undefined and constantly-growing list of writers whose articles are published on the site of a ministry.
- The site’s primary identity is the ministry; the individual writers have no clear identity.
- The website tends to be a professional ministry site with the blog being just one part of it.
- The content is usually written in a formal tone and voice. All articles are edited for content and to conform to the ministry’s style guide.
- The topics covered tend to be as broad as the mandate of the organization; controversial topics are often explored from just one angle if at all. It often solicits experts to write about urgent or controversial topics. Less-specialized writers tend to write about less urgent topics.
- The writers have no freedom to publish their content or to write about a particular issue. Rather, there is an editor who solicits articles from trusted individuals or who permits unsolicited article submissions. The editor selects which articles will be declined and accepted.
- It tends to publish several articles per day.
- It may include some form of advertising or affiliate program so the organization can earn an income. The writers are rarely paid.
I would make the argument that, while the ministry blog is a good and helpful medium for which I’m very grateful, it’s not actually a blog. In fact, the less we see it as a blog, the more clearly we see it as what it truly is. Where the blog was basically a new paradigm, the ministry blog is actually more of an update to an older one—the magazine. What is essential to those ministry sites (the ability to solicit, accept, reject, and edit articles) contradicts an essential element of a blog (the ability to write without editorial control). Where blogging is a medium by and for amateurs, ministry blogs have a paradigm that is far more professional. Again, they have their place but, while they may displace blogs, they don’t quite replace them.
And as I think about the future of Christian blogging, this is one of my foremost concerns—that as bloggers migrate away from personal blogs to instead submit their content to ministry sites, we are giving away the ability to say what we want to say, when we want to say it, and how we want to say it. We are also diminishing the training ground in which we grow in our ability to express ourselves with greater skill. That’s not at all to impugn the motives or track records of the various ministries, but to say we will develop better writing and writers when we can write substantially and freely. The best of both worlds is that people will continue to blog and continue to submit material to these ministry sites. I hope to say more about this in the days and weeks to come.