If you are reading this post, I’m assuming you are one of the people who subscribes to my RSS feed, a loyal reader. As I am in the process of resurrecting the blog, I’m curious:
Why do you read my blog?
(After the last six months of non-blogging, it might be more appropriate to ask, “Why did you read my blog?”)
This whole process of getting back into blogging has not been something I have done spontaneously; I’ve thought about it quite a bit. As I’m trying to be thoughtful about launching back into the blog world I’m curious about what draws my readers back for more.
Basically, I’m trying to narrow down what is most beneficial to the people who read my blog and then focus on that.
So, what is it for you? What keeps drawing you back? Or, what would you like to see more of?
(If you don’t want to drop a comment to answer, email me.)
I’m working on moving my blog to a new host. Regularly scheduled programming may be interrupted until the process is over (which I think will be 24ish hours). Then on to blogging again.
Most animals go into hibernation during the winter, but I guess I am a different breed, blog-wise at least. The cold weather and dead grass keeps outdoor activities to a minimum, and the new year brings fresh perspective. So I think it is time to awaken (resurrect?) the blog for a season.
More to come later.
I realized there are a lot of good posts that have been buried for years, so every month I’m going to try to link to some of my person favorite posts written each month since 2005. Here’s the best from August:
- Transforming Churches into Mission Centers: Rethinking Ordination, 2009. “If we are going to be a church free to move swiftly with the movement of the Spirit, a church that takes seriously the priesthood of all believers, a church rooted in local community, a church that believes that all are called by God and equipped for ministry, then the current structural handcuffs that go along with ordination, seminary, the call process, the sacraments, and the host of other issues related to ecclesiology must be removed.”
- Emerging Church: Bridging the Academy & Church? 2007. “Is the emerging church the manifestation of the academy and the church coming together? Are the ivory towers finally being brought into our sanctuaries? It seems to me to be so. If it turns out to be true, I think there would be some pretty massive implications.”
- We’re all Heretics, 2007. “To me, orthodoxy is an eschatological reality towards which we are all striving. In the end, we will finally be ‘orthodox’ and believe as we should. Until then, we are all just heretics.”
…so I can maintain or improve on my #18 ranking on Youth Specialties’ list of the Top 20 Youth Ministry Blogs of 2010.
I definitely didn’t see that one coming.
Alright, so my digital slumber (hibernation is more like it) has finally come to a close. A few people have noticed that I haven’t blogged, tweeted, facebooked, et cetera, in the past few weeks (months). And the reason? Well, there isn’t really a good one. During October I just didn’t feel like writing, so I didn’t.
Sometimes you just need to take a break from things. Back in April this year I set a goal to write a blog post every single day and see what happened. It was a good exercise at first as I disciplined myself to write every single day. That carried on pretty much through June. But I don’t think I’ve found a good balance between discipline and freedom, so I keep swinging between the two poles of writing frequently or not at all. Maybe one day I’ll figure out where I need to be.
Anyways, look for some more posts to come in the near future.
Yup, today is it. It’s hard to believe that I have been blogging for five years (although with varied degrees of commitment). For those who think that they will start blogging in order to become famous, I say: Ha! Blogging is a lesson in perseverance, my friend.
For those who are wondering how this thing has progressed over time, here’s the breakdown:
- 2004 – I started reading various blogs. I think the first blog I ever read was Tony Jones’ original blogspot blog, whose book I was reading for a youth ministry class. That I could read the original, timely thoughts of a real-life author was pretty cool to me. I was enamored with the blogging style: anyone anywhere could publish any thoughts to anyone in the world with no filter or hoops to jump through. I had to try this.
- October 14, 2004 – In my townhouse at John Brown University one evening, I started a blogspot account and began posting. Looking back, my posts were totally random and sporadic. I only made 47 posts between October 2004 and September 2006.
- September 19, 2006 – I migrated from blogspot to wordpress.org since WordPress had some widget features that blogspot hadn’t developed quite yet. I was much more disciplined and posted around 100 posts while on that site, including many of my personal favorites. That was when I wrote my Neo-Youth Ministry Series.
- November 28, 2007 – I switch from wordpress.org to a self-hosted wordpress website, MattCleaver.com, allowing me to do anything I want with this website. This is when I got really “serious” about blogging. I have made around 240 posts on MattCleaver.com. Not only that, but I have learned tons about wordpress and web publishing, and have even made a little (emphasis on “little”) money helping other people set up and tweak their own websites. I’m not an expert on WordPress, but I have learned quite a bit over the last two years.
When I started blogging, I had all these visions of grandeur that people would come and read my thoughts and be mesmerized by my theological insights. Well, I learned that sometimes the stuff that people want to read isn’t always what you think is the most important. Check out the top-10 posts of all time (since I started tracking with Google Analytics in November 2007):
- How I Built a Church Website for Free: Picking a WordPress Theme
- The Ultimate Ubiquitous Capture Device?
- How I Built a Church Website for Free: Introduction
- How I Built a Church Website for Free: WordPress Plugins
- 13 Reasons Why (Traditional) Seminaries are Irrelevant (For Church Leaders): Part 1
- Locution, Illocution, Perlocution, and Developmental Psychology: Age-Appropriate Cultural Texts
- 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly: Thoughts from One in the Minority
- Brian McLaren is a Heretic
- Review: Francis Chan’s Crazy Love DVD
- Podcast Episode 0: Church Marketing
Over the years, I’ve learned that the posts people read the most are the ones that rank well in search engines in a particular niche (hence I have 3 of my top 10 posts having to do with building a free church website with WordPress), that get linked to from bigger websites (Ubiquitous Capture Device and Podcast Episode 0 got linked to from much more popular sites), or are posts that are written to strike while the iron is hot (ELCA Churchwide Assembly). The posts that I think are most important often don’t make huge spikes in traffic.
And therein lies the frustration for many who blog. I have seen quite a few youth ministry bloggers come and go in my five years, and I have thought about quitting every now and then. Fortunately, ever since the beginning I have told myself “This blog is for me as much as anyone else.” I enjoy writing and haven’t taken the time to get really serious about publishing my thoughts in traditional forms of media, and blogging allows me to keep writing on a fairly regular basis.
To those who have stuck around for a few years and keep coming back, thank you. Your comments have (hopefully) made me a better writer, minister, and theologian. I hope to continue fruitful conversation here for the foreseeable future.
And for those who don’t keep coming back, please subscribe to my RSS Feed.
In April I made a commitment to try to post at least once a day, and since then I’ve seen great increases in quality on my blog in all sorts of areas: my writing, creativity, people’s comments and interaction with my posts, and blog traffic. Although I did miss two days this month, I almost made my streak of one post per day (although I did make 33 posts, so it averages out to a little more than one per day). In case you missed it, here are some stats from the month of May on the blog.
Most popular posts this month:
Website stats compared to April:
- Unique Visitor Increase: 100%
- RSS Subscriber Increase: 28%
- Visits Increase: 90%
- Pageviews Increase: 69%
Thanks to these sites for sending me the most traffic (aside from google, twitter, and facebook):
Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the conversation recently. Some of the comments have been really great, and that’s what makes blogging so interesting and fruitful. I hope you it will continue!
And those of you who lurk (I know you’re out there, because you’ve told me), leave a comment already! I’d love to hear what you have to say.
Since I’ve started this goal of posting at least once per day since April I’ve come up with quite a few different ideas for posts and series that I think might create some good discussion. The problem is, summer is upon us. For those of us in youth ministry summer usually means one thing: unpredictability. If you are like me, when you come back from a mission trip, retreat, camp, or vacation, you automatically hit “Mark All as Read” for the 1,000 unread items in your RSS reader. That doesn’t make for the best discussion.
So, I’m thinking of scaling back the blog over the summer and not putting as much effort into summer content. I’ll keep posting quotes and links like I’ve been doing on the weekends, but maybe move that to weekdays. Maybe I’ll do more personal reflections of how ministry and life are going. I’ll probably keep going with my discussion on seminaries while that is still a fairly fresh topic.
I was thinking about scaling back the posting to just three days a week, probably Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I’m just trying to think what will be the best way to keep the momentum I’ve built going without wasting some good discussion topics while people are too busy to chime in.
What about you? Do you approach your blog differently over the summer? Do you read blogs differently over the summer?
So, I tried writing a blog post to give some suggestions to people with a youth ministry blog some things I look for. However, I took the negative approach and said what I don’t like in a blog, which ended up coming off kind of pompous and haughty. So, at the request of Laura, I’ve decided to put a positive spin on things.
This list is a combination of personal preference (which may or may not help increase your readership) and some are common sense tricks of the blogging trade (which you should probably take into consideration).
I would love to read your youth ministry blog if…
- You post at a reasonable rate – In my mind, there are two ways to get readership. No, three. The first is to be famous. Since most of us aren’t famous, that leaves us only two. The first is to get search engine traffic, which is often a quick glance at a page and then readers will never come back. You can get a lot of hits this way by making sure there is plenty of content for Google to send people to on your site, so posting multiple times a day could be a good tactic. The second is to get the same people coming back over and over again. When I am looking for youth ministry blog, I look for someone I can get to know, someone I can have a conversation with. So, I want to come back over and over again. Posting multiple times a day makes it difficult to keep up. Now, most of us don’t have a problem with posting too much. Usually we go a few days without posting, get a few good ideas, then post 2-3 times in one day. I would suggest it would be better to stretch these 2-3 posts out one per day. Use the ability to schedule posts in your blog software to spread out your posts over a few days.
- You have an easy-to-find RSS feed – The kind of people who will become regular readers of your blog will use RSS feed readers (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Click here). Having an easy-to-find link to your RSS feed is imperative. When someone comes to your site, there should be an icon and link readily visible that people can find without scrolling around. Blogspot is notoriously bad for forcing readers to hunt to find a site’s RSS feed, so make sure you put one where people can find it (drop me a comment if you are having trouble figuring things out). The vast majority of people subscribed to my feed use Google’s Feed Reader, so I added a button that will allow people to add my site to their Google Reader with one click. You can do the same by clicking here.
- You publish a full RSS feed – Most blogging software allows you the option to publish all of your RSS feed or only an introductory snippet. If you only publish a portion of your feed, the idea is that you will get more traffic to your website because people will have to click through their feed reader and go to your blog to read the post. The problem is, most of people don’t like doing that. You will get more long-term readers if you publish a full RSS feed.
- You post quality content with original thoughts – Anyone can fill a blog with links, videos, quotes, and a lot of personal reporting. People who stand out are people who can write with a fresh voice. Quality trumps quantity in the blog world, in my opinion. Notice that I didn’t say that you need to post regularly. Since I read feeds in an RSS reader, it doesn’t make any difference to me if you have a long time between posts. A few of my favorite blogs that I’ve subscribed to for years have really sporadic posting rhythms, but I know that the content will always be good when it comes across my screen. Of course, going a year without posting might not be a good idea, but put your focus on quality posts and don’t force yourself to write something just because it’s been a while.
- You have a tasteful amount of advertising (or none) – Honestly, you must have lots of traffic to make enough money worth counting on your blog (I would say well over 1,000 unique visitors a month). Trying to make enough money to cover your hosting costs by littering an otherwise beautiful website with ads is oftentimes counterproductive. I’m not saying you can’t have any ads, but use discretion. And, if you put ads in the RSS feed, please put them at the bottom of the post.
- You write well – There is a difference between having original thoughts and writing well. Good writing will make your original thinking clear and understandable. I have found there are two ways to make sure the quality of your writing stays acceptable. First, proofread your posts. Secondly, do a lot of reading, which can improve writing almost by osmosis as you are exposed to quality writers.
- You genuinely want to have a conversation – Be acceptable of opposing viewpoints, interact with commenters, and really try to understand where people are coming from. This is one of the hardest things to do, but readers will appreciate it.
So there you have it. Those are the kinds of things I look for in a youth ministry blog, and I’m sure many people have similar criteria. If you know of youth ministry blogs that meet my above criteria and aren’t in my sidebar, let me know by dropping a comment. Yes, even if it’s your own blog.