Cyber-Savvy Pastors Blog When the Spirit Moves Them

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By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 9, 2006

Pastor Ben Arment spends several hours each week carefully preparing his Sunday sermon for the 100 members of History Church in Oak Hill. In contrast, he takes just minutes to jot down a few thoughts on faith for his blog; within 24 hours, his message has reached about 300 people.

Like History Church services themselves, Arment's blog, "History in the Making," takes an unorthodox approach to religion that his mostly young readers find appealing. The blog entries cover a variety of topics, including his reflections about Christians' responsibility in the world, dispatches about clergy conferences and quirky stories about his toddler son's broken arm.

Then there's the series of postings comparing a church program to the popular X-Men comic book superheroes. People have "unique supernatural abilities" like those of the action heroes that they must use to serve God, he writes.

In the four years since Arment started the site, blogging has become as much an instrument of his faith as the pulpit.

"As a pastor, I shouldn't be just leading a church but connecting with people using the same formats they use every day," Arment said. Blogging is "a forum that's successful because it corresponds with how younger generations think."

Reaching out to younger generations has long been one of the major challenges for ministers, but hundreds think they have found an answer in blogging. A growing number are taking the Gospel to the Web hoping to get people thinking daily about faith. Many pastors say blogging has become an increasingly integral part of their ministry as they attempt to reverse the decline in church attendance by people in their twenties and thirties.

Few ministers in the United States have used blogs as successfully as Mark Batterson, the lead pastor of National Community Church in the District. Batterson estimates he spends 20 percent of his workday updating his blog, "Evotional." He recently hired a "digital pastor" whom he met through the blogosphere to maintain the church's Web ventures.

"I used to think that the blog supplemented my weekend message," said Batterson, who draws upward of 25,000 visitors a month to http://www.evotional.com . "Now I wonder if it isn't the other way around. It's hard for me to imagine why a church that has younger members wouldn't have a blog component."

About 75,000 new blogs are created every day by people from all walks of life, so it should come as no surprise that some bloggers are ministers. But many religious leaders say the idea of a pastor willing to share so much about his daily life reflects a shift in the relationship people expect to have with their religious leaders.

"Increasingly, people want to have a personal connection with their church and their pastor," said Brian Bailey, who co-wrote an upcoming book, "The Blogging Church," about how churches can use the medium to reach out to members. Blogs provide a unique opportunity for people to feel more invested in their church, even if the pastor doesn't have time for a face-to-face meeting, he said.

"It's no longer enough for a lot of people to get the church's mailing, read the Web site, and sit in the pew for an hour on Sunday," he said. "They might know there was a mission trip last week, but with a blog, they can read about the day-to-day details, see pictures and feel like they're part of something."

Bailey said younger churchgoers are especially likely to want a more active connection with their pastors, and they are attracted to humorous stories or photos. A popular new feature on Batterson's blog describes a "stupid mistake" he made that day. The series started with a story about what happened when he tried to empty his coffee cup while whipping along Interstate 295.


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