The following is a written interview I did back in February for someone whose blog has since shut down. This interview was never published, so I got permission to post it here for you guys instead. It feels a bit weird to publish someone else’s interview of me on my own site, but his questions are common ones that I’m frequently asked. Although some of these answers are a bit inaccurate now (for example, a couple people on staff at my church know about my sites now), I figured it might still be helpful for people who are wondering about these questions and would like a “behind the scenes” glimpse of Life In Student Ministry.
1) First of all, tell our readers a little bit about the work you do online (what blogs, websites, social media accounts, youth group sites, etc., do you manage?).
- Life In Student Ministry [Blog. HQ for YM Mentorships, YM training videos, LIVE YM Talk, Freebie Fridays, etc.]
- OnlineMissionsTrip.com [HQ for Online Missions Trip]
- MinistryQuestions.com [Recent project, details below]
- MinistryWebsites.biz [Side business that will hopefully keep future projects free]
- @timschmoyer on Twitter [Twitter]
- Tim Schmoyer on Facebook [Facebook]
- YouTube [YM Training videos, my youth group news, and personal videos]
- AlexandriaYouth.com [My youth group’s site that is quickly becoming old-school.]
- …and other sites and ideas I’ve abandoned (like PlugRug.com)
2) Life In Student Ministry runs like a well-oiled machine. Where do you find inspiration for fresh content, and how far in advance do you prepare for each post?
Inspiration comes from almost anywhere: various conversations, my wife, issues in my own youth ministry, other blogs, and totally random thoughts from the Lord.
The preparation for posts really varies. Sometimes I’ll sit down with an idea, crank it out and publish it within a couple minutes. Other times I start with an idea, save it as a draft, and come back to it from time to time as I think about it. Right now I have 40 drafts started for blog post ideas, some of them dating back to 2006. So, there’s definitely not a set process of what I write and when I publish.
3) How much does the Life In Student Ministry community contribute to the content you deliver on the site?
Again, it varies. As previously mentioned, the content at Life In Student Ministry is a combination between a lot of different places. Sometimes the comments spark an issue that needs greater attention, so I’ll blog about that. Other times it’s an email from someone. Posts also are based on an ongoing need or question I see. And still other times it’s something that’s never been addressed before I think needs to be talked about. Other times it’s an old issue that has my own spin on it.
4) A search for “student ministry” on Google brings up Life In Student Ministry as the third result. What effort (if any at all) or marketing do you put into the site to attract new visitors?
A couple years ago I started reading a lot about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) online. Based on some of the advice I read, I made some changes to my site’s structure, which helped, but the ranking mainly comes from three things:
- Consistent new content over time
- Incoming links from other sites
- Blogging about roughly the same topic over and over again
I’ve also found that some of the conventional SEO wisdom out there is totally dead wrong in regards to my site. Not sure why, but some standard SEO practices actually kill my site’s Google traffic for sustained periods of time. That’s why it’s helpful to track site stats and experiment on your own a bit without swallowing whatever the “experts” say.
As far as marketing is concerned, though, I’ve never spent a dime on advertising or anything like that. Not only do I not have the money nor the interest to do that, but social networking is both better and free! I create content primarily for people, not Google. If people like it, they talk about it with others, post links on their own sites, and share it in their own way. Google has ears everywhere and picks up on that.
5) Your most recent project is MinistryQuestions.com. Can you tell us where you got the idea, and what the response has been like?
The idea for MinistryQuestions.com came from two places, actually.
I used to get a fair amount of youth ministry questions showing up in my Inbox. Instead of answering them privately, a long time ago I started a Q&A feature on my blog where I’d publicly answer some of them. However, the questions quickly began to pile up and before long no one was getting the answers they deserved. I also found that most of the time people gave better advice in the comments on my blog than I did in the post, which was great, but it made me start thinking through a better system for answering questions.
Around this same time I started the Youth Ministry Mentorship Program, which was great, but after the first round generated almost 200 applications, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see there was a huge need among youth workers — to be able to ask ministry questions and be mentored one-on-one. Since the mentorship is limited to however many mentors are on the team (currently 16 of us), I wanted to figure out a way to put the mentorship online where an open community of youth workers could encourage, mentor, and support each other.
MinistryQuestions.com is a response to both of those situations. It took months of dreaming, planning, and a huge financial investment to make it happen, but so far the Kingdom impact has been totally worth it. Many people are embracing the site and investing into each other’s ministries, which is awesome to see. I know I’ve been blessed tremendously through the people there! In the first week of its launch, it had over 30,000 hits, which was great!
The future vision for MQ is to have it extend into other areas besides youth ministry. It’s currently populated with youth ministry since that’s my primary audience, but hopefully over time it will grow to encompass worship ministry, children’s ministry, pastoral ministry, and more.
6) How do you balance time with your wife, your students, and investing in other student pastors?
I’m not really sure. Probably because I don’t have any kids of my own yet (first one due this August), but honestly, none of the areas seem to be lacking. I’m very conscious about putting my wife first, my ministry second, and my sites last as a hobby. I don’t really have much interest in watching TV, going out to movies, or other things like that, so the time most people spend on entertainment and such I spend developing content online. It feels so much rewarding than keeping up with TV shows.
It will be interesting to see how this changes in August when my first kid is born. Life In Student Ministry and other projects may slow down. Who knows.
7) On average, how much time do you spend updating, creating, and sharing content on the web each week?
Hmm… Fridays are my day off from the church, so I create most of it then and post it online throughout the rest of the week. My wife is usually at work on Fridays, so it doesn’t detract from our time together. So, maybe 10 hours a week, give or take, of course.
8 ) How supportive is your church of the things you are doing online?
Honestly, I don’t think they even know about most of the things I do online. Some of the staff have seen parts of it, but none of them know about all of it. As I already mentioned, I don’t really promote my content outside of online social networking, so I’ve never brought it up and they’ve never asked. I’d be fine if they knew, but I’ll wait for someone else to bring it up.
9) Lastly, do you have any advice, tips, or recommendations for youth pastors who have a passion for helping each other like you do?
- Just start doing it. Life In Student Ministry started as a personal blog one night in 2005 because I was bored and didn’t feel like playing video games. I threw WordPress on it and started blogging about nonsense with my mom and dad being the only readers. But as I continued to write, I tended to write about what I’m most passionate about: youth ministry. Over time it morphed into what it is today. I certainly didn’t set out to create what it is today. Others started connecting to it slowly and I realized that the Lord was giving me an opportunity to use it to serve Him.
- Do it for the long haul for the right reasons. Too many people have a great vision for something, but stop because they’re not becoming as popular as quickly as they think they should be. Or, they think that because they’re only helping 1 or 2 people that it’s not worth their time. Just like youth group, be a good steward with the 1 or 2 people God has sent your way and you’ll be blessed to serve others later.
- Be different. Seth Godin writes about this a lot and it’s absolutely true: don’t copy ideas someone else is already doing — no one talks about that. Do something unique for the kingdom. Meet a need no one else is meeting. Do something that’s extraordinary, something worth talking about and sharing with others. Build the kingdom in ways no one else is. That’s where the YM mentorship came from, MinistryQuestions.com, YM training videos, Online Missions Trip, etc.
- Start off small and invest as it grows. Don’t discount yourself because you think you need to start your ideas with a lot of big fancy equipment, an amazing website design, or a huge audience. Start simple and build from there if your idea takes off. For example, I started the weekly YM training videos with nothing more than my Macbook’s iSight webcam and iMovie. Now that iTunes downloads and views are over 1,000 per video, I’ve invested in an hi-def video camera and an good mic. Same with the LIVE YM Talks every Friday. I started those with my little gaming headset that sounded awful, but the idea took off, so I invested into a better mic and recording software. Even my website’s design a little over a year ago was hideous, but as traffic grew it was worth investing into something better.
- Have a plan for making money. I know this sounds weird, but new ideas often come with a price tag. Of course you’ll need to start cheap like I just mentioned, but as your idea grows, you’ll need to invest into a better webhost (or increased traffic will knock you offline like it did to me), better equipment, or even have to pay designers and web developers. Adsense supported most of my projects until I decided to provide all the books for the YM mentorship to the mentees for free, and more recently when MinistryQuestions.com required almost $1,000 up-front just to get it started. Since I never want to charge a penny for a single thing I do to serve the Lord online, I need to find other ways to finance ideas. For example, MinistryWebsites.biz is an attempt to generate funds to keep my projects online. Unless you have a lot of extra money lying around somewhere, I advise you also come up with a plan to keep the finances of your ideas out of your personal bank account as much as possible.
Posted on June 1, 2009