Last week I spoke at a youth worker gathering about the future of youth ministry. The main thing I was asked to address are the trends I see taking shape on a national youth ministry level and the implications they will have for youth workers in the future. (Sometime I’ll condense those notes into a couple blog posts.) I was also asked to share with the youth workers how they can spread their ideas and thoughts about youth ministry. There are a lot of youth workers who have keen insights and who’s voices are not being heard, either because they’re keeping their wisdom to themselves or because they don’t know how to effectively share it with others in a way that gains traction.
While I am in no way an expert on this, I was asked to give some advice on the matter. I guess some people consider Life In Student Ministry to be a “success story” of a “nobody” earning the ear the larger youth ministry world, even publishing a book with Youth Specialties/Zondervan and Group/Simply Youth Ministry from the growing presence of this site.
To set the context for my advice below, I certainly did not set out to start a youth ministry blog. Truthfully, I saw that my name was available as a .com domain and went ahead and registered it just because I was bored one night in June, 2005. Instead of playing video games like I normally did every evening, I followed a tutorial on how to setup WordPress and by the end of the evening I had my very first blog post published.
As the content of that first post implies, I didn’t have any other plans for the site other than to share pictures and updates in a pre-Facebook world. But as I continued to write, I started to focus on what I was most passionate about: youth ministry. At the time there were really only two other guys blogging about youth ministry, Paul Martin and Dr. Dennis Poulette, so the three of us read each other’s blogs and discussed youth ministry on them. Slowly, other youth workers started to join us and within a few years it became impossible for me to keep up with all the blogs that were talking about youth ministry, which is great!
While I have learned a few things over the years of blogging — and now blogging as a significant part of my income — most of these things I honestly just stumbled upon.
So how do your ideas spread? Coming from the perspective of a blogger:
1. You have an idea that is valuable, understandable, and unique. Each of those three qualities needs to be a part of your idea for it to spread. But here’s the thing: you don’t get to decide if it’s valuable, understandable or unique. Other people do. And often your audience has a different idea of what’s valuable, understandable and unique than you do.
2. When starting, you have to be able to condense your idea and make it short. Very few people looking at your idea will want to invest a lot of time into learning your idea if they don’t already have some reason to respect your opinion.
3. Your idea has to be easy to share with others. And I don’t just mean easy to tweet, link to, or post on Facebook. It has to be easy to communicate in a conversation, too. If someone else can’t articulate it as simply and briefly as you did, it’s too difficult for it to spread. Furthermore, people must feel like sharing your idea will somehow enhance their reputation, friendships, or audience in some way that brings more credibility back to them.
4. In the beginning, your ideas need to be free. Rarely to people fork over cash for content from people they don’t have a reason to respect. But even more importantly, there has to be as few barriers as possible to your idea’s distribution. Locking it behind a price tag before earning respect is the quickest way to kill your idea, even if it’s one of the best ideas out there. Ironically, later the reverse is true: once you’ve built a positive reputation, charging money will actually add perceived value to your content.
5. You have to be authentic and transparent. People connect with vulnerability and mistakes better than they do with experts and know-it-alls. Taking the risk to show your weaknesses and struggles builds trust, respect and credibility.
6. Consistently share good ideas and add value to the few people who are lending you their ear. Too many people only want to bother putting time into sharing their ideas if it will reach a lot of people. The problem is, the heart attitude behind that is often driven by a desire to be respected or popular more than it is to bless whatever audience the Lord has entrusted to them, no matter how large or small. Consequently, sharing solid content on a regular basis with a few people will bring them back over and over again for more. Consistency and heart attitude is the key.
7. Build a community around your content. If it’s on a blog, engage in the comments of your posts. Ask more questions of your commenters and really listen to those who share with you. Even lend your voice to other people’s communities, too. Of course, respond to email, engage with the tweets of your followers, share trivial real-life stuff about yourself in social media, etc. Remember that social media is called “social” for a reason. It’s primarily a place to engage, not just a platform to shout your ideas.
The context for each of these points is set in the blogging world, but they can each apply just as easily to other mediums, like public speaking, online video, and especially our own churches.
Posted on November 22, 2011