Today, we buried www.zonegathering.com
- the online community for small group leaders at National Community Church. We started the blog about 4 years ago, and our goals were as follows:
- Provide information on upcoming events at NCC
- Provide ongoing leadership development and personal spiritual growth tools to leaders
- Provide a forum for idea sharing amongst leaders
- Provide a platform for celebrating what God is doing in small groups
There were times when the blog worked well and, in general, served these purposes. And there were seasons where it was less successful and saw more google search stumblers than intentional visits by NCC small group leaders. The blog inspired several other churches to launch their own small group blogs and even won some sort of blog innovation award. Lots of other small group pastors thought it was super cool to which I was forced to respond "Yeah, now if only our leaders would read it." (I think sometimes those of us who are paid to do this stuff get way more excited about our ideas than the people they are intended to serve-- I'll save that rant for later).
Here is my honest assessment of its value in each of those four goal areas for the benefit of anyone who might be considering staring a blog for their leadership.Information Sharing
Zonegathering.com was okay
for information sharing...but only if leaders checked it or subscribed to the feed. Which meant we usually had to send follow-up emails to make sure everyone had the news. There were a couple of occasions- Convoy of Hope Hurricane Updates, Floods in Union Station theatres, etc- where zonegathering became a primary source of updates that were helpful. And it was a great vehicle for sharing news that might not be considered crucial and critical. But email still proved to be the best method for sharing information about upcoming events and deadlines with our leaders.Leadership Development
I think we hit this one out of the park, in my honest and humble opinion. :) Seriously, I would put the devotional and leadership development content of zonegathering.com up against any site out there. Really solid training and teaching from features like Bible Drill Wednesday and Thursday Leadership Lesson. Sarah Owen and Nathan Gonzales were regular contributors to these features, and they did a phenomenal job. The content on the site is solid, and we heard great feedback from leaders.
The downside, however, is that the leadership development resources we provided often came in the form of long articles (800-1500 words, on average). That's too long for a blog post. I have no problem reading 943 pages of Harry Potter, but if I have to scroll down more than 2 screens on a blog post about restoring a fallen member of my group to righteousness and community, I'm skimming the rest. My guess is that a different format would work better for disseminating this kind of information. We may want to experiment with video.Idea Sharing Amongst Leaders
I envisioned a blog with dynamic comments posted all the time from leaders-- sharing their great ideas with one another and connecting with one another. Never happened. I remember one time that a leader shared a great icebreaker idea. And there may have been a good service project idea or two. But that was it. Blogs just aren't conducive to building that kind of online community. At least ours wasn't. Facebook would probably have served us better in that goal.Celebrating
Uh...I really don't know how well we met this one. We tried to do it through Friday Scorecard. Didn't really work. We celebrated our leaders through Tuesday Spotlights. That worked pretty well. It worked when it occurred to us to get online and post something. But it wasn't a home run.Final Thoughts
I'm not saying that blogs aren't viable options for information sharing and leadership development. I'm just saying that zonegathering.com ceased to be that, and in many cases, was not hitting a home run in all those areas. I do think the site was most helpful when we were also posting random, human interest, silly stuff throughout the day. When the site was being updated regularly with what Nathan was thinking, what Heather was doing, and what mischief Ryan was creating...the readership was up, the participation was more dynamic, and zonegathering.com was fulfilling its purpose. Otherwise, it was hit or miss.
I'm glad we did it. And I'm glad we killed it. We will create a new resource and training site for our leaders which should go live sometime in Fall 2009. Zonegathering.com, rest in peace.