Here are some pointers on running a website:
I have now had my own website running for over 15 years. It is my main means of getting truth out into the public arena, and doing what I feel God has called me to do. It seems to be mildly successful – depending on how you measure ‘success’ I suppose.
I get quite a few people asking me on a regular basis about how they can do similar things: set up a blog, start a writing ministry, open up a new website, etc. Some just want a few quick tips, while some seem to think I can become their personal mentor and spend lots of time with them in doing this sort of work.
Needless to say the latter group will not be granted what they are looking for – I am quite busy doing what God has called me to do. Sure, I always seek to be available and helpful when and where possible, but I must set some limits. Indeed, God wants me to set some limits and not stretch myself out too thin. I can only do so much as one person, and one needs godly wisdom as to when to say yes and when to say no.
Having said that however, I can here offer at least some generic bits of advice – the sorts of things I would tell most folks asking me about this. Indeed, just a few days ago while walking the dogs a fellow called asking for advice about this, so I gave him some tips and pointers. What follows is the sort of general advice I would give to most inquirers.
-Determine your focus, and make sure you know your material
Obviously it all depends on what you plan to write about. If it is something specialised such as basket weaving, well you need to know something about that to be of any help to others. I happen to write on all sorts of things, from politics to theology, from culture wars to philosophy. I need to know something about all these areas if what I share is to be of any value.
If you want to reach people as in an apologetics sort of ministry for example, you need to know a fair amount about the various issues, and be widely read in order to be really effective. But I will speak below in more detail about Christian ministry websites.
-Determine who your audience is going to be
This is obviously important. Do you want a specific audience, or everyone in the world? My site is a bit odd in a sense. I write as a Christian and a conservative. So most of my audience tends to be Christians and conservatives. But I get non-Christians and non-conservatives visiting all the time. So at the very least, I need to keep them in mind as I write.
Other considerations might include the possible age range of your audience, their geographical location, and so on. With the internet anyone from around the world can visit your site, so decide ahead of time just who your primary audience will be.
-Will the site include comments?
This is an important issue to determine, in good measure because of how much time you might have to devote to your site. I allow comments, although they have to be moderated first. If I allow a comment to get posted, I then have to decide if I need to reply to it.
This can become a full-time job. Indeed, I now have nearly 82,000 posted comments on CultureWatch. And there would be perhaps at least another 20,000 comments that were not posted for various reasons. So life can be real busy if you allow folks to comment on what you have written.
Also, you will need real wisdom and discernment as to who is asking honest questions that deserve honest answers, and who is just being a troll trying to wear you down or derail you from what you are meant to do. Believe me, as your site grows in influence and reach, you will get plenty of people trying to attack you, hate on you, and pretend they are interested, when in fact they are just wanting to undermine your work.
And one further word on this: I note that some websites allow any and all comments on, but they are never dealt with or responded to. I find this unwise and unhelpful. If you allow anyone to comment – even hardcore opponents who push falsehoods and misinformation on your site – they need to be answered. If not, then don’t give them a free run in the first place. See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2017/09/12/advice-entering-battle/
-Make sure you get things right
This means doing your best to have the correct information, and to present it properly – that is, free of spelling mistakes, bad grammar, and so on. If need be, enlist a few friends to proofread your stuff and keep an eye out for things that may need editing or adjusting.
I hate to say it, but if you are intent on setting up a blog site, but you really are not a very good writer, or are constantly turning out unreadable stuff, full of mistakes and the like, then you may need to consider doing something else! Not everyone is a good writer, and not everyone should be pursuing a path in writing.
And proper research is part of all this. Real study and digging is required if you are dealing with controversial topics. Too many folks think they have done thorough research because they just watched a few online videos. Um no, that is not proper research. See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2019/07/30/no-that-is-not-research/
–Litigation, cancel culture, and the like
This point has now become a major concern, especially if you are doing writing and commentary on any of the hot potato issues of the day. I take it you will be left alone if you stick to writing about basket weaving, but if you write on political, social, cultural and moral issues, and dare to be on the “wrong side” of these debates, you WILL be targeted, both by trolls and haters, and quite likely by the powers that be.
So great care and discernment is needed in what we write and how we say it – our enemies are ever on the prowl to find anything they can to use against us, to drag us to the courts, and so on. Cancel culture is alive and well and getting bolder by the hour. Plenty of folks want to see us silenced, our sites taken down, and us put out of action – be it by jail time, hefty fines, being booted out of your job, etc.
Of course balance is needed here. I am not saying we must all become little mouses who are afraid to speak up about anything that matters. I write daily on things that enrage the secular left and have already resulted in legal complaints made against me. But I will not stop and allow the fascists to intimidate me or silence me.
I will however seek to be wise and cautious in at least how I write about things. We always need to be second guessing what our critics might say in reply, and what legal ramifications our writing may result in. Defamation and libel are already covered by the law, but more and more things like anti-vilification and anti-discrimination legislation are also being used as weapons against us. So we need to be careful here, and if need be, at times you may need to run something by a legal eagle friend before posting it.
A few practical matters can also be raised here. If you are more or less a tech dummy like me, or just an average Joe when it comes to computers, the internet, and so on, you may need to avail yourself of some technical help and support. That can be both for setting up a website and for keeping it going properly.
You may need to pay for such services, or perhaps a friend or family member can do this for you for free – or for a low cost. But if you want various features of a quite good website to be there and be operational, that will require some technical knowledge that you may not have.
Also something you may need some outside help on is how text and graphics and web design take place. Sites exist such as WordPress which already have predesigned web templates and so on, and/or ones that can be personally tweaked to meet your wants. Again, you may need some others to help you here.
And you need to decide how you present the site visually. I happen to be a text-focused guy. I think words and ideas are vital, and I am not interested in graphics and pictures and design. But sadly many people are, so I have somewhat begrudgingly over the years added more graphics and design elements into my site. And that includes now adding more and more podcasts and videos – at least audio podcasts for now.
As I said, some pointers and tips here have more to do with the spiritual side of things. The above points can be of use to anyone – religious or nonreligious. But what follows are things Christians especially need to consider:
-The need for the call of God
Perhaps the first thing that must be stressed is all this is not a game or just a pastime. Again, if you just want to set up a website devoted to your cat or to what you have for breakfast, then no biggie. But obviously, if you are a believer seeking to make a difference for Christ and the Kingdom with your website, then the main thing needed is to know this is the call of God on your life.
And part of this is the need for the Holy Spirit – for his leading, underpinning and blessing. A host of man-made gimmicks and the like is not what you need, nor should it be your main concern. Sure, there is a combination: we desperately need the Spirit at work in our endeavours, while also doing our best, as I highlighted above, in making sure things are well written, free of errors, and so on. But without God in your work, it does not matter how polished and professional you and your site otherwise might be.
-Prayer and spiritual warfare
Related to the above point is the vital need for prayer cover. If you are doing more than just writing about basket weaving, but are engaging in evangelistic and apologetic ministry, or entering into the culture wars, or dealing with controversial political and social matters, you WILL come under fire.
It is not just those with a differing political or economic or cultural point of view. Behind all this are spiritual battles that are taking place. As I always tell any wannabe Christian blogger, you dare not go into this type of ministry without some assured prayer support. I happen to have folks praying for me daily – from all around the world. That is the only reason why CultureWatch is still running and doing a bit of good.
As with any Christian endeavour in which we seek to properly serve our Lord, there is a place for getting the support of others. Thinking you can do this work as a lone wolf is foolish and dangerous. You should think about setting up an advisory board as I have done. These folks provide general spiritual counsel, wisdom and prayer cover, and also can be kept in touch with, including to ask advice of if you are uncertain as to how to proceed on something.
It is hoped that these few points will be of some use to you if you want to get into setting up a website, especially a blogsite, and especially one that will involve speaking truth into the public arena on the issues that matter.