I hope you will bear with me through this article. The point is to introduce you to the value of following children’s ministry blogs, introduce you to Google Reader as a means of following those blogs, and walk you through step-by-step how to set up and use Google Reader. So, let’s get into it!
Why Read Blogs?
I like reading blogs. I really do. When I started getting really serious about Children’s Ministry several years back, I went online to see what I could find. To be honest, there wasn’t a whole lot. Kidology.org was around. Ministry-to-Children.com was relatively new. People like Sam Luce and Kenny Conley had been blogging about children’s ministry for a little while, and there were a few other bloggers out there. There wasn’t a whole lot though. Over the last several years, that has changed, and changed for the better I think. I have been consistently and pleasantly surprised by the willingness of kidmin people to share there wisdom and insights. If you are not following kidmin blogs on the internet, you are missing out on a valuable source of information, practical ideas, and the prospect for growth.
My Experience and the Need for Google Reader
When I started following kidmin blogs, it was easy enough to check each of the five to ten sites each morning or a couple of times a week and get caught up pretty quickly. That is not the case now. At last count, I follow somewhere between 275 and 300 blogs. Each day, that usually equates to somewhere between 250-350 articles. Now, I like to read, but I am no Tim Challies! I can’t physically read that much, even if I wanted to. Before you decided I am totally nuts, I probably ought to step back and explain why I follow so many blogs. Each month over on my other blog, Dad in the Middle, I compile something called The Children’s Ministry Blog Patrol. The Children’s Ministry Blog Patrol accumulates and categorizes somewhere between 75-150 of the best children’s ministry articles from various blogs around the internet. So, at 300 articles a day for 30 days, that equates to around 9,000 articles a month. If I whittle that down to 125, that’s 1.4% of the article I see (I throw that in there for Barbara Graves who is a big fan of accounting!).
What is Google Reader?
So, I needed a system to make everything work, and that is where Google Reader comes in. Google Reader is an RSS Feed aggregator. Are you still with me? Let me explain. RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication.” Anything called “really simple” can’t be all that daunting, right? RSS is a way for blogs or other websites which publish frequent content to distribute that content in a consistent format. How you set all that up on the blogging end is really simple but beyond the scope of this article. What it means to you as the reader is – absolutely nothing unless you do something with it. If all you do is visit a website and read the articles then close your browser, then RSS is about as relevant to you as the temperature at the South Pole. But, if you want to make your blog reading easier and more effective, it is the key. RSS allows you to “subscribe” to certain blogs and have all the articles “delivered” to your reader so you can see them in one place.
Google Reader is one of many RSS readers that will manage all of the blogs that you subscribe to. You can use Google Reader to organize and display all of the articles and flip through them easily. There are other ways to use RSS feeds. Most browsers will incorporate them into a toolbar for you. There are other stand alone readers. Even the newest versions of Outlook will handle RSS feeds. I have tried many of them, and I like Google Reader the best. The most striking thing about it to me is that ease of use seems to be the driving factor behind Google Reader. It is very easy and intuitive to use. Setup is a breeze, and the features are sufficient without being overwhelming. There are many things you can do with Google Reader in terms of sharing what you find with others. For example, you can find a list of the children’s ministry blogs I follow here on Dad in the Middle. That page includes my “Cover-to-Cover” kidmin blogs (about 20-25 blogs where I read most of the article from start to finish) as well as a listing of all the children’s ministry blogs which I follow.
How Do I Use Google Reader?
I assume my powers of persuasion have now convinced you that Google Reader is the way to go to increase your efficiency and effectiveness in following children’s ministry blogs on the internet. So, let’s get down to business and talk about how to set up your account.
- The first thing you’ll need is an account with Google. They are 100% free and allow you to use Readers, Gmail and numerous other Google services. If you don’t have one, go here and set one up.
- Browse to some of the blogs you follow and add them to your RSS Reader. I suggest Kidmin1124 and Dad in the Middle as two great ones to start with. Here’s how you do it.
- Go to the site you want to add.
- Many blogs will have a way to sign up for their RSS feed shown on the blog. Here at Kidmin1124 you can see it in the upper right hand corner. On most blogs, you are looking for something similar to the graphic to the right which is the universal symbol for an RSS feed.
- Many browsers (like Firefox) will also show an icon for RSS feeds in the address bar as well.
- Click on the RSS button and you will likely be given a choice of readers to add the feed to.
- Choose Google and subscribe now.
- Google will then give you the choice between whether you want to add the feed to Google Reader or Google Homepage. To be honest, I have never used Google Homepage, so I choose Reader at this point.
- Do this for as many blogs as you want to add to the Reader.
- Now, surf to Google Reader. You should see the blogs you have subscribed to under the “Subscriptions” on the left hand side of the screen.
- Play with the settings. You can set Google reader to open either with the article showing or with just titles showing. You can set whether or not it shows all articles or just the ones you haven’t read yet. You can select different ways articles are marked as read – either manually or as you scroll through them. You’ll have to play with the settings and with Google Reader until you get it set up just the way you like it.
- Another feature I really like is the use of folders and tags. This allows you to group blogs which are similar. For example, I have kidmin blogs, my cover-to-cover kidmin blogs, personal blogs from family and friends that I follow, etc. This helps me to flip through articles more easily based on category. For example, I spend more time on children’s ministry blogs than the more general blogs I follow from various pastors and theologians.
- The last feature I would like to point out is the ability to “star” certain articles. These starred items are kept in the “Starred Items” bucket and can be easily reviewed later. I use this feature extensively as I am whittling down articles for inclusion in The Children’s Ministry Blog Patrol.
- Finally, one of the very cool things about Google Reader is the keyboard shortcuts. You can find a complete list of them here. They take a little getting used to, but it is worth the investment of time. I can scroll through 100 plus articles using just the “j” “k” and “s” keys in about five minutes.
- Of course, if you want to click over to the original blog site from Google Reader, all you have to do is click on the title of the article.
I’m sure I missed a lot, but I hope this gives you the basics to get started using Google Reader and engaging in the online children’s ministry community. I’m no expert, but if you have any questions, please leave a comment and I will do my best to help.