The blogger interviews: Bobby Gilles
Bobby Gilles is the director of communications for Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is responsible for “(a)ll things communication, internal and external. Crafting or coordinating literature, visual and audio communication that presents the elders’ vision of gospel transformation and community.” Bobby regularly writes for TravelBlog, the church’s official blog, and for the Sojourn Music website, along with hosting and updating the church’s podcast. He has also written several songs for Sojourn and a children’s book titled Our Home Is Like A Little Church. You can read more about him here.
Explain briefly, please, who you are and what you do.
My name is Bobby Gilles, and I’m the Director of Communications at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville. I handle all things that have to do with communication within the church community and the larger society. As far as blogging goes, I manage the content and write the majority of blog posts for the sojournchurch.com blog (TravelBlog, at blog.sojournchurch.com), and also for sojournmusic.com. I advise our other bloggers and have occasionally written for ministry blogs like churchplanting.sojournchurch.com, and outside blogs like theworshipcommunity.com.
What got you into the ministry?
I grew up in an End Time cult. When God led me out as a young adult, He infused me with a sense of “making up for lost time” – not as any kind of penance, but just that I want to do as much as I can for the Lord the rest of my life, out of gratitude for what He has done for me.
And, what got you into blogging?
I’ve always loved to read – anything from novels to cereal boxes. And I’ve always loved to write – songs, short stories, poems, news articles, you name it. So naturally when I first heard of blogging, I wanted to read blogs and write for them.
What does blogging do for you?
Personally it gives me an outlet for my desire to write and be creative. It also pays the bills, since a good part of my job description has to do with blogging. More importantly, blogging is a way to help Sojourn carry out our vision to see the gospel transform everything: ourselves as individuals, our church, the city of Louisville and the world.
Blogging certainly isn’t the only avenue for us to communicate how the gospel is at work among us, but it is a good way of doing so. When it comes to communicating events and opportunities, we do things like stage announcements, an online event calendar, and posters. But blogging is a way to take people deeper – to share stories of salvation from our members, to preview our upcoming worship services and sermon series and to take people “behind the scenes” into the minds of our pastors, regarding the vision and mission of the church, while encouraging feedback.
Why blogging, as opposed to one of the older methods of getting your views out to a mass audience, such as radio, television, magazines and/or books?
I’m not opposed to any method. I worked in radio for several years in the early 90s as a music director and DJ. I’ve also written articles, poems and fiction pieces for journals. I’ve written several songs that have been recorded, and I wrote a children’s book called Our Home Is Like A Little Church with Lindsey Blair and Tessa Janes.
All of these vehicles are good. The advantages of blogging include immediacy, intimacy and cost-effectiveness.
How has blogging been beneficial to you and your calling/ministry?
I think one of the reasons Sojourn hired me as Director of Communications is because of the job I’d been doing as blogger for sojournmusic.com, so I’d say it’s been very beneficial personally.
And without blogging, we’d certainly be less aware of the needs and feelings of our members and church attendees, because even if many of them don’t comment on specific posts, the blog posts stir discussions in community groups and other meetups.
We’d also have to spend a lot more time and money in communicating to our people – more mailings and more member meetings.
What have been some of the drawbacks?
Some of our people who don’t like blogs or who say they don’t have the time or the means to be online much perceive that they’re missing out on something. It’s caused quite a bit of angst with some of our members. And of course they’re missing out on something – we wouldn’t blog at all if we didn’t think our posts were adding value.
But I try to make people understand that we’re not going to “bury” a big announcement, a new opportunity for service or church events on the blog. We still cover that stuff through the printed Sunday bulletin, verbal announcements, posters, Sunday Power Point slides and quick online features like the sojournchurch.com Event Calendar and Weekly Email.
What are your impressions of how the church at large has engaged the internet over the past decade?
The universal church could be doing a much better job. I’d recommend The Blogging Church book to every ministry worker who has anything to do with blogging.
I wish for a stronger local church presence in the blogosphere – churches all over the world who are blogging about how the Holy Spirit is moving in their particular setting. Instead, we get more and more pastors and ministry workers who write as if they have no sense of place, no local mission.
This is similar to the trend of “rock star” worship leaders over the last couple decades. Harold Best wrote that we need more worship leaders who are content to be “hometown heroes.” He reminded the church that the famous J.S. Bach wasn’t writing to be a worldwide phenom – he was simply “getting ready for Sunday.”
The desire to improve the stats, to get more links and hits, is strong. I battle it; every blogger battles it. I could make some content management decisions with TravelBlog that would dramatically improve the numbers:
Kill the Sunday worship service previews, kill the baptism testimonies and anything else that people beyond the Sojourn community might not want to read. Replace them with regular columns wherein I make fun of poorly written worship songs, and lambast Arminian theologians, and poke jabs at the contemporary Christian culture, and lob bombs at the seeker sensitive movement.
The Gatekeepers reinforce all of this in conferences and workshops that are ostensibly supposed to be about social media and blogging, by inviting speakers who don’t actually know much about social media and blogging, and in some cases don’t even practice it. Why? Because they are “big names” for some other reason (preaching, book writing, lecturing). Booking them to speak is going to put butts in the seats.
But what will those attendees actually learn? Come on, we’ve got all this emphasis on church planting now in the evangelical world. We see the need to plant local churches. We see the need to do “relational evangelism”
rather than just let the Billy Graham Crusade lead everyone to Jesus. Let’s get church-specific with our blogging.
What do you make of the internet’s ability to give any number of voices a venue for expression, and a mass audience to hear those voices…no matter how solid or crazy they might be?
It’s interesting, and in some cases maddening. I don’t think about it too much though.
Is the internet a good venue for community and fellowship or not?
It absolutely is. Does it carry some baggage? Of course. It’s not good for community when you have a whole room full of people reading Tweets instead of actually talking with each other.
I’ve connected with numerous people online though, whom I have a real affection for even if I haven’t met some of them yet, and have only met some others a few times at conferences and events. And I’ve reconnected with many old acquaintances as well.
Life gets crazy, and we don’t have time to do all the things we’d like to do or see all the people we’d like to see. But, as insane as this may sound to some people, I actually do like to read that an old childhood chum enjoyed a movie that I’m considering seeing. I actually do like reading that they’ve gotten engaged, or pregnant, or they’ve just moved to their dream house.
And I actually do pray for people who are going through hard times, even if I only know about it through their status updates.
How do you see the church continuing to develop on the web over the next 10-15 years?
Hopefully we’ll embrace mobile. Hopefully we’ll stay ahead of the technology curve but commit to leaving no one behind. We need to reach, love and serve those who can’t get online, who don’t own smart phones or computers, and in some cases who don’t even read.
Will blogging continue to be a legitimate forum or will it give way to Twitter- and Facebook status-type updates?
Status updates can’t and won’t replace blogging. All they’ve done (and will continue to do) is provide bloggers with a different means of expression, while at the same time providing a preferred means of expression for those who want to keep up with friends and express themselves, but don’t have the time or desire to write longer updates.
Which websites do you use most often?
Of course I use all the Sojourn blogs and sites. I do most of my content creation on my laptop, but I consume most content through apps on my iPhone (and yes, Sojourn will be in the iPhone app world very soon).
My favorite apps include Reader (my many blog RSS feeds), Facebook, Twitter, Acts 29, Ego (to check website stats), Mashable, New York Times, NPR News, Ad Age, Omni Focus (for productivity and task management), iXpenseit (budgeting), Planning Center (the best worship music management solution), YouVersion, Pandora, Amazon, and MMA Torch.