When it comes to podcasts, it seems like a new one pops up every single day. Everyone has a podcast, or so it may seem.
And with good reason.
There's a podcast for just about everything — from cooking to home decorating to cleaning to self-motivation and, yes, helping people in their spiritual walk. And millions are listening. As of 2020, there were more than 850,000 active podcasts with more than 100 million Americans listening to at least one podcast each month.
Podcasts have ushered in a new yet entirely familiar way of ministry.
"It’s the new open-air preaching," says Ryan Dunn, host of United Methodist Communications’ “Compass” podcast. "It’s meeting people where they are with messages that have real impact on their lives. As Christians, we carry a world-changing message. Podcasting provides an invitation to hear and interact with the message."
Joe Iovino, host of the “Get Your Spirit in Shape” podcast, echoes that sentiment.
"There is an intimacy to the podcasting experience. People often listen alone — on a walk or during their commute — and develop a connection to the podcast host and guest. This offers an opportunity to mentor others in the faith,” Iovino says. “We share ideas and ways listeners can put those ideas into practice. On each episode, we try to offer ways people can put their faith into practice either through a traditional spiritual exercise or something a little more out of the box."
So, what makes a good podcast and how do you go about it? First you need to know who your target audience is. “ ‘Everybody’ isn't a reasonable audience," Dunn says.
Iovino says that you also need to be able to state what the podcast is clearly about in a tagline.
“For example, at the beginning of each episode, I say, 'Welcome to “Get Your Spirit in Shape,” United Methodist Communications and UMC.org’s podcast to keep our souls as healthy as our bodies.’”
With all the podcasts out there how can you make yours stand out?
"Well, probably about 75% of those podcasts have less than 10 episodes — so longevity helps," Dunn says. "Even more important, though, is sticking to the message and mission of the podcast. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to get exposure and losing sight of the mission because of that. Podcasts that stay true to mission generally stick around and those that stick around get noticed."
Dunn, who also hosts the "Pastoring in the Digital Parish" podcast, which is available on ResourceUMC.org, stresses the importance of consistency and scheduling in order to build trust.
"Be consistent," he says. "Whatever consistency you commit to — weekly, monthly, etc. — be consistent. People need a lot of drops in the trust bucket in order to make a podcast part of their routine."
Dunn's "Pastoring in the Digital Parish" podcast is a good example of that. This podcast, which features coaches and teachers who offer guidance for building an online presence for ministry, is typically produced once a week.
Another good example is UM Communications’ “MyCom” podcast. This podcast, which features church marketers, pastors and leaders as guests, provides expert advice on outreach ideas, communications, social media and technology on a monthly basis.
Iovino said that consistency is also important when it comes to the length of the podcast.
"Determine the length you’re going for," Iovino says. "Listeners like to know what to expect. Will you be a 30-minute, 60-minute or two-hour show? There is no ‘ideal’ length, but you don’t want to vary too much from episode to episode."
Many podcasts feature an interview format, with the host(s) interviewing a guest. In this scenario, there are some critical keys when conducting an interview.
"The single most important thing is to ask the questions your audience wants to know,” Iovino says. “In other words, you don’t just want to do the same interview everyone else has done with this guest.”
Dunn adds, "Have a vision for where the interview is going — and let the person being interviewed know that vision so they know how to craft their answers."
You don't need to have the best equipment money can buy, but make sure to get a good-quality microphone, headset and some basic audio editing software.
"Don't overspend on equipment. You want the audio quality to be good, but you don’t need to build a studio or buy a $500 microphone," Iovino says. "Also, you don't have to go overboard on production. I’ve overstepped there a couple of times. For example, there was a brief period where I produced some very complicated NPR-inspired intros that took a lot of time to edit, and as I look back now, (it) didn’t add a lot."
So, now you are ready to launch your podcast.
And remember this bit of wisdom: "Meet your audience's needs,” Iovino says. “They will find you when you do that.
Aaron Crisler is a senior public relations specialist at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee.