A question came in from a church business administrator: “For our church newsletters, should it contain long articles or short ones, sermons or not, should it be visitor friendly?” It’s a great question and one that should be answered as you plan the content for your church or ministry newsletter. We’ll explore the options for answering it in this article.
(Update note: I wrote this article originally for written newsletters, but the advice following applies equally well to online newsletters, though you may want to start some of the articles in the online newsletter and continue longer material on your website.)
Long articles or short?
The answer to that part of the questions isn’t as obvious as it might seem. I think initially, with our busy schedules today many people would instinctively answer “SHORT!” Almost no one complains that newsletter articles are too short.
But in consideration of length there are a number of factors to consider:
- Newsletters contain a variety of material. Some is vision-casting from the senior pastor, some teaching, some history or story-telling, some news, notes and announcements.
- More important than setting an arbitrary length, the length of the articles or announcements in your newsletter material should be appropriate to the topic. For example, if the senior pastor is explaining the vision of the church, inspiring members for outreach or missions, setting a new direction or challenging for a building campaign, that piece might need a page or two.
- Currently there is a growing popularity of "long-form", meaning simply longer length articles. Particularly when you do an online version of your newsletter, you might add additional information, background, commentary, or links on a topic. Many of the major newspapers today (the New York Times is a primary example) and have found this extremely popular. While waiting, commuting, or tired of playing games, people will often read longer articles on their mobile devices.
- Announcements of re-occurring events usually do not need long, lengthy explanations on why people should attend. Short, catchy announcements designed what I call “want-ad style” and that contain the name of the sponsoring person or group, purpose, starting and ending time, full contact information, cost and directions to get there and if child care is provided are what is needed.
- At the same time, even more lengthy material that takes a page or two can be made more visually interesting by breaking it into sections with headers, summarizing key facts in a sidebar, pulling out interesting or key quotes and highlighting them, adding a picture and caption. A page or two with these visual elements integrated into the story will be read more easily than a solid page or two of text with no breaks.
Sermons or not in your newsletters? Seeker-Friendly or not?
Again, no simple answer.
Almost implied in the question is the supposition that a sermon isn’t seeker-friendly. But there is no need for the two terms and approaches to be mutually exclusive.
When Jesus was on earth, He gave a lot of sermons. There is no doubt they were theologically correct, true and convicting, yet it says in Mark 12: 37 that “the people heard him with delight.” Proverbs 16:23b reminds us that, “pleasant words promote instruction.”
Our goal in our writing combination in ministry newsletters should be the same as our goal for a great meal for guests. It should be well balanced—meat and veggies for certain, but also some tasty appetizers and a bit of chocolate to top it off. Here are some hints on how to achieve that balance.
- Picture the people you are talking to. You aren’t writing for your seminar professor anymore. Actually put some of the pictures of the people you are writing for by your computer. Your level and style of writing will vary according to the people attending your church and those you want to attend, but talk to them, not to an imaginary critic. Put a little chocolate next to the steak.
- The better you know your people and those you want to reach, the better you can write seeker-joyous sermons. Walk the neighbor. Take informal surveys. Ask people what are their dreams, their fears, the questions they have. Answer them in your newsletter articles.
- Before you sit down to write, read USA TODAY, and some current, popular news magazines. Especially in USA TODAY there are great examples of writing that explains often complex topics in an upbeat, easy to read, and understand style. Also notice how the publication writes headlines, subheads and captions. These can add interest and reader involvement in your story.
- Speaking of stories—tell them. Stories about real people or about you are a great way to illustrate a lesson and be interesting at the same time. They don’t always have to be deadly serious to teach a serious lesson. Jesus wasn’t. Think about it. At the wedding at Cana he turned huge water pots into giant jugs of wine—that’s like turning your hot tub into a punch bowl. A bit over the top, but a lesson never forgotten was taught.
Don’t forget the details
Sometimes what makes a newsletter most friendly to seekers (and to people who aren’t regular attenders at your church) are the little details that we think everybody knows. But everybody doesn’t know and when you leave these things out, no matter how upbeat your graphics or how colorful your writing, the content can leave people cold. Some of these details are:
- Stating that anyone (or if attendance is limited to an age group or to men and women) can come to an event. If you advertise a “Singles Night Out” and a newcomer in their early 60s shows up and the rest of the group is all singles in their 20s because “everybody knows the Going Concern is for 20 somethings” but you don’t state it in the announcement, chances are that person won’t return to your church.
- Making the details child care clear. There are many single parents who would love to come to church if the church provided free childcare for church events. If it doesn’t specifically state “Free childcare for kids babies to 6th grade” most single parents just don’t attend.
- If an event costs make that very clear. It isn’t nice to assume “everybody knows the men’s breakfast is $5 at the door.” If you don’t list it clearly be sure a person with the gift of grace and mercy is at the door for folks who didn’t bring $5 with them. No one should ever be turned away if they don't have cash with them.
Making your newsletter something people read with delight isn’t a matter so much of rules, but of loving your people, talking to them, asking about their needs, seeking feedback and genuinely seeking to serve them with your communications.