The answer to these 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 church website, bulletin, the printed newsletter is too short. But before you set an arbitrary rule such as "all website, blog and newsletter articles must be less than 500 words, or "the Bulletin can never be longer than 2 pages" consider the following statements that apply to both print and digital church communications:
Church communications contain a variety of written topics
Many church communications are news, notes, and announcements about upcoming activities that work well in short-form messages. But that isn't all--churches communicate vision-casting, teaching, history, and story-telling. Church communications include schedules, guidelines, rules (such as, what you need to do to become a volunteer in children's ministry), and ministry instruction. This variety of content requires a variety of length and the variety of communication no more needs to be the same length than all the articles and sections in a newspaper need to be the same length. The editorial requires a different amount of space than a box score and a lead article more than an ad selling a refrigerator.
The length should be appropriate to the topic
More important than setting an arbitrary length, the length of the communication 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 will need more space than directions to the church picnic.
Have layers of length on the same topic
Announcements of recurring events 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 childcare is provided are what is needed in a list of announcements. If more information is needed place a hyperlink to another page on your website or to the website if you are writing in your bulletin to a section that has more materials, background, or staff explanations.
Giving options like this—a basic list of connecting details that links to a longer explanation if wanted—is great for both people who are familiar with the church and visitors or newcomers. When you give people options like this you are respecting their need for however much information they want. If you decide for them, you will most likely not meet the needs of one group or another, but if you give options, everyone gets the information they want.
Longer material can be made more visually interesting by breaking it into sections
In both print and on the web, sections and lists can have headers and subheads that define the topics. You can also use bullet points or numbered lists, summarize key facts in a side-bar, pull out interesting or key quotes and highlight them, add a picture and caption. A page or two (print or digital) with these visual elements integrated into the content will be read more easily than a solid page or two of text with no breaks.
Give the sections titles that can be scanned for content, not labels
One of the biggest reasons people don't read through the event or announcement lists in either print or digital church communications is that for many of them you have to read the ENTIRE list to see if anything is useful to you or applies to you and your family. This happens because many of the subheads say the same thing:
- Don't miss this!
- Mark your calendars!
- Greatest event ever!
- This will change your life—be sure to come!
All of the above are rah-rah fluff and don't say anything, let alone encourage anyone to read the content or attend the event. Instead, consider subheads such as these:
- Children's baptism class will be held on Sat. June 14
- Summer camp for junior high July 1-8
- Evangelism tent meeting will be held at the church in August
- Digital Bible Study tools workshop to be held at church this Thursday, 7-8pm
With a subhead list like the one above a person could quickly skim through the topics or events, but would only need to read what applies to that person and their family.
Finally, focus on content, not length
Length, especially for digital communications where we don't need to worry about paper or printing costs, is one of the least important considerations for church communications.
No one ever says, "The 500-limit word count of that article changed my life!" But there are many stories of lives changes from reading the short verse of Jn. 3:16 to the longer book of Romans. Different people respond to different amounts of content.
No matter what the amount, be sure to create worthy content, making certain that your words are reflective of your Lord. If you do that, no matter what the length of your communication, they will all have a part (even if it is a tiny step) in fully fulfilling the Great Commission of helping people come to know Jesus as Savior and growing to mature discipleship.
Don't cut yourself short; don't waste words and babble on without editing, but say what you need to say to fulfill the message the Lord wants you to share today. Ask for His help. Little or long, He knows precisely what is needed.