Identity & Communication Event held on 3-20-2004
"Tell 'em Who You Are!"
Tips for better church newsletters
The church newsletter plays a critical role among all the ways we keep church members informed about what is going on in the life of the congregation. One does not have to be publishing professional to produce an effective and informative newsletter. Today’s word processing programs are amazingly powerful and can produce neat, eye-catching pages combining text and illustrations. At the high end of the spectrum, there are dedicated publishing programs like Quark XPress that are actually designed for producing professional caliber publications. Regardless of your computerized tools, there are some basic principles that apply to all good church newsletters.
Most importantly of all, remember why you are doing it in the first place. It is so easy to get so caught up in the details of meeting newsletter deadlines that we lose sight of why we are doing it. A newsletter keeps people connected with their church. It strengthens ties with the church. It keeps active members up to date on upcoming worship opportunities, activities, and meetings. It also helps to keep occasional attendees up to date and feeling connected to the church even if health problems, lack of mobility, or family obligations keep them from attending regularly. This is a vitally important function.
Newsletters present to visitors and “friends of the church” the range of activities that the church offers and thus is an important aid to church growth. It also keeps the Christmas-and-Easter-only folks still connected with the church, reminding them where there church home is. It also keeps people who have moved away — but who still love your congregation — connected with the congregation. So the church newsletter is not just a paper “bulletin board”, it is a vital vehicle in keeping people feeling connected with the church.
Now, to the nitty gritty.
1. Get the names right! In every congregation, there are some difficult last names, some confusing first names, and some multi-career, blended families, and other situations in which we need to be careful and precise about what last name to use. If a church is to really be “family,” it is actually hurtful to have our brothers and sisters make mistakes with out names. Get it right. Make notes in the church directory to remind you. Get feedback if there is a mistake one time and don’t repeat the mistake. This is not editorial nit-picking. Rather it is showing that we care about each other. It really matters.
2. A good newsletter earns the reputation for being the single, trusted source for all of the details about church activities. Like getting the names correct, check, double-check, and check again the times, dates, and locations of events. Double-check for conflicts. Once you’ve got the correct information, put it on page one. The newsletter is where people look for what is coming up, so don’t make them dig for it and certainly, don’t make them find a worship schedule on one page, youth programs on another, and committee meetings sprinkled throughout the newsletter. You can repeat the times in the individual articles, but the newsletter is the de facto, centralized church calendar. It is a ton of work to be comprehensive and correct, but it is worth every bit of effort. And once you earn the reputation as the single-trusted-source, the information will flow to you automatically, with much less effort required to chase things down.
3. Promise yourself that you will find a way to get something about children – with their names – in every issue.
4. In addition to information on changing events, the newsletter needs to always serve as the quick reference to the basic church information. Although it has appeared a hundred times before, with each issue SOMEBODY will reach for the newsletter to find the church phone, fax, web address, office hours, or Sunday School hours. It does not have to take up a lot of space, but it needs to be there...and if the hours change in the summer, the information needs to change because “not everybody knows it”.
5. One does not have to be a great designer to produce a great church newsletter. It is important to remember, however, that solid pages of type are not visually inviting. There are many sources for nice, clean, attractive clip art that is easy to use and easy to resize. It only takes one or two images to liven up a page. Used judiciously, boxes, borders, and areas with shaded backgrounds all help to break up a solid page of type.
6. You simply can’t have too much about children.
7. Depending on how you produce the final newsletter – laser printer, photocopier, or printed – will determine how well you can incorporate photographs. If your output device can reproduce photos with an acceptable quality, the current crop of digital cameras provide a quick, inexpensive, flexible, and endless source of illustrations.
8. Work out a few page templates so that the newsletter has a sense of consistency from page to page, but also enough variation to be visually interesting. Simple layouts usually work out better than complex ones (unless you really are a publishing professional). Bear in mind, though, that not all columns have to be the same width. Look at newsstand magazines and you will see a trend to blend one wide column with a pair of narrow columns on the same page. This works particularly well using the wide column for the text-intensive items such as the pastor’s letter, and the narrow columns for items that contain lists of names.
9. Another trick of professional designers is to use more ragged right composition and less fully justified type. It just gives a friendlier and less business-like feel to the page. Also, although our computers can easily justify type, they to do so by hyphenating many words. This can be particularly irksome when they occur within peoples’ names.
10. Now for a real secret from a professional magazine design (shhh...promise not to tell anyone). For all of our normal business and school writing, we use the combination of Times Roman and Ariel typefaces on our computers. This assures that no matter what computer or printer is used to read and print our files, they will print correctly. With our own newsletter, however, we control the output device and we are free to break out of the Times/Ariel mold and give the newsletter some sense of style. We can deliberately make it look a little different from everything else people are reading each week. Experiment with the typefaces you already have on your computer. You are likely to find some wonderful fonts. As a starting point, instead of Times Roman, try Bodoni, Palatino, or Garamond. As an alternative to Ariel, check out Eras, Futura, Helvetica, and if you can find it, Gil Sans. Several recent titles from our own Pilgrim Press are using the wonderful, innovative, and highly readable Stone typefaces. In particular, the font called Stone Informal makes for an exceptionally readable page. The font was designed specifically to be readable whether set on a desktop laserprinter or high quality typesetter. Check it out on the web. If you like it, it can be licensed very inexpensively from many sources.
11. Make one physical box for all your newsletter papers, notes, and correspondence. One. In the same way, create just one directory or folder on your computer. One. Just one. Things get lost physically, and things get lost electronically; but having one physical and one electronic bin gives you a fighting chance at controlling the chaos.
12. Beyond posting the details of upcoming church events, the newsletter is the church’s best medium to brag and say thank you. Any opportunity to thank children by name, to recognize their participation in events by name, or to recognize their achievements by name helps to build their sense of belonging to the church and their sense of being loved by the church.
13. A good newsletter goes hand-in-hand with a good web site. Wherever possible, promote the web site...especially if it has full text sermons, color images, and other stuff you can’t put in newsletter.
14. The newsletter is an extraordinarily good vehicle to help introduce new members. This is vital. It helps those who missed the live introduction during the welcoming service and it also provides the exact names — once again with correct spelling, children’s names, and clarity about one or two different last names — to help everybody welcome and remember them.
15. It is impossible to mention children’s names too frequently. I think I might have read this someplace before.
16. Work on the newsletter with love. It is not just one more tasks on the to-do list. Really.
--Douglas Stivison, student in-care, and
Editor and Publisher, Elsevier Publications