Church Newsletter 101

Outside Sunday bulletins, the church newsletter is perhaps the most common form of communication to your congregation. As much as churches vary from one another, so do the newsletters they publish. From electronic versions to traditional hard copies, the one common thread is that most of them aren’t getting read.

Let’s be real here.

We’re busy. We don’t read much. And we have short attention spans. The 30-3-30 rule says “Eighty percent of people will spend only 30 seconds reading your newsletter, 19 percent will spend three minutes and only one percent will spend thirty minutes.”

But let’s not be negative! As always, nothing is impossible with God. In biblical times, Jesus used parables to visualize his message. Today he gives us writing skills, graphic design and technology, all of which enable us to communicate his saving message in a highly effective manner.

Here are a few pointers to improve those 30-3-30 odds.

Attract your readers

You can spend hours, days and weeks finely crafting your words, but if you can’t get readers to pick up the newsletter, they’ll never know how fine those words are. God gave us creative minds that are drawn to visual imagery. Celebrate this creativity in your newsletter!

  • Use graphics. Yes, a picture really is worth a thousand words. A good picture, rather than cheesy 1980’s clipart is worth even more! Photos of members, events or things within your congregation add interest and personalize a newsletter. Church Art Pro offers an extensive line of regularly updated imagery for a reasonable subscription. This includes photos, cartoons, less-cheesy clipart and helpful tidbits for design and publication. I’m sure there are other such companies online as well.
  • Allow white space. In design school we learned “White space is your friend.” White space helps to visually organize the page. It accentuates. It brings focus.
  • Limit column widths. Columns should be a maximum of 45-75 characters, or 8-12 words. Do not…I repeat, do not… make your column the full width of your newsletter page, unless, of course, your type is size 36 point. Wide blocks of text scare readers before they even get started.

Maintain your readers

So, you have their attention. Now you’ve got to maintain that attention. In an online poll conducted, viewers rated bad writing as the second highest irritation to their church’s newsletter (cheesy clip art was first). Not all church workers can do all things. If writing isn’t your forte, allow someone to edit and rewrite your articles for you.

  • Sharpen and simplify your writing. Remember, we don’t read much anymore. We don’t have much time. Avoid complicated sentence structure and unnecessary words. Consider the audience to whom you’re writing and gear your words toward them.
  • Write in active voice, not passive. Grammatically speaking, passive voice eliminates the subject and emphasizes the receiver. It’s often written in a form of “to be.” For example: “The book will be read to the children.” Instead, use strong action verbs for greater interest and understanding. Write the sentence as: “The father will read the book to the children.”
  • Personlize your writing.  Use personal pronouns to draw readers into your words. Pronouns such as “you,” “yours,” “we” and “ours” allow the reader to become a part of the topic.
  • Use one space after a period at the end of a sentence. Okay, I stand corrected. If white space is caused by two spaces after a period, it is not your friend! Two spaces after a period screams “I’m old. I’m out of date.” In the days of the fossilic typewriter, each letter was the same width and the end of a sentence necessitated extra spacing. Computer fonts today are proportioned to the shape of the letter which allows type to set tighter. As a result, one space provides ample visual cue to the end of a sentence. Two spaces create a river. If you can’t lose the habit of double clicking, use the find and replace feature on your word program to get rid of them.

So here they are: basic ideas to get you started on a successful newsletter. Absorb these concepts, put them into practice and then we’ll get into Newsletter 202.

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