Do you ever send out Christmas cards or write a Christmas letter?  Gary and I have sent out Christmas cards and letters every year since our children were born.  A Christmas letter may seem like a poor substitute for personal contact with friends and family.  Yet, as itinerant preachers, it is impossible for Gary and me to stay in touch with the hundreds of people who have been part of our lives over the years.  Sending a Christmas letter helps to keep that connection alive.

Naturally, we can’t convey the fullness of our lives in a mere letter.  However, in the midst of describing the events of the year, we also hope to communicate heart, soul and the passion that drives us to make a positive difference in the world.

That reminds me of the letters most churches send out every month: the beloved newsletter.  I have a folder right next to me with 35 December newsletters from churches in the Grand Rapids District.

Why do churches publish newsletters?  2 simple words: communication and connection.  It’s common knowledge that people don’t really hear something until it is communicated a dozen times in a dozen different ways.  Information often doesn’t even register the first time, especially in our fast-paced world where we are continually bombarded with data.  I even heard someone last week say that she wasn’t going to bother writing church newsletter articles anymore because no one shows evidence of having read them!

Of course, knowing what is communicate (and what not to communicate) is essential.  Every month I read all of our district newsletters so I can know what is happening in our churches.  Now that I no longer worship regularly in the church where I hold my charge conference affiliation, I also understand in a deeper way that the newsletter is a primary tool to stay connected.

Here are things I appreciate reading in church newsletters:

  • A brief article from the pastor that is a window into the pastor’s and the congregation’s heart
  • A schedule of scriptures and sermon titles so I can be prepared for worship
  • Pictures and bios of new members
  • The mission and/or vision statement of the church
  • Regular financial reports and stewardship articles
  • A list of the church staff and their email addresses
  • Enticing articles about upcoming events
  • Testimonies about the transformative effect of events that have already happened
  • A calendar for the month, listing opportunities for study, outreach and mission as well as times of committee meetings
  • Prayer concerns

It is also important for church newsletters to include appropriate honesty about the state of congregational life.  Discretion is essential.  Certainly, we don’t need to mention how Jane and Sue got into a fight in the church kitchen over who controls what goes in which cupboards.  We don’t have to remind folks that Jim and Joe “had words” over how best to fix the heating system.  And we don’t need to publish that the church council spent half of their two hour meeting debating the details of the cable bill for the parsonage.

It is wise, however, inform congregations about financial challenges, staff changes, updates regarding remodeling projects, and new directions in visioning and strategic planning.  A few churches publish the church council minutes in the newsletter.  In every case, communication must be straightforward but also positive and hopeful.

Here are my pet peeves about church newsletters:

  • The newsletter looks messy, with a jumble of different fonts and little white space or graphics: how about sending your secretary or editor to a workshop to learn more about putting newsletters together?
  • Typos and poor writing: please have several people proof your newsletter; remember, the newsletter represents your church
  • Pastors’ articles that are dull and boring: use the newsletter to inspire, encourage, empower and challenge
  • Newsletters that have obviously not been evaluated for years: the church newsletter is a ministry and needs to be continuously updated.  Is your newsletter available by email?  Is it on your web site?  Do you need a new look?  We’ll be evaluating our district email newsletter this year and will solicit your suggestions.
  • Newsletters that don’t have a name: how do you like these interesting newsletter names?
    The South Poll (South UMC, Grand Rapids)
    Dunes Digest (Grand Haven Church of the Dunes UMC)
    The Harbor Light (Lake Harbor UMC)
    The GUM Wrapper (Georgetown UMC)
    The Church Mouse (Fremont UMC)
    The Lamplighter (Northlawn UMC)

I am truly inspired by your church newsletters.  My heart is touched every time I read about lives being changed, the hungry being fed, the sick being visited, those who have experienced loss being cared for, and people who are in difficult situations themselves reaching out to others in distress.

My soul is renewed every time I read about the Angel Food Ministry, Paper Gators, Prayer shawls, Kids Hope USA, Christmas dinners shared with the poor, Stephen ministry, volunteers at Supper House, NECM, SECOM, Interfaith Hospitality Network and Community House, UMW Bazaars, Harvest festivals, CROP walks, and Just Faith.

My hope is revived every time I read about district churches making difficult choices to postpone building projects and hold the line on budget increases in order to make ministry shares a priority.  All over the Grand Rapids District people are hearing the good news of Jesus Christ and have become profoundly transformed by God’s grace.  That comes through loud and clear in your church newsletters.

I do have one suggestion.  Along with the other monthly statistics you provide in your newsletter, like worship attendance and financial giving, why not include the number of people outside the church who have been served every month by your congregation members?  I think you will be surprised.

Blessings, Laurie

P.S. The next Leading from the Heart will be sent out on Monday, January 5. 

May the richness of this season fill your heart and our world with peace and grace.

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