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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Extra, Extra - Read all About It!

Ahh...the newsletter! Is writing for it and editing it a joy or burden for you? Is it an effective means of communication for your congregation members or a waste of time? And how often is often enough?

How often does your church send out a newsletter? We have been sending ours out every other week for years, but given both the amount of information we are now able to get out quickly via email and Facebook, and the amount of time and work that goes into producing and distributing a newsletter, I've been considering the possibility of reducing our distribution to once a month. A few years ago, we began offering an electronic version of our newsletter in lieu of a mailed hard copy, and roughly half of our membership has opted for that version. That cut down on some of the work of publishing and a little bit of the cost. Even so, it's still a lot of work, and I wonder if it's worth it.

I would love to hear from people who do a newsletter only once a month - pros and cons? And I would especially love to hear from anyone who helped a congregation transition from a twice-monthly newsletter to a monthly - how did that go? And if any of you have made a choice to continue doing a newsletter every other week (or even weekly?) even in the face of quick electronic dissemination of information, I'd love to hear your perspective as well.

This week, Muthah+ is our only respondent:

Dear Sistah,

When I started out in ministry, we were doing the church newsletter on mimeograph. So you can guess about my level of technological expertise. I think that the frequency of newsletters often depends upon the size of your church and the level of technological ability within the congregation. If your congregation is fairly technological, I would say go for electronic communication in whatever way works for your folks. I just spent lunch today talking with a parishioner who was talking about Cloud access etc., and quite frankly I didn't even know what she was talking about. BUT if your folks do, USE IT!! Communication is the name of the game in the present age. If you can get it out on people's Iphones, go for it.

At the same time I know that most of our congregations have enough Luddites in them that a once a month communique is sufficient enough. You will always have to produce something for people to hold in their hand for those who are not computer savvy. I am also enough of a retired cynic to know that people often do not read them no matter what you do.

Once a month...once a week? How do you keep up with congregation members? Please share your thoughts...and please, send some questions to us at

May you live in God's amazing grace+



  1. Our church's newsletter is once a month. Which is plenty! A monthly calendar . . . a little theme setting . . . pictures of the kids . . . deacon's reports. . . Plenty.
    We experimented with posting it online for about 9 months this year, sending a reminder that it was on the website and an email attachment. People never did catch on. Even my most computer-y facebook-y folks didn't read it. (And it was attractive!)
    So we started mailing to everyone again this month, and several people have expressed thanks.
    I don't know how to transition. But you could try it for nine months, explaining all the good reasons, and see how it goes.
    I love doing the newsletter. But if I had to do it more often, I'd get nothing else done.

  2. I was a church newsletter editor for many many years -- first as a volunteer in my own church and then as part of adm. asst. duties for two others. Membership of 200-400. Once a month was plenty. Don't think I've ever seen a fortnightly one, but there were some churches that did it weekly, and there just wasn't that much to report. I think at least one of those churches has decided to offer the email subscription; only problem is that bulk mailing requires 200 pieces so if you go below that you're stuck with first class postage, which is getting expensive! My current church does a monthly newsletter and weekly email updates (with most of the latter info repeated in the Sunday bulletin.) Once, when my daughter was singing in a traveling choir, we visited a church where each household had a "PO box" in the fellowship hall and the newsletter and other communications were put into them. This was a Dutch Reformed church and I guess the idea was that everyone would be in church pretty regularly!

  3. The USPS bulk mail service has consolidated and downsized so dramatically that it is taking up to 6 weeks for bulk mail to get to its destination in our area (central Maryland). By that time, any newsletter is out of date.

    The congregation that raised me up for ordination posts their "mostly" monthly newsletter on their web site, mails a few to our beloved Luddites, and relies on weekly bulletins and emails through BTW, if you haven't looked at MailChimp, do so! It has many of the features of Constant Contact for far less money. MailChimp lets you email 12,000 messages/month with up to 2,000 subscribers under their FREE service ... yes, I did say "FREE."

  4. Our newsletter is published monthly. We have hopes of putting it online, but I suspect folk will still want a copy of it in hand. One thing that helps us reduce the cost of mailing is that the first Sunday the newsletter is published, it is available on site, in an alphabetically labeled box, so that those who are present can pick up their newsletter in person. Those not picked up are mailed out the following week.

  5. in a rural, mostly non-tech savvy congregational setting... we mail monthly under the 200 bulk rate thing. there is a blessed volunteer who does the editing; printing etc. and a group of retired ladies fold them, put on addy labels and then go out to eat! it's been a great ministry for them...

    the other congregation, sends out a newsletter quarterly and i write/publish/edit/mail... it's only about 40 households but lets people know what's happening beyond our church doors... and they need that.

  6. I'm toying with starting a newsletter and I've already revived the church calendar. If we do a newsletter, it will monthly - I think more than than even in a large active congregation is overkill. Use the bulletin to highlight events that happen between the newsletters.

    My issue is how to distribute it. We don't have a budget for postage. In the past, newsletters were distributed at the church - which means that anyone who doesn't come doesn't get one. I stongly believe that the effort should be made for every household on the rolls to get a newletter if we have one. Now I know that realistically, if they aren't coming to church, they aren't reading the newsletter, but you just never know...

    Thanks for the timlely discussion. And thanks, Rev Glenda for the suggestion about mailing the ones not picked up after the first week. That would work for the congregation that has individual mailboxes.

  7. Reverend Mom,

    How easy is it to coordinate different lists of people on MailChimp (e.g., "Church Council," "Families with Children," "Prayer List")? Is it easy to use by people who have limited internet experience?

    (I'm told Constant Contact is good at both of those things, but regardless of which service we choose this is going to be an uphill battle to get the church e-mails to look more professional..)


  8. Thanks for the pointer on MailChimp!
    We do a monthly, printed newsletter, which is distributed on the last Sunday of the previous month with a calendar, articles, etc, that try to be forward-focused as opposed to simply reporting on what's gone by. Many churches in this area that were padding their lists to make the bulk amount stopped doing that in the past five years precisely because of terrible delivery days. So we are able to cut down the number we mail first class by giving them out at church to those who attend that Sunday.
    (Of course that didn't work when there was a storm on October 30 and a power outage throughout the town that caused us to cancel. This month they all got mailed.)
    We also do a weekly email, but we recognize that doesn't reach some folks.
    I've facilitated two transitions from all paper to mixed paper and email delivery. I learned a lot from both.
    1)Don't take for granted that just because people have computers they also have printers.
    2)Make extra copies of the calendar available for folks who can't print, will read most of the stuff on the computer, but will miss having a calendar to post.
    3)Before making an e-version available, give vocal reassurances that no one will be left behind without a newsletter. Describe the effort as parallel. It's both/and, not either/or.
    It's hard for me to imagine justifying staff time to do two monthly newsletters, but I am in a smaller church with one Admin who works 15 hour per week. I also can't imagine getting the lay people to submit things twice a month; once is hard enough!

  9. Original questioner here - thanks so much for all the good input so far! I realize in reading responses that perhaps I should've included the size of our congregation - we have a little more than 200 members and our newletter also goes to friends and former members. Before we started emailing it to those who so chose, we always sent it out under the bulk mail rate. But once so many people opted for the email version, we no longer qualified for that.

    One of the biggest headaches for me personally is coming up with the pastors' column. My husband and I take turns (we're co-pastors) but it still seems like every time I turn around, I'm having to write a column for the newsletter! We probably invest more time and energy in it than is necessary, but the column has always felt like an important responsibility to both of us. I just wonder if we could get by with doing it less often, especially now that I am so often composing things for email updates.

    I appreciate the input - it's interesting to see that monthly may be the norm now. I'm still interested to hear from anyone else who has made the transition from every other week to once a month.

    Thank you!

  10. We do a weekly email update that covers, for the most part, last minute reminders of things coming up in the next week and anything we didn't know about when we did the monthly newsletter.

    The monthly newsletter goes out by email (by their own opt-in request) to about 75% of our households and about 25% get a paper copy in their church mailbox. Any not picked up the weekend they are distributed are put in the mail the Monday morning immediately following.

    The readership always feel lower than I wish it were, but it is what it is. There are some who DEFINITELY do and for whom it is crucial. In the interest of getting information to people as many ways and times as possible, we'll keep doing it "'til kingdom come."

    I've also just started this last month a Children, Youth, and Family newsletter. For the most part it pulls out all the info pertinent to CYF and puts it in one place so they see it more than once and have it very easily accessible. It also gives us something to hand over to visiting families that shows them immediately what's going on for their children. For the first one I created a number of new articles because I had a lot of demographic-specific information to get out, but in the future I imagine it will be fairly repetitive from the newsletter. The family sector of the congregation is probably our lowest reading group of that publication, but they ate up the one that was targeted to them. On the last page I included a little devotional type piece for use at Thanksgiving, so I think that's a helpful thing to add. It was mostly informational, but not completely.

  11. Oh, one more comment from me, since I'm reading that many of you are posting your newsletter online. We email ours to members and we also post a copy on our website, but the one on our website is often redacted if it includes pictures of children. We have a permission form we give to every family with minor children. We give parents the option of permitting (or not) the use of their child's image in the newsletter and on our church website. If they have given permission for the newsletter and not the church website, we make sure not to include those pages of the newsletter in what we post online.

    I highly recommend that anyone posting newsletters online to be careful not only about images of children but also about any other information that people might not want on the web (birth announcements, illness news, etc.).

  12. We had a twice a month newsletter until this we are in mid-transition to once a month. The basic plan is this: there's a newsletter that goes out on the 2nd Wednesday of the month, except in a couple of months when we need another issue (ie, there will be one on the 4th Wednesday of November, to remind people about early advent activities, etc). We have published the new dates and deadlines in each newsletter, and people are actually kind of catching on. The only person complaining about the change because I can't seem to keep the new deadlines in my head, nor the fact that I don't have as many opportunities to communicate as I once did.
    having said that: we bailed on the pastor's column, except for key moments (stewardship, christmas, confirmation, addressing something major in the church) about 2 years ago. Not a single person has mentioned missing the pastor's column.
    We email the vast majority of our newsletters as a PDF attachment. We also post it on the website, usually with phone numbers removed and with attention to which parents have NOT signed a publicity release for their children's photos. The hard copy mailing list is down to about 30 copies, which are mailed the day before the email goes out, so everyone gets the newsletter the same day.
    We also send the weekly bullet announcements by email each Friday, and post them on the bulletin board near the coffee pot...and don't put them in the bulletin. You would not believe how much paper we've saved by not putting announcements in the bulletin. Downside: visitors don't know what's going on. Upside: we don't think anyone was reading that novel of bulletin inserts anyway, and we have saved a tree a week at least. lol.

  13. We have a twice monthly email newsletter (with no pictures of any kind). It is usually is 4-6 pages long. Quite a few members have told me that they read this more often than they would a paper copy - it's easy to open, scan, and then close while a paper copy is usually set aside until they "have time" to look at it - which is almost never.

    I think the location/personality of the congregation is important in deciding how to handle this. We are a relatively large congregation in a very large city. Many members travel frequently for either business or pleasure and so are not in worship every week. Very few do not have computer access; they can opt in to a snail mail delivery. What works for us would probably not be so useful for a smaller or aging congregation in a smaller community.

    We also have a midweek emailed note from the pastor about anything that's happened since the last newsletter/bulletin and reminding all of what will be happening the coming weekend. This note is a "just the facts ma'am" communication, so I just start a list of significant events and that becomes the "letter" that goes out on Thursday morning.

    The "pastor's column" has become a "leaders column" - so I write this about twice a year. The clerk of session, the chair of the stewardship committee, the music director - well, you get the picture - each take responsibility for a month in January.

    Again - I think the personality of the congregation is the key in how to manage this.

  14. We actually only do about 6 newsletters a year - loosely around the church calendar. The "Advent" edition will go out by the end of next week - another in January - then one just before Lent begins - one after Easter - one around Pentecost - and one mid-summer in preparation for fall.

    We send one-two page updates called "In the meantime..." about every-other week. These include announcements of upcoming events, brief accolades/birth announcements/etc - that come in between newsletters. But the "In the Meantime..." updates do not include all the regular "columns" like the pastor's article, etc. It has been a good compromise for us.

  15. We are a smaller congregation that doesn't qualify for the bulk rate, in a community that does not have a post office (which means loooooooong delivery delays), so we have almost done away with the newsletter. Worship bulletins get e-mailed to nearly everyone, and they seem to be well-read in advance because people sure comment if something changes. Our bulletin format allows for an entire 8.5x11 page of "announcements," so everyone who is in worship gets that. On the first Sunday of the month, I add a bulletin insert with everything I know that's happening in the next month.

    In addition, we have an opt-in mailing list for the once-a-month version, so it goes out to our shut-ins, our elderly members, etc.

    Mostly, though, we do communicate electronically. We have a blog site that we use as our web site (we are a SMALL church!), and we use e-mail liberally.

  16. I have never known a congregation that did a newsletter more than once a month. That's enough work as it is! We have pared ours WAY down and send out a monthly paper copy, which is augmented with a weekly email that links to the website. Currently we do not have a 'pastor's column,' which I used to do and cursed, but now miss. I'm thinking about starting a blog on our website instead.

  17. We email weekly news, reminders, etc. The calendar is only on the web. If we have Luddites, they manage by getting a bulletin. Actually... some weeks we don't have a bulletin if we are projecting everything including the service order. But -- we are in metro DC in a very tech-savvy area.

    Re: mailings... it is probably also because of our "green conscious" constituents... but we do not mail things out. Save a tree and all that... We have copies of important documents (budget, etc) available on a back table. Previous week's bulletins with announcements are left for a week or two. Having said that -- it's a small church and so far the emails and piles 'o paper are sufficient. That could (and will change) as we grow. If we grow.

  18. Oops that was me. I didn't mean to hit Anonymous! LOL

  19. Late to the conversation...great ideas. We have a contingent who faithfully read the newsletter cover to cover and some that complain because they didn't "know it"...because they don't read the newsletter.

    I don't write fluff for my pastor's column. I view it as another avenue to teach and expand their faith. It may be explaining Advent (again) or writing about themes Carol Howard Merritt is raising up for the church.

    I like moving the emphasis from "what happened" to "what is going to be going on".

  20. Suzy - could you say more about using a blog as the church website? We're looking into a website, but need to keep costs down.

    I'm going to start a facebook page as well, but we really want a searchable presence so we can be 'googled'

  21. We switched from twice a month to monthly several years ago, and then last year to a monthly electronic version that is emailed to people as a PDF attachment. We print out some copies and have them at church for people to pick up if they want to, and we mail it first class to those who have requested that. The impetus was too many headaches with USPS bulk mail regulations; the bonuses have been a considerable cost savings and timely delivery. Few people complained, and I think it is possible a handful more are reading it.


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