Monday, April 11, 2005

Faith Works 04-16-05
By Jeff Gill

Church news is usually not the breaking headline kind of stuff.
“Looking Over Our Shoulder” is, in fact, a pretty common feature of the local congregational publication; and newsletter bloopers are, oddly enough, a staple of newsletter content.
What makes for effective communication in a church is a point of frequent debate not just in the parish office but even at staff meetings and even when the board comes together.
Specialists in such things will strongly recommend lots of “white space,” or large borders around blocks of text, and simple graphics that reproduce well on the kind of technology used in churches. Old timers who will otherwise bemoan how small print is everywhere else will see “waste” if the page is not a dense block of 10-point type, and ask how much was paid for those “squiggles a child could draw.”
“Your basic question is who do you want to reach with this communication method,” says Angela Herrman, with the "Disciples Home Missions" of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). “Are you doing your newsletter to reach new members with basic information they don’t know and people may forget to tell them, or are you publishing it to reaffirm to long-time members that we’re still doing what they already know their church is doing?”
The problem here, I pointed out, is that the correct answer for most churches is “both.”
“That’s right, so you need to have sections, with a familiar header or logo, that recur each week or month, so those who don’t have kids can easily skip the Youth News and young families can find the Coming Events.”
And the pastor’s column?
“Short. Short is key, because the newsletter isn’t where people turn for theological analysis or an extra sermon. Point them to where they can find those things, but don’t try to do it all in long blocks of text.”
Which, she says, is important for all age groups or levels of church familiarity. Bullet points, highlighted phrases, and, oh yes, lots of white space around key articles.
“This is not as much of a literacy-based culture as it once was, and people’s eyes tend to dance around. Text blocks make their eyes skip and slide to the next image or margin.”
The problem, I can attest, is that those of us who tend to write for newsletters love words and writing and information, and assume that most people want as much to read as we do.
In newsletters, words can get in the way of good communication.
Francis of Assisi knew this, too: I’m told that he once said “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.”
That would make a good masthead quote for a church newsletter!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; to share your church news or notes with him, e-mail

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