Do your good intentions of getting the monthly newsletter out on time too often fall victim to your hectic schedule? Maybe you've wished you could get someone else to take over the responsibility for putting it together, or maybe you're just looking for some fresh ideas for doing the job more efficiently. Whatever your need, there are a few simple pointers that can make newsletter production easier and more efficient.
A well-edited newsletter can accomplish many things. It can inform shut-in church members and help them feel they are still part of the fellowship. It can act as a bridge of friendship to visitors and inactive church members. It can help missionaries and other members who have moved away keep in touch with friends back home. A church newsletter can never replace a personal visit, phone call, or note, but it can help in maintaining unity in the body of Christ. In a society where all is rush-rush, the newsletter can be a reviving pause in the hectic week of many members.
What goes into a church newsletter? News, of course! For starters, be sure to include news of weddings, graduations, births, deaths, illnesses, baby dedications, baptisms, special church services, and church socials. And don't forget the clubs and organizations in your church. They should feel free to use the newsletter to make their needs and services known to the congregation.
You can use special features to build up the body of Christ. One simple feature in our church newsletter is called Let's Celebrate. It is simply a listing of upcoming birthdays and wedding anniversaries. We encourage church members to send cards or otherwise remember a special event so that the church family is part of the celebration. Another feature, Family of the Month, is a short interview of a family in the church. It gives information such as the careers of the parents, how many children there are, their hobbies and interests. Often how the couple met and where they grew up makes an interesting story. Don't hesitate to interview single people for this column. Although they may live away from family, that doesn't mean they hatched in an incubator and grew up in an environment void of parents and siblings.
In our newsletter we include two editorial columns—The Pastor's Corner and From the Editor's Desk. Both columns either encourage participation in special upcoming events, exhort the congregation to good works, or show ways to minister to others. All editorials should uplift Christ regardless of the topic. Well-chosen Scripture references add a tone of authority and meaningful weight to topics that might otherwise come across as so much fluff. As editor, I usually save my column for last and write it according to the space I have left. I avoid using the same topic as the pastor, although occasional duplication of a topic doesn't hurt if the subject is handled differently. The church news letter should not be used as a place to air theological arguments and doctrinal differences between individuals. Those matters are best settled privately. Editorials dealing with controversial or difficult subjects do have their place in the church newsletter at times. However, it is best to share these articles with a few other people before printing them, to avoid saying the right thing the wrong way.
Avoid using too many fillers—those nice little poems and words of wisdom that newsletter editors copy from magazines and other newsletters. Too many of these make a newsletter boring. News is what sells newspapers, and news about the church is what holds the newsletter reader. Interest in a filler can be greatly boosted by adding a lead-in such as "Mary Smith found this very uplifting during her hospital stay." If you do use fillers, be careful not to violate copyright laws.
Since the newsletter is for the entire body of Christ, we include a children's page. Bible quizzes, puzzles, and games hold the interest of children of all ages. Sometimes short features from children's magazines may be reprinted with the author's permission. Obtaining reprint rights is often simply a matter of writing the magazine publisher. If he has purchased all rights to the piece, he may grant permission to use it. However, magazines usually purchase rights to use an article only once, so the publisher will refer you to the author for permission. I have never had an author refuse permission to use a story, nor have I paid for any stories. Another way to fill the children's page is to get children ages 7 to 14 to write short articles about anything that interests them. Pets, hobbies, and school activities are just a few ideas. Children can be among your most reliable reporters if you will help them find an appropriate subject. Just express confidence in your young reporters' ability and dependability.
What kind of staff do you need to publish a newsletter? That depends upon the editor, what other responsibilities the editor bears, and the size of the church. Our newsletter has a mailing list of approximately two hundred, and the staff has boiled down to an editor and one reporter. In a larger church you might have several reporters, each covering a specific area, such as Sabbath school, church socials, youth activities, Community Services, or board meetings. In a small church you may prefer to have no reporters per se, but to draft individuals as the need arises. For example, you might ask someone to cover the church picnic. But be willing to take No for an answer rather than push people into making commitments they cannot fill. Announce the newsletter deadline well in advance. Personal reminders a week before often help assure promptness. Try to incorporate the writing of other church members to add variety in tone and style. You probably do not have a congregation filled with writers, but a good editor can correct grammar and still preserve the writer's personality.
Putting it together
Now that you've determined what to have in your newsletter, how do you put it together attractively? You do not have to be a professional typesetter to produce neat, sharp-looking copy. First, use inexpensive white paper with a flat finish, and type only on one side of each sheet. Erasable bond doesn't photocopy well, nor does it copy well for making printer's plates. If you are worried about mistakes, remember that correction fluid is an editor's best friend. Use a fresh black ribbon, or better yet, a carbon ribbon, and whatever typewriter you feel comfortable with. Make sure your keys are clean. Don't worry about having fancy equipment. I type our newsletter on a simple manual portable, because I feel comfortable with it.
Is there anything that should be typeset? Yes, a good masthead is worth the investment. The best design is one that allows you to type in the month, year, volume, and issue number. The original can be photocopied, and you can type front-page news on one of the copies.
The back page will need to include space for addressing the newsletter unless you use envelopes. One easy way to produce a neat return address is to use an envelope from church stationery. To make your master, measure where the page will be folded. Cut out the return address and the logo (if the church has one) and tape them onto the upper left corner. Use transparent tape and smooth it out with a fingernail. Regular cellophane tape can cause a glare that interferes with the photocopying process.
If your newsletter's circulation is two hundred or more, it qualifies for bulk mailing in the United States. (You might consider stretching your mailing list to achieve this.) The permit number should be clearly displayed in the upper right corner of the back page, across from the return address. The short back page, incidentally, makes an ideal children's corner.
What size should the actual newsletter be? Many newsletters have pages the size of a sheet of typing paper. The pages of the newsletter are stapled together in one corner, and the newsletter is folded in halves or thirds, stapled shut, and addressed. A newspaper format can be achieved by having your printer copy four of your typed pages onto the two sides of a 11" x 17" sheet. This becomes a "book" of four pages when you fold it in half. Next, fold this "book" into halves or thirds, staple it shut, and address it for mailing. This size sheet is easier to handle, cuts down the use of staples, and may reduce printing costs. A larger newsletter may be produced by adding an 8 1/2" x 11" insert or just using two 11" x 17" sheets. Check with your printer concerning the availability of the 11" x 17" sheet. He may also have other formats for you to consider.
It is nice to vary the layout of the words on some of the pages, but a good standard format is two columns per page. The use of all capital letters in the headline is a good way to distinguish it from the body of the article. Top and bottom margins may be one inch; side margins must be at least one-half inch from each edge of the paper, and the space between columns should be about half an inch. Margins less than one-half inch make it impossible for the printer to fit all your material on his plates without reducing it. Reduced print will make your newsletter fold in the wrong places and leave areas out of proportion.
When typing articles, remember that white is nice. A blank margin and generous spacing between articles is relaxing to the eyes. An easy way to separate the articles is to type a series of one typewriter character such as & clear across the column. A blank line before and after the line of characters is ideal for eye appeal, although it may not always be possible. Begin columns with a longer article and fill in with shorter items. This can often eliminate the problem of carrying an article over to the next column or page. Try to finish an article in the same column or at least the same page. A long article that will take an entire page may be typed in one column the width of the page. If this format isn't used too often, it may catch the reader's eye.
Illustrations liven up a page and can be taped on with transparent tape or drawn with a fine-point felt-tip pen. Actual photographs can spice up your newsletter, although they will increase printing costs because the printer will have to make a halftone of your photo. A black-and-white photo is best to use because it produces a better halftone more economically. Color photos should have high contrast. Remember that white is nice; illustrations should never clutter the margins.
As I complete this article I realize how much work a church newsletter is. Having edited a newsletter for several years, I know that it is hard work. But it does get easier with practice and prayer. It may not be the end of the world if your church doesn't have a newsletter, but if it does, the content is very important, because a church newsletter can be a unifying force igniting the flames of faith, kindling in individuals a greater desire to serve God. A church newsletter is hard work that pays richly in satisfaction.
I recommend Counsels to Writers and Editors, * a compilation by Ellen G. White, to anyone editing a church newsletter. While the quoted letters are written to editors of periodicals a little more prestigious than a church newsletter, the principles still apply. Your circulation may be small, but your words are still important.
* Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1946, 1962.