It’s on your calendar if you’re a church worker or a ministry chair, staring you down weeks ahead of schedule: “Write newsletter article.”

Newsletters have long been the vehicle of communication for church communities, providing glimpses of the upcoming month’s activities, worship schedules and serving opportunities, with a reflection from ministry leaders sprinkled in. They’re photocopied, folded by a cadre of volunteers (or sometimes that one volunteer who prays for a cadre to show up), and mailed in bulk to households of active and lapsed members alike.

Most of them are glanced at (if opened at all) and thrown into the recycle bin, continuing the life-cycle of all those periodicals from yesteryear that, for some reason, continue to take too much time and energy each month.

Perhaps that perspective is a little too cynical, but it can’t be denied that for the time a paper newsletter takes for already lean church staff and volunteers, very little good comes from it.

Here are five reasons you should ditch or drastically change that monthly newsletter.

  1. The numbers don’t help. Do you know what your monthly attendance or weekly offering is? If you do, it’s likely that you work in the church office, are church leadership or read your church newsletter. The problem is, communicating those numbers actually hurts your mission. No one gives to the Titanic, and if your ship appears to be sinking in attendance or giving (and really, most congregations appear to have sinking budgets until Dec. 31), it will come off as more of an alarm than a call to action. In these days where the active church-goer attends twice a month and more people give electronically rather than in the offering plate (and give more money less frequently), recording and publicizing these numbers don’t help your mission. And that visitor who signed up for your newsletter? These things probably won’t inspire them.
  2. Incomplete informa… That should say “information.” You knew that, but it was still annoying, right? Congregations need to be nimbler than they’ve ever been. Events and notices could change within a week, let alone from the six weeks prior when the newsletter was generated. Long-range planning is necessary for every faith community, but if you’re publishing half-baked ideas or possibly leaving entire ideas out of your major news source because the need hasn’t even appeared yet, you’re not doing your audience or your ministry any favors. Too many newsletters can’t offer complete information because they’re generated so far in advance to ensure a timely arrival.
  3. Save time and trees. Newsletters are bulky. Couple that with your weekly bulletin output, and I think it’s fair to say church offices keep the paper companies in business—and our forests well-trimmed. Not only do they use a lot of paper, they also keep the office staff busy on a product that doesn’t do the good it once did. In most congregations, members are far more likely to consult your online calendar and social media than they are to keep the paper duplicate. Do a cost-benefit analysis on your newsletter and see just how much you’re spending monetarily and resource-wise every month.
  4. The information is too … informational. Yes, I know that sounds redundant, but go with me on this. When it comes to your newsletter, consider the goal for such a mass-marketing strategy. If it’s to inform congregation members about upcoming events, there are better ways to get that message across. The Sunday bulletin (which members and guests are more likely to take home), your website and your social media presence can better communicate this information in “real time,” adapting to changing schedules and calendars. People don’t go to print sources to be informed about events; they now go to be inspired by ministry that has happened. If you’re going to keep your newsletter, I suggest you change it to be inspirational rather than informational. Use it to highlight member reflections on previous ministry initiatives. Have it tell the stories of what God is doing through people. If you talk about what has happened rather than what will, you’ll garner more ministry participation because people will long to get caught up in the story.
  5. It’s just not the way we communicate anymore. Long-form magazines tell the stories that shape our hearts and minds. Short-form leaflets provide a call to action. Newsletters, which used to serve as a bridge between those two mediums, no longer have the same place in our world of communication. The future of the newsletter is either one of storytelling, perhaps a quarterly church magazine of sorts, or a postcard-sized reminder about an upcoming call to action. For better or worse, electronic communication provides the bridge these days, and that’s really where church communities that have an eye toward the future should invest their resources.

Archive that last newsletter and start dreaming about ways to inspire as well as inform.

Tim Brown
Tim Brown is a pastor, writer, and mission ambassador and gifts officer for the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

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