Category Archives: newsletter

Are You Listening to Your Gen Y?

A couple weeks ago I attended Edge: Online Promotion, a trade seminar on using social media to promote business. Initially, I questioned how worthwhile it would be because when I researched the presenter online, she looked to be all of 25-years-old.

I mean, really, how much professional experience could someone this age have? And how much Twittering could she be doing that actually substantiated something more than outings with her friends? After all, I need to learn how to market my business. I need to generate income!

Boy, was I wrong.

Caitlin McCabe is a social media strategist. Maybe you’re like me and wondering what this newly invented title does? According to her elevator pitch she develops “highly-detailed, research-based social media plans for brands that seek to utilize the latest tools to create relationships online, build brand buzz, and determine their ROI.”

Simply put, Caitlin helps businesses utilize online social media for their marketing purposes. Her client list includes Mitsubishi and Allstate Insurance. Clearly she’s more than narcissistic fluff.

Caitlin is a smart cookie who’s quick on the draw. She knows big name companies now recognize social media as a viable and necessary marketing tool. She’s in the forefront of advising them and I bet she’s getting paid pretty good to do so.

So what’s my point? And how does this relate to communicating Christ?

Well, let me ask my question again…are you listening to your Gen Y?

As longtime church members, wizened with experience and age, it’s easy for us to feel we know the “best way” to manage our congregation. We make all the decisions because, after all, we’re the only ones attending meetings and volunteering to serve.

But in today’s age, is our way always best? Do we even know all the possibilities?

When was the last time you contacted 20-30 year olds and asked their opinion on your church website? Or the monthly newsletter? Do they even read the newsletter? Have you asked them to set up a church Facebook account? Or a Twitter?

When was the last time you seriously considered their suggestions?

There’s a reason big companies are listening to Gen Y. God has blessed this generation with innovative ideas very different than those of generations before them. Their creative thinking is setting the pace for today’s technological world.

Our churches need to listen to Gen Y too.


Three Ways to Combat the 30-3-30 Rule

Recently I presented the workshop “Creating Newsletters People Actually Read” at the Church & Change Conference in Milwaukee. Apparently, this topic interests many because the turnout was great and we had interesting discussions.

One point I made is the “30-3-30 Rule.” This theory says there are three kinds of readers: 30-second readers, 3-minute readers and 30-minute readers. Unfortunately, 30-second readers make up 80 percent of the average newsletter audience.

Certainly this percentage necessitates greater efforts in good design and concise writing. But inventive editors have come up with other ideas, as well. I researched and found a few.

Write Creative Headlines
Advertising authority David Oglivy knew the importance of a good headline.
In his book Confessions of an Advertising Man, he offers four proven headline types; the How To, the Question, the Top 10 Reasons, and the Testimonial.

Challenge Readers
When I was a kid, I would scour issues of Highlights Magazine, searching for the hidden images. Some newsletters create the same challenge by “hiding” a member’s name (or other identifying information) in the text of the newsletter. The first member to spot it and call the office, wins a prize. What a fun way to hook young and old readers alike.

Feature New Members
People are naturally interested in other people. Particularly new people. Introduce new members in your newsletter, together with a nice snapshot. It immediately gets newcomers involved in the newsletter and also is a great way for members to get to know them.

Pass Along Ideas
What’s proven successful for your church newsletter?
Please share!

Press Release: They Don’t Call it Free Press for Nothing

O.K. I admit I’m a bit ambiguous in my use of “free press.”

Journalistically, the term “free press” refers to the uncensored freedom our constitution offers American media. For our church purposes, this term carries an additional reference: a wonderful opportunity to publicize our message of Christ.

For free. As in no cost.

A press release is free publicity

Direct selling expert Jeffrey Dobkin says a well-written press release is “the most valuable single page in all of marketing” (or, in our case, mission outreach). A press release is a document sent to media editors who, if they find it interesting, will publish it or decide to further report on it. For free.

You can send press releases to newspapers, magazines, radio, T.V. and now online publications. There are even online press release services that help distribute your news for you.

Of course, there’s a catch: You have to write it right

Editors receive a gazillion press releases each day. They have a ton of reading to do and not much time to do it. If you write your press release right, it will not only get read, it will also get published.

Match your media
Make sure there’s a connection between you and the media. If you’re publicizing your church’s elderly day care, send a release to your local newspaper or AARP Magazine. The Onion newspaper would not be a good choice.

Contact the editor
After selecting a media, contact its editor and ask how you should send your release. Hard copy? Email? Addressed to whom? This is a good time to put in a quick plug: “I’m Joe, from Trinity Ministries, and I’d like to send a press release on our exciting Hispanic outreach program. Who should I send it to and in what format?”

Remember, editors are busy people. Get straight to the point. And call after the media has been sent to publication, such as the afternoon if it’s a daily newspaper.

Press Release format
Google press release template and you’ll come up with hundreds of helpful guidelines. They’re basically all the same and I’ve posted one here. Of course, since you’ve already spoken with the editor, you’ll know if he or she has particular preferences. Customize your release to meet those preferences.

Use the Inverted Pyramid
Another journalism term here. But, hey, when in Rome…

Think of your document as an upside down triangle, with the wide base on top narrowing down to a point at the bottom. The broad base represents your opening paragraph and your most newsworthy information. The point at the bottom represents the last paragraph and the least newsworthy. In other words, if the newspaper needs to cut out the last paragraph for lack of space, make sure everything the public needs to know is in the first paragraph.

Note: This style of writing may be absolutely opposite what you learned in school, particularly if you’re a pastor. Remember, think journalism.

Absolutely NO passive voice!
The media is about action. Write in an active voice. Use strong action verbs. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check this out.

Five W’s and an H
Who, where, what, when, why and how? These are journalistic questions you have to answer. Is your church sponsoring an overseas missionary? Tell who she is. Where is she going? When will she go? What mission work will she do? How will she do it? Why?

Why? Because of Jesus
The public media hardly seems a receptive tool for spreading the gospel of Christ. If you come on too preachy, you’ll likely never make it off the editor’s desk. Jesus was often subtle in his manner of teaching. We can be subtle too.

“Building a new school during tough economic times is a challenge,” says John Jones, principal of Abiding Word School. “However, we know God has a plan and we trust it will be a good one.”

Imagine how the Holy Spirit can use a quote as simple as this to work miracles in the hearts of thousands. Talk about free press!

Press Release: You Gotta Have a Format

Writing a press release? Follow this easy template.


Contact Person
Company Name
Voice Phone Number
FAX Number
Email Address
Website URL

Headline Announces News in Strong Active Voice,
Ideally Under 80 Characters

<City>, <State>, <Date> -The lead 1-2 sentences must contain your most important information in 25 words or less. Answer who, what, when, where, why and how.

Keep the following paragraphs short, with no more than 3-4 sentences. Some say the total word count for your release should be no more than 800 words. I think even that’s too long and prefer to keep it to 500-600 words. It must be written as factual, with no hype or salesmanship. Any information that is considered subjective, such as an opinion, should be expressed as a quote.

Use the last paragraph to inform the public of your church or organization. Follow up with: “For more information, call or email…”

– END –

Type “End” after the end of your story to let journalists know this is the end of your release. If your release goes onto a second page, type “MORE” at the bottom of the first page.

If relevant, include a quality, black and white photo image relating to your story.

Pausing for a Breath

I regularly read Penelope Trunk, a career-advice columnist with the Boston Globe and author of the Brazen Careerist. While her subject matter is sometimes off the wall and her manner of delivery is even more so, I still find her informative, educational and applicable.

PT, as she’s often referred to by her blog followers, recently wrote on the idea of the pause. She wrote in regards to public speaking and how a pause adds impact to the important things a speaker has to say.

Here’s an example:

You’re listening to a speaker fire away, non-stop, on, and on, and on. He doesn’t give you time to replenish oxygen let alone absorb what’s being said. In a more effective delivery, a speaker would briefly pause after specific points during his speech. He would give his audience opportunity to laugh at his jokes, feel the emphasis of what’s important, or collect their thoughts.

The same can be said for our writing
The long, drawn out paragraph is like the rambling, non-stop speaker. There’s a major difference, however. The speaker, at least, gets a start with his message before loosing his audience. The writer, on the other hand, loses his audience before his first words are ever read.


Because we, the audience, are automatically scared away by big blocks of written text. In today’s world of blogging, twittering and news articles, this is magnified all the more.

“I encourage people to pause in their writing,” wrote an instructor, who commented on PT’s blog. “I suggest that they write paragraphs of two or three sentences. This may not be what you learned in school, but it works. A paragraph break in a written document is like a pause in a conversation.”

Pay attention to the writing style of quality newspapers. Take note of well-written blogs. Learn what people are reading today and keep that form in mind as you write your message of Christ.

Politics from the Pulpit?

I’m a writer, not a preacher, so I can’t authorize what comes from the pulpit. But “Politics from the Church Newsletter” just doesn’t have the ring to it, and as we all know, it’s all in the headline.

No matter. Whether it’s from the pulpit or the newsletter, the same thought applies: Politics are a no-no.

As we approach this autumn’s political firestorm, it’s important to remember the tax-exempt status of churches, religious organizations and ministers. This “favorable treatment,” as the IRS refers to the special tax laws applied to non-profit organizations, does come with restrictions.

What does this mean?
Well, if your organization feels compelled to communicate a political endorsement, think again.

By law, Section 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organizations are prohibited in becoming directly or indirectly involved in campaigns of political candidates. Like all laws, this has become subject to interpretation, whether you’re preaching from the pulpit, publishing a newsletter or hosting a speaker.

Interpretations or not, apparently the IRS doesn’t overlook the law.

In Pasadena, CA., an Episcopal church nearly lost its non-profit status because of a stance on the Iraq War. In Minnesota, a suburban church came under scrutiny when it invited a candidate to speak on its premises.

So why take the chance? Why disobey the law? Our nation was founded on the ideals of separation of church and state. That includes us too.

“Render unto Caesar…” Luke 20:25.

No Shop Talk

As a web designer, I frequently peruse online forums to further my knowledge. And as one of the “older set” (meaning IT definitions were not the first words from my mouth), I sometimes have problems understanding the language.

Like, what is this?

CSS is a stylesheet format for HTML, XHTML, and XML, including SVG and XUL, endorsed by the W3C, which facilitates the ability to separate document content from document presentation in a format universal to all browsers.”


Why not simply say, “Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is a web design language used to format the layout of a web page. It’s endorsed by the World Wide Web Consortium.”

KISS. Keep it simple (sweetie). No shop talk.

So, what about our faith language? Do we mistakenly assume all readers are equally as far in their spiritual journey? Does our faith writing also cause people to say, “huh?”

Assume zero faith knowledge
Much of our writing today is for the web. Our audience potential is endless! We should assume that some, if not many, of our readers know nothing of Christ. They may not even fully understand the English language, let alone our faith language. It must be simple.

Simple language is a must for our church members as well. People today have little time and our styles of reading have changed. Succinct, direct and uncomplicated are key.

Avoid jargon
Theological words such as “sovereign, justification, repentence, witness” and “sin” are shop talk to the believer but tech language to someone else. They carry different meanings to different people. Use them with care.

Avoid clichéd phrases
As Christians, we have a tendency to include the full law and gospel message in a single sentence, no matter what the topic. Or, we refer to Christ with a long string of names, just to be sure we’ve covered all his deities.

“With the certain hope of our Almighty Father’s love and guidance…”

Huh? It’s hard to read and too much to comprehend. It loses it’s meaning.

Why not simply say, “With God’s help…”