Here’s a comprehensive, step by step primer on publishing an award-winning newsletter for the families in your children’s ministry.
Want to tell how great your children’s ministry program is? Or perhaps you want to do an even better job at communicating upcoming events? A newsletter can both publicize and celebrate your ministry if used to its full potential.
“My favorite part of our newsletter is getting to share all the great things that God is doing with our children,” says Ronie Stikkelman, the publisher of The Connection at New Life Fellowship in Memphis, Tennessee. “It’s exciting to read and it’s contagious. I love it!”
Publishing your own newsletter may sound like an overwhelming task — but if you follow these suggestions, your newsletter will become a powerful ministry tool, too.
Know Your Goal
Okay, it seems like a no-brainer, but your first step is to know your audience. Is it for children, parents, teachers, your entire church, or a combination of the above? Your answer to this question will guide every decision.
With your newsletter staff (even if that’s just you), brainstorm your readers’ characteristics. Fill up a sheet of paper with words and phrases that describe your readers. Then write a paragraph that accurately describes their personality, their world, their likes and dislikes, and their needs. Use this paragraph as a filter when you’re designing your newsletter’s content and look. For example, if you know that your readers are busy, you’ll want to provide short pieces that are quick to read. Or if you know they’re hungry for new ideas to help their children grow spiritually, you’ll want to include those, too.
Now you’re ready to answer the second-most important question: Why do you want to publish a newsletter anyway? Answering this question will give you the vision to hang in there during those long stretches of collating! Prayerfully draft a short mission statement. Limit it to a couple of sentences and refer to it often. Perhaps your mission statement will sound something like, “To celebrate God’s work in our children’s ministry, to inform parents, and to provide faith-nurturing activities at home.”
Develop Your Plan
A newsletter can easily become overwhelming without a clear plan of action. Figure out how to put together, print, and distribute your newsletter while staying within your budget. Here’s how.
Set a budget.
Costs include paper, printing, postage (if distributing through mail), and perhaps purchasing art or editorial material. Funds may be available through your church, or you could plan a fund-raiser to cover newsletter expenses.
Build your team.
Look around for people who can contribute. Some may be able to provide information on upcoming events, while others may have writing or design experience. Involve kids in your newsletter production. Younger kids can serve as reporters, while older kids can help with editing and design.
Enlist stringers. Make a list of the people who have the information you need for your newsletter. Sources might include church staff members, the church secretary, parents, Sunday school teachers, school officials, and kids themselves. Develop an effective way for these people to funnel information to you regularly.
Choose a name.
The name should reflect your audience and be easy to remember. Use a spin-off of your church name or ask kids for ideas. This is an easy way to get kids involved right from the start. Marcia Eveland, the newsletter publisher at Central Union Church in Honolulu, says they named their newsletter The Tree House because “the center point of our play area is a tree house.”
Solomon David, newsletter publisher at Bachelor Creek Church of Christ in Wabash, Indiana, says, “The name of our new junior worship program is Super Stars. Thus the name Super Stars was an appropriate name for the newsletter.”
Elden Faulkner, the newsletter publisher at Centre Street Church in Calgary, Alberta, says, “Our teachers and directors named this the Construction Zone because we’re busy building kids for Christ.”
And Ronie Stikkelman, the publisher of Kids Connection at New Life Fellowship in Memphis, Tennessee, says “The whole reason for our newsletter is to add one more step in joining with the parents in ministering to their children.”
So you see how your purpose in ministry directly affects your purpose in publishing a newsletter, and thus results in the best name possible for your newsletter.
Still not sure what to name your newsletter? Have a newsletter-naming contest. That’s what Linda Foster did with Faith Kidzette at Faith Evangelical Church in Loveland, Colorado. Invite people to suggest names, or give them several names to vote for.
Consider your format and printing options.
Before making the decision about whether to use a printer or photocopier, you need to decide what size paper you’ll use. The most common formats are 8 1/2 X 11, printed front and back; 8 1/2 X 11, folded to 5 1/2 X8 1/2; 8 1/2 X14, printed back and front; 11X17, folded to 8 1/2 X 11; and 8 1/2 X 14, folded to 7X8 1/2. Then choose whether you’ll use the more expensive option of printing or simply photocopy your newsletter.
Decide how often to publish.
Will a monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly newsletter best meet the needs of your children’s ministry?
Determine your distribution.
Will you mail your newsletters or hand them out? If you decide to mail them, check with the post office about size regulations and mailing rates. Ask for information regarding special bulk mailing postage rates, too.
Plan your work.
Once you’ve decided how often to publish, you need to develop a plan for completing your newsletter. Begin by setting the dates for newsletters to be mailed or handed out. Then back up a few days and set a date for having it printed or copied. Back up another week and set the due date for article submissions. Allow enough time between the articles submission date and the copying/printing deadlines to edit and design the newsletter.
Choose a Look
The visual presentation of your newsletter is what draws in people. If you follow these basics, you’ll have a winning newsletter design.
1. Select a grid.
A grid is simply the guiding framework you’ll use to place blocks of information and graphics in your newsletter. Think of it as a skeleton. Information must fit within the spaces outlined by your grid. Your options include:
- Two-Column-Good when you have lots of text and very few photos.
- Three-Column-A reliable grid that offers flexibility for art and photos.
- Four-Column-Works well when you have many small tidbits or sections you need to fit into your newsletter.
2. Design a nameplate.
The nameplate is what identifies your newsletter, much like Newsweek or Better Homes & Gardens identify themselves. Your nameplate design sets the tone for the entire newsletter. So spend time on it. The look of your nameplate may also influence the way you design section headings.
Nameplates include the newsletter title, the name of your children’s ministry or church and its location, the date, and a ogo if your ministry has one. Set your nameplate apart from the rest of the newsletter with either a line or a shaded box.
3. Choose a type style.
Choose a type style that’s easy to read. And keep most or all of your newsletter in the same type size. You can vary the type size in headlines, photo captions, and author’s bylines.
4. Incorporate graphics.
Use rules, screens, color, art, and photography. These are the subtle elements that’ll give your newsletter style and zip. Janet Magee, publisher of Preparing for the Harvest at Christian Fellowship Church in Harlingen, Texas, says her favorite part of the newsletter is “presenting the information in a fashion that makes the reader ‘read on.’ That’s done using graphics and pictures. Why should a Christian publication be less appealing than any other publication?”
Use these graphic tools:
This is the simplest way to dress up a page. Rules can separate sections of your newsletter. Vertical rules or lines should be thin; horizontal rules should be fat.
Screens are shaded patterns or boxes that make type stand out from the page (this section is “screened”). Using a graphics program or desktop publishing software enables you to easily add screens.
When you use a second color on your newsletter, you can really energize it, but it’s expensive to print anything with color. A cheaper way to add a second color is to print color “shells”-your color nameplate and regular section heads can be printed in advance on your stock of paper. Then you simply print the “guts” of your newsletter onto your already printed paper stock. Another option is to buy shells directly from a paper supply company such as Paper Direct.
Clip art, illustrations, and unusual type treatments all qualify as art. Use them to juice up your look, but don’t overdose on them. Clip art is available in print, disk, and CD-ROM formats and can be found in most Christian bookstores.
Nothing livens up a page better than photos, but if you’re publishing in black and white, test your copier. If the copier isn’t capable of changing the colors into shades of gray, ask a printer to halftone your photos. This process changes the colors into dots of varying intensity which should work with your copier.
An easy option is to have your photos put on photo CD or disk when you have them printed. Another option is to get a desktop scanner. In the last few years, these have become reasonably priced, and they offer you the best and cheapest quality for reproducing photos. Design software programs even enable you to manipulate the photos to get the best quality or create a fun visual effect.
Plan Your Content
The look of your newsletter will hook people into reading it, but the information you print will keep them reading. Consider exactly what it is that your readers need to know. List these things and determine which needs are regular enough to be included in each issue.
Regularly Appearing Content
The following items appear regularly in the newsletters we received from Children’s Ministry Magazine subscribers: the publisher’s column, a listing of kids’ birthdays, announcements for upcoming events, a letter to parents, a question and answer column, movie/TV show reviews, ideas for parents to encourage faith nurture at home, a calendar of events, kids’ comments on issues such as what they’re thankful for at Thanksgiving time or their answers to statements such as “When I grow up, I want to be…”, jokes, games, and puzzles.
Solomon David features a “Super Star of the Month” column in his Super Stars Newsletter in Wabash, Indiana. Solomon writes, “My favorite part of the newsletter is profiling the Super Star of the Month, because I believe it gives kids a sense of accomplishment, and it honors them before their peers for their work for Jesus Christ.”
Linda Foster at Faith Evangelical Church in Loveland, Colorado, asks families to respond to a question for the next issue of Faith Kidzette. For example, she writes, “Tell us how you imagine the manger. Do you have a special Christmas tradition, like creating the nativity scene under your tree? Share your family’s story with Faith Kidzette.” Then she prints their answers in the next issue.
Elden Faulkner from Centre Street Church in Calgary, Alberta, says, “We have a junior news reporter and a video or book critic to help provide a child’s view of our ministry. We interview a lot of kids.”
Once you decide on the elements that must be in your newsletter regularly, slate them for every issue. Give them the same title and graphic treatment each time so your readers know exactly where to look for this needed information. Creating this “formula” will help you determine what your staff can be digging up as news between issues rather than “shooting from the hip” each time. If you’ll look at the Table of Contents you’ll find our “regulars” formula in the “Ideas You Can Use” and “In Every Issue” sections. We do it this way too!
Next, brainstorm the kinds of one-time articles you want written in the next four issues. These will be closely linked to your reader’s needs. For example, for parents you may choose to include a one-time list of classroom teachers, classroom safety guidelines, or how to make the most of Valentine’s Day at home.
Narrow your brainstormed articles to the number of articles that four issues can support. For example, if you have room for three special articles in each quarterly issue, choose 12 articles. Planning ahead enables you to ask specific people to write these articles. (Also, assign specific people to pull together your regular sections.) Give writers a deadline and ensure your authors’ success with intermediate reminders. You’ll be amazed at how this process will curb the last-minute news-gathering scramble.
As you plan your content, consider these things.
Make it significant.
Communicate must-know information. Use a calendar to tell about upcoming events at a glance. Describe regular programs so new people feel comfortable and informed.
Make it passionate.
You need a column in the newsletter so you can communicate your heart to your readers. People need to know what you’re passionate about. Choose grabber topics that focus on what’s important to your readers.
Make it honoring.
Recognize your newsletter staff members in your masthead and with author bylines. The masthead is simply a listing of staff members and their titles or roles.
Respect copyright laws.
If you find an article that would be valuable to your readers, contact the publisher and request permission to copy. If you tell them it’s for a church publication, they may give you permission to use it without charge.
Make it fun.
Make announcements not only informative, but fun to read. You can also include strange but amazing facts about the Bible, amusing quotes, or silly cartoons. Ensure that these items aren’t going to offend any of your readers.
If you follow all these guidelines, your winning newsletter will increase your ministry’s impact. Oh, and one last thing: Don’t forget to celebrate a job well-done with your staff each time an issue comes out. Pizza and nachos are always welcome at a publishing party!
Secrets to My Success
Here’s sage advice from Janet Magee, children’s ministry director at Christian Fellowship Church in Harlingen, Texas, and publisher of Preparing for the Harvest. Janet’s questions to ask before the newsletter goes to the copy machine or print shop:
- Is it visually appealing? Look at other publications for ideas.
- Is information accurate and current? Things can change before the ink dries sometimes.
- Is it informative?
- Has your church leadership read and approved it? This serves two purposes. One, it ensures that what you’re printing lines up with their wishes (since you are serving them in this capacity). Second, it keeps children’s ministry needs as well as accomplishments before your church leaders’ eyes.
- Last, but not least: Has it been proofed again and then one more time? You’ll be glad you dod…uh…dib…did! The more eyes that see it before it’s printed, the better product you can produce. Never, never proof your own work. You’ll never catch all your errors.
For more great ideas like this in each issue, subscribe to Children’s Ministry Magazine today!