Outreach: Church communication and marketing tools

Twelve Ways to Increase Newsletter Readership

There’s competition everyday for your church members’ attention.  How can you ensure that your church newsletter is one publication they will read? Here are 12 helpful tips that will boost the presentation and effectiveness of your newsletter – whether online or hard copy – and increase readership.

1)  Say My Name
People love to see their names in print. If they think they’ll be mentioned in an article, they’ll read it. Don’t be afraid to include numerous names in your newsletter information. It serves as a nice pat on the back and adds a personal touch.

2)  Pictures Are Worth 1,000 Words
People also love to see pictures of themselves and their friends in print. However, you should only use pictures in your publications if they are clear, recognizable and well-reproduced. Here are some guidelines for good newsletter pictures:

a) No more than five people in a picture.
b) Faces should be about the size of a quarter in the finished piece.
c) Close-ups are better than pictures with a little person and a lot of background.
d) Action photos are better than staged, grip-and-grin photos.
e) Get with your printer to determine the best way to have pictures appear in your publication. If you’re doing it yourself, there are certain settings, which will affect the final appearance of a picture. Find what works best for you. Sometimes, a professional scan or halftone of a picture can make a world of difference in the finished product.

3)  What’s Everyone Else Doing?
There’s no shame in looking at other materials to find new ideas. You can draw good story, layout and picture ideas from local newspapers, free community newsletters or other churches’ newsletters.  Browse online and bookmark the best church websites. Take their best ideas and apply those that best suit your church’s needs. They may provide a kickstart to an avalanche of other new ideas. However, if you reprint any article, graphic or photos, make sure you obtain permission and/or use appropriate attribution. Also, most word processing and desktop publishing programs have excellent templates for newsletters that can give an "amateur" layout artist a "professional" touch.

4)  Look Ahead to What’s Next
Instead of focusing on simply recapping events many people already attended, lead with upcoming events. What’s going to be news to your congregation? What will they consider valuable information? These are the things you should convey first, and keep the reporting of past events to a minimum.

5)  Write News Like the Experts
It’s not hard to report like a reporter if you remember two things. First, always tell the story in the third person (he, she, they, it) and second, the lead (first paragraph in a story) should tell the most important facts first. Generally, these answer the questions of who, what, when, where, why and how. A lead paragraph of 25 to 30 words is plenty to digest. Then, the next paragraphs follow with information ranked in its order of importance. Also, keep your paragraphs short, as the eye tends to get lost in a long paragraph.  Finally, consider bold faced sub-heads to separate key paragraphs to interest your readers in the rest of the story.

6)  Make It Clear and Readable
Generally, headlines should be bold, distinctive and in a large-sized type (18 points or larger) depending on the size of your publication. 

The type used for the body copy should be easy to read (10-12 point is recommended). Serif types (those which have lines extending from the ends of the letters, such as Times Roman) are the easiest to read when there is a great quantity of words. Never use all caps with the possible exception of very occasional brief, bold headlines. Also, carefully choose the color of paper and ink you use. Even the clearest photos and type can be lost if printed in a bad ink color or on paper that is too busy or too dark.

7)  Bring Your Headlines to Life
In every case, the headline will influence whether or not a story gets read. Have fun with your headlines! They can be clever, but above all, they should be active. 

For example, a lifeless headline would read: "Youth Group Returns from Missions Trip."
Pump it up with a little creativity.  Try this instead:  "Youth Make Eternal Impact Across The Border."

8)  Give It a Name
Signify a new energy in your church’s newsletter by giving it a new name that captures the essence of what you’re trying to accomplish. Instead of Oak Hill Church News, use the name that expresses your vision, such as The Seeker, Hope for Today, The Connection, or From the Hilltop.

Then design the new name in an appealing and attractive font and type size (called a "masthead") that grabs the reader’s attention and will draw them into the rest of the publication. Again, look at some examples to see how others have designed their masthead. You want the masthead to represent your church’s ideals and message. If you’re a contemporary church, make the masthead reflect that. Remember the reader: a church newsletter masthead should be very different for a church targeting the Gen-X crowd than a church targeting Seniors.

9)  Keep It Consistent
Once you’ve gone to all the trouble of designing an appealing publication, keep up the good work. Most desktop publishing programs allow for use of grids or templates to help you duplicate that sharp, snazzy look each issue. If you’re going to use frames or background shading, then use the same point size for frames and density for shades. Too many variations will give your publication a sloppy, inconsistent appearance. 

Also, format an outline of what your church newsletter will include on each page. For example, if you plan to include a column on youth news, decide where that piece of news will be located for every issue. By consistently including sections in the same place, your readers will know where to look if they want to find a certain piece of news. Plus, it will make writing and designing each newsletter issue a much easier task for you. 

Where should each section go? Remember that space at the front of the publication is the most valuable. Since news items are the most timely, a news section is usually on the front page or at the front of the publication. Rank other sections by what you think your audience will find most important. If your church has a high singles population, then a section on singles activities should go toward the front of the publication, perhaps right after news.

9) But Keep It Fresh
While consistency is important, you shouldn’t shoot for a carbon copy of your previous issue.  Keep landmark items (such as a masthead, regular columns, etc.) in a regular format, but feel free to add variety within the sections. Giving the reader some surprises will keep them interested from month to month. For example, instead of having one large picture on the front page of every issue, spice it up with a medium to large-sized picture and a smaller picture that accompanies the main story. 

10)  Color Your World
Adding color, even if only in small areas, can make the difference between a newsletter that is so-so and one that truly commands attention. A four-color newsletter (where the pictures and graphics are in full color) is the most eye-catching, but it is also the most expensive. However, a less costly (and still effective) alternative is spot color. This is where the pictures are still in black and white, but there are "spots" of one color sprinkled throughout the newsletter, for example, on the masthead and on some graphics. Because the item with color stands out, spot color effectively directs the readers’ attention to a certain section or graphic. However, use spot color sparingly. Too much spot color can be overpowering or distracting. Text treated with spot color is also more difficult to read than black text.

11) Play One Picture Off Another
To keep the page visually interesting, both pictures should be proportionally offset from one another. In other words, if your story’s main picture is mainly horizontal, accompany it with a vertical picture that is at least half the size of the main picture. This creates visual "tension" and draws the eye to a certain picture first, and then to another picture second.

12) Less Is More
As in all publishing efforts, this adage rings true. Keep your pages free of clutter. Clip art, when used in moderation, is a wonderful thing. However, overused, it works against the better good of the publication.

Also, keep in mind that white space has value. If your newsletter is too full, especially of text, it will be visually overwhelming and reduce readership. Clean, uncrowded layouts, stories, pictures and graphics will attract the reader. And if you eliminate the clutter, the message you want to convey won’t get lost in the shuffle.

Try implementing some of these tricks of the trade into the next issue of your church newsletter. Not only will improving the appearance and content create a better image of your newsletter, but you’ll find that your readership has increased as well.