In our information-saturated landscape, many have asked the question “how do we communicate well with our church’s members?” The answer to that question is, of course, multi-faceted and ever-changing. A little more than a year ago, as my church—Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Rockford, Illinois—evaluated the congregation’s communication needs, our existing communication avenues, and the time and energy we devoted to different efforts, we determined that our monthly email newsletter wasn’t as helpful as it had been in the past.
Enter The Connecting Point. Well, to be honest, it didn’t have that name or a clear direction for a while. There was a good chunk of time in the development stage when I would refer to it as “the new quarterly storytelling publication that will be available both as a hard copy and digitally.” Let’s just say that, while descriptive, the name garnered more raised eyebrows than buy-in.
A New Type of Church Publication
So what is The Connecting Point? Here’s how we put it in the first issue:
It’s part newsletter, part magazine, part calendar, part family album, and a whole lot of something new and exciting. It’s a resource we hope will be a blessing to you and your family.
In each issue you’ll find a devotion, stories about ministries at church and in our community, opportunities to serve and be involved, resource reviews for faith and life, calendar highlights for the coming months, and birthdays and anniversaries.
All of these elements are meant to help you do just what this publication’s title suggests: connect. A devotion connects us to God’s Word, stories connect us to one another, resources connect us to ways we can learn and grow in the faith God’s given to us, opportunities for service connect us to our community (both our neighbors at Mt. Olive and outside its walls), and the birthday and anniversary list connects us to those in our Mt. Olive family.
Rewinding a bit, once we came to the conclusion that our newsletter needed some reimagining, we did a lot of research. We talked to members and asked what they would find helpful and what would nurture their connection to their church family. We looked at what worked with the old format. For example, we heard quite clearly that the monthly birthday lists are a big deal. Another question we asked was, “Is there a better place for x, y, or z, or is this need being better met in another way?” Here we recognized that an exhaustive calendar was not a necessary element, but a big-picture list with special events for folks to put on their calendars was more appropriate.
I then asked friends and family what their churchs’ newsletters looked like, what information and content was included, how the newsletters were delivered, and how often they were published. Gathering ideas was a major focus of our research—and it continues to be as we refine our process and framework.
Then we considered the deficits in our communication. A place to tell stories was sorely missing and greatly desired. With different ministry areas and classes and all the other things that take place in the life of a congregation, there are countless areas to look into with greater depth and to hear about from the perspective of those who are involved or impacted.
One of the reasons I was so excited to dig into this project was the opportunity to engage members who have content-creation gifts, whether in writing, photography, resource reviewing, or something else along those lines. A college student studying English wrote a piece when she was home for summer break. We have a number of members who write professionally and are willing to use their talents in this way. There are several photographers in our congregation who have contributed to photo essays in The Connecting Point. The church staff also contributes content and ideas in various ways. And last, but certainly not least, the individuals who can spot an incorrect sentence structure, word spelling, or calendar date—they’re the ones you want on a proofreading team!
Now that we’ve looked a little at the “why” of The Connecting Point, here’s a brief overview of how we make it happen.
First, these are the basic elements we try to include in each issue:
- Welcome note
- Calendar highlights for the quarter
- In-house ministry story
- Community/outreach story
- Resource review
- Birthday and anniversary lists for the quarter
Not every one of these categories makes it into each issue, but this list serves as a general outline in the planning process and keeps us from focusing too heavily on a specific area. The categories can be approached in various and creative ways. Here are some ways we’ve shared content in past issues:
- Feature stories (a look inside, impact stories)
- Photo essays (snapshots from a big event like Vacation Bible School, “throwback” photos, sequence of a project)
- Q&A interviews
- Reviews and recommendations
- Educational pieces (how tos, historical background)
- “Get to Know . . .” (staff, board) features
Bonus! Content created for The Connecting Point can be modified and used in other communication platforms, like blogs or series of social media posts. Resource reviews can be adapted for more specific audiences.
Now that you have all of this great content, the question becomes, “How do I put it all together?” As one who is not a professional designer, I have found Canva to be my best friend for layout and design. Their magazine templates have been a great starting point. We print booklet-style on ledger-sized paper (11" x 17"), so each page is 8.5" x 11". Printing in-house and in black-and-white, we also consider the grayscale nature of the publication when designing.
For the timing and frequency of publishing an issue of The Connecting Point, we wanted a pace that would allow for higher-quality work without overwhelming anyone involved in the publication’s creation. We decided on quarterly, with one issue covering three months of the year, allowing for special editions if needed. Having an established rhythm of deadlines, both for myself as the editor and for contributors, has been immensely helpful. Here’s a general look at what we’ve found works for us:
SAMPLE PLANNING TIMELINE—Fall 2017 Edition (Publication Date: September 28, 2017)
- Article/piece requests made: July 21, 2017
- Birthday and anniversary dates compiled: July 24, 2017
- Copy due: September 4, 2017
- Complete layout and design: September 11–19, 2017
- Proofs finalized and printed: September 21, 2017
- In-print distribution: Weekend of September 30 and October 1, 2017
From its inception, The Connecting Point has been about engagement—namely, providing engaging content for readers, engaging a wide range of talented contributors, and encouraging ongoing engagement within our church family and in various ministries. It’s still a relatively new thing, but our hope is that it always serves as its name suggests—as a place to connect.
Download a sample issue of The Connecting Point to see how it’s done and get ideas for your church.