How to Create some Newsletters that Engage! Paper Still Works if You Do it Right

Youthworker-Circuit-Newsletters-that-EngageYour teenagers have some 4,000 adverts that work to capture their attention every day, and that is a conservative estimate. So how can you go about getting their attention and be different from the other 3,999? Do something different. Go old school, keep the postal service in business, send out a newsletter. Really? Yes, Really. Here’s a some ways to create a newsletter that engages the teen.

Your disadvantage: You don’t have tv, millions of dollars in commercial appeal, do not have the time to inundate them with your message.

Your Advantage! They don’t watch tv as much (videos on the internet), you don’t need millions anyways, you know them personally and that is a step ahead of any marketing agency.

Why a paper newsletter? If you have taken our Surviving to Thriving training session we speak to having a communications plan for not just your core, but those curious and those in the community. Too often we get caught in the trap of communicating to our core, but yet we have so many more to communicate to that we probably only have their physical address.

  1. Design Counts: Wonder why Apple is such an appealing brand to teenagers? It isn’t just that their computers and gadgets are superior to everything else on the market (somethings are), but it is their attention to design. They’ve slimmed down functioning to give a sleek design element and people enjoy and revel in that. Do Not, pull up the old Publisher templates with clip art. They look cheap and that can be translated as “this is not really that important.” Whatever your program is, spend time working on a simple, yet captivating design. If you are not at all skilled in designing, no problem, do a Google search for some templates you can download for free or purchase. I see spending $30 on a good newsletter design as a great investment. I like to think an hour or two of my time is worth a whole lot more than that amount of money and I could then take that 1-2 hours catching up with teenagers in their circle.
  2. Think in Chunks: Wired magazine did an article years ago on Snack Food Culture where they highlighted our trend to chunking our information and taking it in ‘snack sized bites.’ How many words of a 1000 word article do you actually read? Not all of them, you’ll scan, some of you will just like this article because of the bold face type and bullet points, I’ve chunked my information. Put your information into your design in chunks with some eventual ‘next step’ ie. visit website, register on facebook, etc. Keep information in blocks and keep it small.
  3. Images Speak: Have some photos of the specific teens you are hoping to target with the newsletter. Not sure what that means, have a few kids in mind that you want to see this more than others. Next month switch that up. Want to get sneaky, employ the technologies of variable print, that’s a whole other level. This also brings up the notion of printing in colors. Doing a full color print can be expensive, but choosing a different colored paper or a heavier weight paper gets you almost there for less cost. However, if you are doing the newsletter with a nice design and in chunks then you are probably downsizing your newsletter to just one page. Images are something teenagers are looking for, they want to see themselves, their friends living life. You can even be tricky by putting unlock codes to photo posts on your website to tease out to kids to look for the newsletter.
  4. Personalize! This might be the most important part of the whole process. Get the teens attention by personalizing their newsletter. I don’t mean by just doing some mail merge that puts a “Hey Gavin, …” but leave some open space to write a personal note “Hope you did great at your soccer game last night! Maybe I’ll see you Sunday and you can give me a play by play!” “We prayed for you and your drivers test this week at youth last night. Good Luck!” Want to get even crazier, write your note over the other printed materials. Watch the kids bring that up when they come to church next “What was up with that?” “Why do you write notes to me over the newsletter?” This may not give some ground breaking conversation, but it is engagement where you might not otherwise had any, so we call that a start to building relationships.
  5. Mix it Up: Don’t always send the same newsletters. Have a few postcards thrown in there. Always directing people to that main hub of information, which could be the church or a youth website, maybe Facebook page, etc. I call this my p90x method, if the brain knows what to expect it will skip what it usually doesn’t connect with and go to the part that it does. Mixing it up forces the brain to adjust and look over all the information shared.

Want to explore that Variable Print idea? Give the folks at UMR Communications a ring, tell them I sent ya. They work with churches all the time on various sized projects from posters to 40 page booklets. They can even help you with your design, print and then mail it.. You miss out on that personalized writing part if they mail it for you.

Here’s a mock Newsletter I drew Up.. Kinda Like it, might be using it for my own Youth Ministry, with some photo and information changes.

Gavin Richardson is Digital Community Builder for YouthWorker Movement and the Short One at YouthWorker Circuit.  He has been in youth work for almost two decades now, has been a writer and consultant on numerous internet and published projects for the church. He’s often a speaker around the country on church communications and community building. His current projects are working on developing online Youth Disciple Groups and finishing a new book “Sticky Sheep.” He is the part time youth guy at Good Shepherd UMC in Hendersonville, TN.  If you ask, he will say that he is a “misfit” of the church. He lives in Nashville with his wife Erin, son Brooks and dog Crimson. You can connect with Gavin (and he’s totally cool with that) through http://about.me/gavoweb.

Warning: Don’t forget to do these 5 things when planning Youth Worship

This article was originally published October 20, 2011.

Recently we had our Youth Sunday service at our church. It was great, it really was, but it wasn’t without it’s headaches, stressors, and a few surprises along the way. Upcoming the last weekend of November is the ‘Student Sunday’ within the United Methodist Church calendar, which I believe is more geared for college students, but it could be a good time to do a special service with the teens leading.

So, if you are up for the challenge, when you are devising your Youth Sunday special service, here are some obvious and not so obvious things to plan for and watch out for.

1. Have Extra Music Practice.. Then more practice: With my all youth praise team we would practice at least 4 hours of the week prior, not to mention playing some of the songs ahead of time. But new songs take work and if you plan your music selections as I do, with the other generations in mind, we don’t want to just dump on them our standard praise sets. You get mad props for playing songs they like as well. If you are using the house band or musicians you can get away with less practice time, but you still probably need to set 2 hours. Music will make or break you, give it the extra attention. With that said, I give any kid a chance to sing or play. Many times they will practice and choose not to be live on Sunday, but it is open and I’m cool with it. This is a gift/talent/expression they want to share with the church, we are a safe place for them to do that. If they are on their electric guitar, however, I might incline them to keep the volume a little lower.

2. Ask if there are any strange traditions of Youth Sunday: With my most recent experience at a new church I had the service mapped out and sign ups filled out weeks ahead of time. I was feeling pretty good. When it came time for rehearsal I had some interesting to surprises “What adults are going to acolyte?” “What? None..” “Really, they always acolyte.” “Seriously??” Well, if they did before they didn’t this time, I hadn’t planned for it but in the midst of planning I never asked if there were any ‘different’ traditions of the service to plan for. Ask the question and if you get no responses you can move on.

3. Who do I need to tell to do something or not to do something? Again, in my most recent experience at a new church it was a few days later when one of the ladies stopped me to tell me that if I wasn’t going to use the ushers then I needed to tell such and such person. Good information to have now, but where were you weeks ago when I was planning this and as it was on the calendar for over a month? So ask the question, “Who do I need to tell to do something or not to do something?” and you will cover your bases and probably find out a little bit about the worship dynamics from week to week.

4. Get a Youth to do the Sermon!! This is Youth Sunday, not Youth Director Sunday, don’t get lazy and step into the pulpit (unless upon your senior pastors insistence). Pray over the service, pray for the group and ask for guidance in asking one or two to give the sermon for the service. It’s a huge leap for some kids, challenge for others, but with some coaching and some practice they can do great and the people of the church love it. Does not have to be the most theologically deep sermon, ie. don’t try and tackle the Trinity Sunday sermon (pastors regularly avoid that one). You may help in shaping this one, or it might be one of those where your pastor/s could would be willing to work with the youth on the sermon prep and coaching. That might be a great long standing relationship.

5. Rehearse step by step and write down notes: Though many of your youth, as do mine, participate in worship from week to week, rarely are they in these focal roles. So going through a rehearsal process is critical to making sure that the usher kids know their cues, even how to grab the plates (speak from experience on that one). Nothing is more scary then to look over where the youth are supposed to be and they are not there, in fact, they are still behind you.. “Oh Snap!” Go through a step by step process, it might seem trivial and exhaustive, but the youth will be thankful for it when it comes ‘go’ time. Write down notes through the bulletin/order of worship etc. so that they can reference later.

6. (wait this article says 5, I know, feeling generous) Use volunteers to focus on leading each segment. You cannot be everywhere for everyone all at the same time. So hand out responsibilities to your leadership to work with the youth on that one specific task. Your job then becomes the overseer and puzzle builder of the whole thing. So have a youth leader of yours operate the ushers, music, communion, etc. Trust me, this is important and you will thank me later.

Inevitably someone reading this will say that they don’t care for special youth Sunday’s because they exploit the youth in a fashion where we let them out of their room once a year then send them back while the big kids go back to doing church. If that is the case then I’m not in favor of that, but you need to start somewhere in integrating your youth into the full life of the church. They need to be active participants and not passive observers, so start them off somewhere. If they are already doing stuff then this becomes a neat experiment as they challenge themselves with new roles that they are not traditionally accustomed to.

 

Gavin Richardson is Digital Community Builder for YouthWorker Movement and the Short One at YouthWorker Circuit.  He has been in youth work for almost two decades now, has been a writer and consultant on numerous internet and published projects for the church. He’s often a speaker around the country on church communications and community building. His current projects are working on developing online Youth Disciple Groups and finishing a new book “Sticky Sheep.” He is the part time youth guy at Good Shepherd UMC in Hendersonville, TN.  If you ask, he will say that he is a “misfit” of the church. He lives in Nashville with his wife Erin, son Brooks and dog Crimson. You can connect with Gavin (and he’s totally cool with that) through http://about.me/gavoweb.

How Not to Burn Down the Church & Other Failures

We went from a quiet prayer-filled reflective room to one with giggles & a thick cloud of smoke. Ah, the joys of youth ministry.

For over a decade I’ve been putting together some really cool prayer station worship experiences for teenagers, youth workers, and regular lay adults of all ages. I was apparently pretty good at this – so good that I had some CDROM project created through Abingdon Press some years back. But all those great experiences and still two failures haunt me.

1. I was a new junior high guy to a large methodist church. This worship stuff was part of my hiring so I talked the senior director to let me set up a worship space. She agreed, so I set some of the youth into the motion of setting up sacred space. One prayer station had a cross & candle in a glass baking pan and the idea was to write on some sheet of paper and burn the paper. Yes, totally not creative, but it’s one of the stations the kids wanted to do so I tested it out. It could work. Worship starts and the youth & adults are moving through the space no problems. As things moved along I saw a sudden bright light out of the corner of my eye. One of the kids lit his little paper on fire & dropped it into the glass pan. However, his burning paper missed the pan and landed on the rest of the papers. So, being brave he picked up all the papers and dropped them into the pan. Now, instead of some smoldering papers we had a decent bonfire (ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration). We did have enough of a fire to melt the candle so now we had oily wax floating in the pan. Then comes in another brave teenager with a cup of water to douse the flames. So with the introduction of cold water to a hot glass pan (you may know that physics does not appreciate…) and Boom! there goes the glass. Thankfully that did get the flames out, but there was quite a bit of cleaning up to do.

2. We had Lent series one year and, as was customary with our Lent services, we tried to some ‘different’ type of stuff for worship. For some reason there was a lot of permission given to play with Lent (just don’t touch Christmas & Easter). We were exploring an Exodus scripture where the Israelites were ‘pitching their tents’ at the base of the mountain and God had these clouds of smoke on the mountain. So I had this great visual idea of setting up a mountain scene with a tent at the base. How cool to generate some smoke as well! So I proceeded to set up a large cooler in the choir loft, draped fabrics and papers down the sides to give a mountain look. Then set up one of my camping tents at the bottom, just behind the altar. It looked great! Just as service  began, I put in the last step, dry ice put into the cooler with some water!  A little smoke generated as worship started, “This is going to be awesome!” I said to myself.  Then, nothing… Still nothing… Worship came and went and it was very far from awesome. Dejected, I looked into the cooler, wondering “Why?” and saw that the dry ice had totally frozen all the water in the cooler. Now it was just a big block of ice. Apparently using to much dry ice can do that.

I share these perceived failure moments in my years of ministry because they are just that, perceived. People actually liked the mountain & tent visual. They didn’t know there was something else supposed to happen. I even apologized to our lay leader for not creating smoke. She graciously & honestly said, “It was great, I don’t think God needed the smoke.”

That smoky Sunday school classroom where we almost burned down the church was no longer a calm contemplative worship space, but it was still sacred. You can bet that over seven years later that is one of, if not the, most memorable moments in worship as a youth. It also became bonding moment for the group.  From that incident on, when planning worships together, there would inevitably be a statement “Let’s not burn down the church this time,” with a collective laughter following. I still think of those two instances in ministry, and that is my own issues at play. I know in my heart they were how God imagined them working out.

May you create and take risks in ministry. They might not go how you imagine it, but they will go how God imagines.

Shalom
-Gavin
Gavin Richardson is Digital Community Builder for YouthWorker Movement and the Short One at YouthWorker Circuit.  He has been in youth work for almost two decades now, has been a writer and consultant on numerous internet and published projects for the church. He’s often a speaker around the country on church communications and community building. His current projects are working on developing online Youth Disciple Groups and finishing a new book “Sticky Sheep.” He is the part time youth guy at Good Shepherd UMC in Hendersonville, TN.  If you ask, he will say that he is a “misfit” of the church. He lives in Nashville with his wife Erin, son Brooks and dog Crimson. You can connect with Gavin (and he’s totally cool with that) throughhttp://about.me/gavoweb.

When He had hair He was Working on This!!

Leadership LabI’ve known Hank Hilliard since 1995 when I was doing short term missions work and he brought his youth group to our camp. Back then we were both much younger and we both had a full head of hair. Well, I still do have a full head of hair, can’t say the same for Hank. But since then Hank has been working up and developing how to create student leaders in his ministry and he’s pulled this together in a tested out resource (not something he just made up and is throwing out there) called Leadership Lab.

Check out Hank’s own thoughts on this tool.

Pick up your copy of Leadership Lab through the Cokesbury website.

Why isn’t Youth Ministry a Mission?

I was just thinking…

Why isn’t Youth Ministry a Mission of the church?

That might sound trite, or stupid question, but think about it. If you go to any church website I will, 99% of the time, guarantee you that ‘youth ministry’ or ‘student ministry’ will be under a heading of ‘programs’ of the church.

Does putting it under a ‘program’ heading fundamentally change the expectations of the ministry? So some thoughts on Program & Mission…

Program

  • ongoing
  • works for those within organization
  • routine
  • safe

Mission

  • evolving – reshaping to needs
  • outreach – taking message outside organization
  • challenging
  • sacrificing

Now, there is nothing wrong with program, as long as those are the expectations and goals behind a program. However, if we really want our churches to reach out, introduce teenagers to a radical Christ, and take on the passion of our Lord.. then wouldn’t our youth ministries be more of a mission category?