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

We’re Not Young Anymore | Getting Real

I was teaching a youth ministry seminar a few weeks back where mentioned Shane Claiborne as an example for a point to make. Within the crowd there was a young couple from Brazil who had spent the last few years in an African country (cannot remember exactly) doing medical & teenager mission work. Being the awesome presenter that I am.. haha! I asked them directly, ‘do you know who I am talking about?’ There response was “No” so I started off describing Shane as a “middle aged white guy like me” & then when on from there. Connie, was in the group and jumped on me about saying he was middle aged. My thoughts in saying that were, he & I are about the same age (he’s a few more days than a year younger than me), me at 36 about to be 37. The life expectancy of an American born today is almost 79.. For my birth years it is around 72. So if the middle age of 72 is 36 then I am classifiable as “middle aged.”

This was most sobering when I turned 35 and said to my wife, “I’m halfway to 40, wow!” Her response was, “No stupid, you’re halfway to 70. You were halfway to 40 when you were 20.” Me.. “Crap!”

Missy Buchanan has a piece on the Boomers not wanting to ‘age’ according to the preset age’ism of the church, posted in Ministry Matters. I think this paragraph is spot on in the problem trending problem.

According to Hanson, a primary key to understanding boomers is to realize that they are keenly interested in staying young and are likely to resist anything associated with aging, old, or senior. Just consider our culture, which sends a strong message that aging well is all about remaining young, active and healthy. It’s not surprising that an invitation to join a group called the Amazing Grays would be met with little interest by boomers. In fact, boomers would likely consider such a group as something for their parents or slightly-older counterparts, but not for them. It’s not that they intend to snub their older peers, it’s just that they don’t see themselves in this role.

It is no joke that we are so stuck trying to be young in our culture. Youth culture is a prevailing market place. Billions of dollars are spent on ways to remain ‘young’ and it has been that way for as long as I can remember (thinking of you Oil of Olay commercials, sorry just Olay now).  Adult parents are constantly trying to be “cool” (heck, adult youth leaders try to be “cool” all the time) and that is some mark of successful parenting. However, teen movies mock that trend, as teens many times do.

What is our problem with aging? The prospect of death that comes with aging? The idea that we might be our parents, whom we probably vowed never to be when we were younger?

Needless to say, as the church moves forward into the next decade plus it will need to figure out how to communicate to aging communities that doesn’t want to be older. Young adults probably don’t care for the monikers of “United Methodist Men / Women” (very established groups in my denominational tribe). The boomers probably don’t want to claim a “Young at Heart” (my local tribe). Millennials probably don’t want anything to do with our groups at all regardless of names.

Freaks Geeks Cool Kids & American Consumption

This post originally written on YouthWorker Movement

I will never forget this one day at youth, I pulled out my reasonably new cell phone that was all cool with a horizontal flip technology and enhanced screen, and one of the teens spouted out “Oh My Gosh! How old is that?” Now truth be told it wasn’t more than 6 months old, but it seemed that the day after I bought it the new improved version (way slicker than mine) went onto the market with a ton of advertising. So before I put in my wife’s phone number it seems my phone was outdated.

Up to that point & certainly since I’ve been fascinated with what I call the “ill” of our nation. Consumption.. and specifically how it affects our youth & young adults. Was totally into thinking like Branded & Story of Stuff, so it was not a real stretch to draw towards a title of “Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids: American Teenagers, Schools, and the Culture of Consumption.”

This is not a ministry book in intent, but the lessons drawn from its research are totally applicable into today’s youth ministries. Teenagers behaviors exhibited in how they treat others and place themselves into levels is totally ingrained in them & plays out in our youth communities (not to mention likely in our ‘big’ church environments).

As a sociology research piece it has a lot of dry reading, footnotes & research references are not my favorites to continually read through. The nature of the reading is not captivating as one might find some fictional writings. But, in between these pieces there is a ton of great insight into teens motivations to their behaviors. If you are wanting a break & challenge from the normal ministry book, this is a good choice to make.

If you do think of purchasing, go for a used version, or do like I did, get the Kindle or other electronic format. The price is always the big pain in purchasing research based writings.

youth gone wild : stats can be misleading

as youth pastor i do a lot of news filtering on the state of, trends of, and all the ills of today’s and future youth culture. if you do some news search for teenagers it isn’t a very promising picture (especially globally). one of the trends i see in the news is a whole lot of angry kids in the england. but as with any news reporting as with any statistic there is always the ‘other side.’ so my heart was lightened by the latest from asbo jesus.


its nice to think of the other side of all the statistics that we hear about and fear over. truth is, i have over 100 kids from ages 12-18 in our youth community and, though i don’t know the intimate details of every moment of their lives, i pretty confident they are all on the positive side of every bad statistic.

it reminds me of some parenting education i used to teach on. i used to coach folks on doing a paradigm shift in their viewing of their children. to stop looking/seeing the bad stuff but to look for those positive pieces and celebrate those (even if they are minute).

well, enough of the preaching. its time for some music this whole thought process made me think of.