News from the Tennessee Valley Religion

Lola Hutto helps sort Central United Methodist Church's weekly newsletter. She's among a faithful group of volunteers who get 500 copies into the mail. The church keeps up the tradition while also putting out a digital version.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Lola Hutto helps sort Central United Methodist Church's weekly newsletter. She's among a faithful group of volunteers who get 500 copies into the mail. The church keeps up the tradition while also putting out a digital version.

Getting the
word out

Churches' paper-and-ink
newsletters getting makeovers

By Melanie B. Smith · 340-2468

Congregations that publish newsletters are as common as chicken at church covered-dish suppers.

The difference between the chicken and the newsletter? One usually got devoured and the other tossed, and you know which got what treatment.

However, just as the chicken is often a leaner version these days, so are the newsletters.

Church newsletters in a traditional weekly, mailed format are on the wane. Many congregations are cutting back on size and frequency, finding the publications too costly. Others are going at least partly digital and posting newsletters at the church Web site or e-mailing them.

Several local churches have recently switched to monthly newsletters with a full-color, magazine look.

Other churches continuing to invest in weekly paper versions are giving them a more eye-catching design and readable content. And they're rethinking whom they go to and why.

For instance, Central United Methodist Church still sends out more than 500 newsletters weekly. The "Focus" uses black ink on white paper but has more stories and pictures, fewer staff columns and an uncluttered look.

One recent "Focus" front page told of a Hurricane Katrina victim in Mississippi whom the church wants to keep helping. The article included several members' comments on past trips. A "Did You Know?" box told that worship had increased 24 percent in February after the startup of a new service.

Central's weekly newsletters are not just for members, said the Rev. Mitchell Williams, pastor. He said visitors and families connected to recreation and the weekday school are put on the mailing list.

"We think communication is growing in importance, not lessening," he said.

He said the church hired a director of communications, Ashley Collins. The staff works to make the four-page newsletter readable, eye-catching and helpful, Williams said. The cost of mailing the "Focus" is actually less recently because the church has eliminated inserts, which hike the bulk mailing cost, he said.

Church secretary Lisa Jones said Collins creates a digital eFocus, which is e-mailed to members who want the content that way. A crew of volunteers comes every Thursday to label, sort and count the paper version.

New format

West Hartselle Baptist Church's newsletter is now printed on the back page of The Alabama Baptist newspaper.

The church made the change in January to cut costs, said Mark Shaw, minister of education.

The church was already providing active members subscriptions to The Alabama Baptist, which offers the publishing option to churches in the Alabama Baptist Convention.

West Hartselle’s secretary and other staff members now put the monthly newsletter page together using computers and Microsoft Publisher software, Shaw said. They e-mail it to the newspaper’s office in Birmingham, where it is proofed, printed and mailed to more than 200 church families, he said.

“It’s working out real well for us. The members wanted a bigger calendar, and they’re getting that,” he said.

The format costs a little less money, but the savings is mostly in time for the staff, who can do other things, Shaw said.

The newsletter is also published online at www.west

The Alabama Baptist publishes about 140 church and association newsletters, according to its Web site.

Opened and read?

E-mail newsletters are a “hot trend,” according to church, and one attraction is a software option that tracks how many people open or forward the editions.

Mary Felkins of Central United Methodist said she has a computer but wouldn’t like getting her newsletter by e-mail. She enjoys the printed version and looks forward to reading it each week, she said.

She well knows the work it takes to put a print version out because she is one of the volunteers who get it ready to mail.

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