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Start the Presses!

A step by step primer on publishing an award-winning newsletter.

Want to tell how great your children's ministry program is? Or perhaps you want to do an even better job at communicating upcoming events? A newsletter can both publicize and celebrate your ministry if used to its full potential.

"My favorite part of our newsletter is getting to share all the great things that God is doing with our children," says Ronie Stikkelman, the publisher of The Connection at New Life Fellowship in Memphis, Tennessee. "It's exciting to read and it's contagious. I love it!"

Publishing your own newsletter may sound like an overwhelming task -- but if you follow these suggestions, your newsletter will become a powerful ministry tool, too.

Okay, it seems like a no-brainer, but your first step is to know your audience. Is it for children, parents, teachers, your entire church, or a combination of the above? Your answer to this question will guide every decision.

With your newsletter staff (even if that's just you), brainstorm your readers' characteristics. Fill up a sheet of paper with words and phrases that describe your readers. Then write a paragraph that accurately describes their personality, their world, their likes and dislikes, and their needs. Use this paragraph as a filter when you're designing your newsletter's content and look. For example, if you know that your readers are busy, you'll want to provide short pieces that are quick to read. Or if you know they're hungry for new ideas to help their children grow spiritually, you'll want to include those, too.

Now you're ready to answer the second-most important question: Why do you want to publish a newsletter anyway? Answering this question will give you the vision to hang in there during those long stretches of collating! Prayerfully draft a short mission statement. Limit it to a couple of sentences and refer to it often. Perhaps your mission statement will sound something like, "To celebrate God's work in our children's ministry, to inform parents, and to provide faith-nurturing activities at home."

A newsletter can easily become overwhelming without a clear plan of action. Figure out how to put together, print, and distribute your newsletter while staying within your budget. Here's how.

•Set a budget. Costs include paper, printing, postage (if distributing through mail), and perhaps purchasing art or editorial material. Funds may be available through your church, or you could plan a fund-raiser to cover newsletter expenses.

•Build your team. Look around for people who can contribute. Some may be able to provide information on upcoming events, while others may have writing or design experience. Involve kids in your newsletter production. Younger kids can serve as reporters, while older kids can help with editing and design.

Enlist stringers. Make a list of the people who have the information you need for your newsletter. Sources might include church staff members, the church secretary, parents, Sunday school teachers, school officials, and kids themselves. Develop an effective way for these people to funnel information to you regularly.

•Choose a name. The name should reflect your audience and be easy to remember. Use a spin-off of your church name or ask kids for ideas. This is an easy way to get kids involved right from the start. Marcia Eveland, the newsletter publisher at Central Union Church in Honolulu, says they named their newsletter The Tree House because "the center point of our play area is a tree house."

Solomon David, newsletter publisher at Bachelor Creek Church of Christ in Wabash, Indiana, says, "The name of our new junior worship program is Super Stars. Thus the name Super Stars was an appropriate name for the newsletter."

Elden Faulkner, the newsletter publisher at Centre Street Church in Calgary, Alberta, says, "Our teachers and directors named this the Construction Zone because we're busy building kids for Christ."

And Ronie Stikkelman, the publisher of Kids Connection at New Life Fellowship in Memphis, Tennessee, says "The whole reason for our newsletter is to add one more step in joining with the parents in ministering to their children."

So you see how your purpose in ministry directly affects your purpose in publishing a newsletter, and thus results in the best name possible for your newsletter.

Still not sure what to name your newsletter? Have a newsletter-naming contest. That's what Linda Foster did with Faith Kidzette at Faith Evangelical Church in Loveland, Colorado. Invite people to suggest names, or give them several names to vote for.

•Consider your format and printing options. Before making the decision about whether to use a printer or photocopier, you need to decide what size paper you'll use. The most common formats are 8 1/2 X 11, printed front and back; 8 1/2 X 11, folded to 5 1/2 X8 1/2; 8 1/2 X14, printed back and front; 8 1/2 X 14, folded to 7X8 1/2; and 11X17, folded to 8 1/2 X 11. Then choose whether you'll use the more expensive option of printing or simply photocopy your newsletter.

•Decide how often to publish. Will a monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly newsletter best meet the needs of your children's ministry?

•Determine your distribution. Will you mail your newsletters or hand them out? If you decide to mail them, check with the post office about size regulations and mailing rates. Ask for information regarding special bulk mailing postage rates, too.

•Plan your work. Once you've decided how often to publish, you need to develop a plan for completing your newsletter. Begin by setting the dates for newsletters to be mailed or handed out. Then back up a few days and set a date for having it printed or copied. Back up another week and set the due date for article submissions. Allow enough time between the articles submission date and the copying/printing deadlines to edit and design the newsletter.

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