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Monday, November 26, 2007

Putting Sacred Cows Out To Pasture

I know there are a few sacred cows in every congregation, but I'm willing to bet that one of the most sacred of them all is the monthly newsletter.

We're thinking of taking ours out to pasture.

Here's what we're thinking: In order to do it right, the newsletter is very labor intensive as well as costly. We have a volunteer editor and a group of retired folk who come in to collate, fold, bundle for bulk mailing and schlep to the post office.

But, even before that, every staff member and certain committee chairs and wardens have to get their articles in on time - always an exercise akin to herding cats. If the Risograph machine breaks down, the printing can get delayed, annoying the volunteers and sometimes rendering the information too late to be useful. Delays in delivery can also happen if we hit a month with a high volume of bulk mail.

We have recently begun a weekly email newsletter - sort of the way the national church and our diocese is doing. We keep announcements and sermons on our web page, and link these in the weekly email newsletter. We send the sermon and announcements by weekly snail mail to the two dozen or so of our fragile elderly or those who are ill or without computers.

Our newsletter is also available on line. More and more people are telling us to take them off the snail mail list as they prefer to view it on line. A concern is that, eventually, we won't have enough addresses to qualify for the reduced rate of bulk mail - such as it is.

We are thinking of reducing our monthly newsletter to quarterly - 2 - 5 -8 -11 (February, May, August and November), and mailing it only to those who really want it. It would also continue to be available online (where graphics and color pictures are cleaner and clearer and much easier to read).

We are thinking of starting a 'parish blog' - a place where all staff members can post their own once a month 'thought' pieces about their ministry, along with any announcements and explanations about upcoming events. The Parish Administrator would list these posts in the weekly email newsletter with a link. Members of the congregation can then offer comments and feedback - a great interactive feature.

We've just started a blog for the Church School which seems to be working out very well. It gave us the idea to start a Parish Blog, which we're hoping to launch in January for a one year period of experimentation.

What have you done in your congregation about communication? Are you still finding your monthly parish newsletter a reliable and effective means of communication? What creative ideas have you discovered to be in good communication with your congregation?

What do you think?


Jeffri Harre said...

I like. My mother, who also reads your blog regularly, currently edits the parish newsletter. Hmmmm....


marnanel said...

I think it is an excellent idea, and I think you should certainly give it a go. I work on collaborative software, and a lot of what we do is made possible by shared blogs such as this one.

Since a lot of us also have our own personal blogs where we like to talk about what we're up to, we also have a system that someone wrote called "planet" which takes the blogs about the whole project, and everyone's individual blogs, and puts them on one big page. Since you have a blog and if many of your fellow-workers have blogs too, perhaps it would be a good thing to have an aggregated "St Paul Blogs" page one day. But I'm thinking aloud here.

Bill said...

It works for me, Elizabeth. I'd take it one step further and do the LEM, Lector, and Altar Guild notifications on line. That would also cut down on the mailings and reduce the waistline of my mailbox.

Mary Sue said...

I think our parish newsletter died and artificial measures have not managed to keep it alive, and I'm trying to convince my priest to do a parish blog! At the very least so that the excellent sermons my priest and deacon give us every week can have a wider audience than the 30-40 who actually can be arsed to show up.

KJ said...

My parish has gone all e-mail and PDF attachments. As a relative newcomer, I do find the regular communications important in helping to feel connected (It's a large, cathedral parish).

DBW said...

What about all the old people who are intimidated by technology?

Lindy said...

I think this is practical and responsible. Techno-phobes can continue getting the snail mail version as before but let everybody else move on into the 21st century.

Nina said...

Will the people without computers have any part of the decision?

Further thoughts from someone who is not part of your parish but has seen several organizations switching from hard copy to computers--

Some people choose not to use computers, and some can't afford them.

For those who choose not to use them, the information should still be available--being a full part of the church and its conversations should not depend on the ownership of any appliance. Printouts on request? A mailing list that is mentioned in every bulletin but with an opt-in, so people ask for the information they want?

For those who can't afford a computer, perhaps a computer (maybe somebody's old laptop, cleaned out and provided with just a word processing program and a net connection) could be made available with relevant documents on it; that would make both the parish news and the Episcopal blogsphere accessible. It would have to be in a room that is open on Sundays and during office hours to be effective. Such a computer could also help poor/homeless congregants learn job skills and connect with employment opportunities.