Newsletter articles must be short, with the lead article being less than 300 words (this column is 289 words) and the entire weekly publication fitting on a single computer screen. Most content in an e-mail publication should be this: one sentence and a live link to a complete article on the Web site. Articles posted on a Web site can be longer, but even those shouldn’t exceed 450 words.
Blurbs in the Sunday bulletin should be one or two sentences. Brochures should use pictures and charts more than words. Many churches find that the most effective brochure is actually a picture postcard with a compelling graphic and a few sentences of text.
Handouts at meetings should fit on one, possibly two pages. This isn’t easy. It takes more work to do a one-page executive summary than a simple data dump.
Information overload is a good reason to be brief. Just as TV ads have gone to 15 seconds and 30 seconds to hold on to restless viewers, so magazine and newspaper articles have gotten shorter and shorter. People won’t sit still for lengthy documents. Churches don’t get a free pass on these changing human dynamics.
A second reason has to do with focus. A lengthy article places emphasis on the author or institution. Nowadays, we need to give more airtime to constituents. Ask a question, and give them room to answer. Offer two paragraphs of insightful content, and encourage a lengthy discussion of it.
The rule of thumb in writing is that shorter is harder than longer. So allow extra time to achieve brevity.
Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus,” and the founder of the Church Wellness Project.