How well does your church communicate with members and people in your community? One of the most important public faces of who you are and what is important to you is available to anyone who wants to look at them in your church newsletter, your website, Facebook page or tweets. Yet, how often do these efforts at self-revelation end up half-baked or half-hearted?
A newsletter, for example, is usually available to members through the post office or email but can easily be posted online for everyone. But what does it say about you? Is it clearly and well written? Does it have attractive graphics? Would you want to read it if you were not a member? Does it provide Web links to local, state, national, and international programs and institutions that are integral to your life together and are they easily accessed?
More importantly, what do your printed, posted or digital communications really say about you? Recently I preached in a church whose newsletter publicized the kind of mission that demonstrates the congregation’s heart with absolute clarity. Obviously they gathered on Sunday mornings to worship God and have fellowship, but the newsletter (and their webpage) illustrates that they come together in order to go out and serve the community around them in the name of Christ. The October newsletter issue of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Scotia, N.Y., (scotiatrinity.org) includes a call for volunteers at a local nursing home, an invitation to a jail ministry gathering, a thank you note from an organization that received a $400 gift, information about a drive for student supplies in an elementary school, a report about a mission school in Haiti, a notice about a trip to a PC(USA) mission project supported by women in the church, a plea to gather food for a nearby city urban mission, a call for participation in a regional effort to protest sexual assault and violence, a request from the YMCA for shoes to be distributed overseas, an announcement of a fund raiser for a nursing home in the community, and a reminder that the Peacemaking Offering will be received later in the month. All this activity among Presbyterians in a small congregation is a reminder of the wisdom in James 3:18 that we often ignore, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”
In addition to listing mission outside the church, a good newsletter should also announce programs you offer that help build up readers’ spiritual lives and enable them to get to know one another. Do you still have church suppers or lunches to foster fellowship? If not, how would new people meet your members or their neighbors? Do you offer Bible study and discussion of current theological and current issues? If not, how do people find out what you believe? Are you well organized so outsiders who are already busy can easily join your volunteer programs?
Church bulletins, newsletters, websites and Facebook pages are today’s digital billboards. If yours could be improved, ask insiders and outsiders to do some proofreading and tell you honestly what they see. If they are boring or uninspiring why not hire a consultant to suggest new ways to communicate your faith and mission in public forums? It may be one of the best investments you could make next year. As Paul reminded his readers, how are our neighbors going to call on Jesus Christ if they have never heard of him? And how are they supposed to see, hear and enact a gospel that no one has proclaimed in ways they can access and understand (Romans 10:14-16)?