REACHING YOUR COMMUNITY BY MAIL
New Life Community Church is a small congregation in a sparsely populated rural area. The church works hard at meeting community needs; in addition to the usual church activities there is a thrift shop and a day-care center. Each month the church mails to 900 addresses (half of them on rural routes) a newsletter that highlights the church’s ministries. It also contains notices about other services available in the area such as an Alcoholics Anonymous group and adult education classes. The pastor reports lots of positive comments about the newsletter. It has served as a first contact with the church for several people and communicates a positive image of New Life Church.
The Church of the Good Shepherd is a new congregation in a busy suburb of a large city. At first the church experienced steady growth; then several members were transferred to other places and growth stopped. A survey revealed that very few people in the community knew the church existed. What could be done! After
considering several options, the church decided to begin a mailing program. Every other month 25,000 attractive family-oriented mailing pieces were inserted into a weekly newspaper. Immediately the church phone began to ring and first-time visitors showed up in the worship services. Through its mailing program the church is solving its name recognition problem.
It is true that the single most effective method of evangelizing is for Christians to witness to relatives, friends and associates. Most new church members can identify a friend or relative who brought them to Christ and the church. But even if all believers faithfully evangelized their circles of influence, there would
still be many people untouched.
George E. Sweazey has described evangelism as “every possible way of reaching outside the church to bring people to faith in Christ and membership in his church” (Effective Evangelism, Harper & Row). How does a church reach those who do not come into contact with the life and testimony of its members! A mailing
program is one such way. A carefully prepared mailing piece, regularly sent, can be a significant way of contacting many people with whom the church would otherwise have little or no contact.
WHAT A MAILING PROGRAM WILL DO
A Christian congregation cares about people. It designs its life so that it serves God and the community. For its neighbors, the congregation desires above all else that they come to know Jesus Christ and find peace and fulfillment in him. Unfortunately, many of the church’s neighbors do not know that the church cares. They often regard the door-to-door canvass as an inconvenience; the church ad in the local newspaper is usually hidden among many like it and read only by people who are already Christians. The church remains an enigma to many unchurched people; they do not understand why anyone should go there. And because they know so little about the church, it often seems to them an impersonal institution. Most people never think about the church at all. A mailing program can help people know three things about the church:
* that it is there
* that it is made up of people like them
* that its members enjoy and strengthen each other.
A mailing program is a way of letting people know that the church has noticed them. Many will mentally thank the church for taking note of them and their needs. And a potentially constructive relationship has begun.
An effective mailing ministry continues to give the church a positive image in the community. Other outreach programs can’t always offer this. Some church programs are seasonal–such as the vacation Bible school. Some programs are tried for a year and then let go. A church may find itself in the evangelistic doldrums for a time while it regroups and renews its focus. Even then the church can sustain a mailing program, often with minimal cost and member involvement.
A mailing program makes the church visible. Some churches, especially those on busy thoroughfares, have a prominent sign with a message that changes from week to week. There is good reason for such a sign: not only can the message trigger someone’s thinking, but it helps to make the church visible. Church members often don’t realize that several thousand people may drive by their church building every week and simply not see the church. A mailing program can change that situation. People will begin to associate the church building with the literature that comes regularly in the mailbox.
Reach People in Crisis
A mailing program allows the church to frequently repeat an invitation to participate in worship and programs. Much of the time that invitation will be ignored. But most people will at some point consider the invitation and perhaps act on it. Many people make their first conscious move toward Christ and the
church during a significant transition point in their lives: their first child is born, a spouse dies, they are laid off from work or move to a new community. In such circumstances people are likely to respond to the invitation from the church whose warm and attractive mailing piece comes several times a year.
Announce Special Events
Every church has programs that could benefit more people than now attend– activities such as marriage seminars or youth activities that respond to the community’s needs. A regular mailing program will mention such events and warmly invite anyone to attend. To reduce anxiety for someone who has ignored the church for many years, the invitation will stress that anyone, church member or not, is invited and that there is no obligation beyond the small fee that is sometimes charged.
A MAILING PROGRAM WILL NOT DO ALL YOUR EVANGELISM
Evangelism is sometimes described in terms of four P’s: presence, proclamation, persuasion, and preservation. A mailing program cannot be the church’s complete evangelistic strategy. Though it can emphasize the church’s presence in a positive way and include a simply written gospel presentation, the church needs to rely on additional means to tell the good news. Congregational leadership might well
design its outreach strategy around the four P’s and ask what the church is doing in each of these four areas.
Another way of describing evangelism is in terms of four C’s: contact, cultivation, commitment and conservation. At its best the mailing can provide regular contact. It brings increased awareness and frequently a new and more positive attitude towards the church and what it stands for. But much more can’t be expected. It simply prepares the unbeliever-and the church-for the real work of evangelism: telling the good news of Christ in word and deed in order to make followers of Christ, people who will share in the life and mission of the church. A farmer must cultivate a field before it can be seeded and produce fruit. So too the church can prepare people to receive gospel seed. Regular mailings can be a first step toward the harvest.
WHAT TO MAIL
Churches that do regular mailings send a variety of materials.
Churches can send occasional announcements to invite the community to special events, such as a Christmas Eve candlelight service or the annual vacation Bible school. They can announce the beginning of a new season of activities in which the church’s friends and neighbors are urged to participate. Evangelistic Bible studies such as Coffee Break, Story Hour, and Men’s Life are often announced in this way. Even if only a few people attend these activities as a result, a mailing of several thousand pieces is worthwhile.
A Church Newsletter
Probably the best mailing piece in most situations is a newsletter carefully and imaginatively prepared by the local church. It presents the church realistically; and it can be adapted to the church’s community and the evangelistic strategy. It can highlight specific programs and profile a member in each issue to show
recipients that people just like them attend this church. Such a newsletter permits caring and creative people to use their gifts in evangelistic ministry. In small communities that have no daily or weekly newspaper, the church’s newsletter can fill a genuine need to highlight community events, request volunteers for community projects, and so on. A brief pastor’s column can put a human face on a person many people would otherwise avoid.
Churches that prepare and send their own newsletters should remember that a newsletter prepared for the church’s membership and one prepared for community mailing are usually two very different productions. A newsletter meant for internal use will often refer to items inappropriate for the outsider. References
to the annual budget and a pastor’s column addressed to the members may be an honest reflection of what is actually going on in the church, but they will often reinforce suspicions and prejudices on the part of unchurched people or church dropouts.
A mailing piece should address the recipients’ needs and interests, not those of the sender. Use simple, ordinary language and avoid theological expressions. For example, consider this typical welcome in a church mailing piece: “We cordially invite you to our worship services. You will receive a blessing as our pastor explains the way of salvation.” This may be entirely true, and nothing in it will strike the regular church attender as unusual. But potential visitors will quickly pick up the first person pronouns “we” and “us” and conclude-before they even step inside the door-that they are excluded since they are not members.
The same message can be rephrased as follows: “You will feel at home at Fellowship Church. When you attend the 11:00 a.m. service, you’ll meet people just like you and be stimulated to see life from a new, hopeful perspective.” In other words, make every effort to think and talk like the people the church is trying to reach.
Church newsletters for the community should look sharp! Avoid colored paper or ink, use illustrations (clip art) available from commercial publishers, and include only clear photographs that have good contrast. Make the articles brief; leave enough white space to create an uncluttered look. Use a typewriter with
carbon ribbon or a letter-quality printer. Baker Book House publishes a book with simple, humorous cartoons that may be freely copied. If you prepare the newsletter on a computer, consider getting one of several desktop publishing programs that permit the composition of an attractive piece. Use a two- or three-column format, and keep it short. One page printed on both sides (with the bottom third kept open for mailing purposes) is usually sufficient. If you use envelopes, print ones that match the newsletter’s paper and heading.
Lyle Schaller, North-America’s foremost church consultant, writes that people are more likely to read church mailings when the envelopes are hand-addressed, the return address is in the name of an actual person in a different color ink, and commemorative stamps are used instead of regular or metered stamps. Obviously, this method is for small mailings rather than mass mailings.
Another kind of mailing program is a personalized, need-oriented ministry directed to people in transitional periods. Church members may comb the newspaper, legal news, and word-of-mouth sources for obituaries, engagements and marriages, divorces, wedding anniversaries, significant birthdays, retirements, and names of new residents. For each of these occasions a standard letter is prepared. The
letter may come from the church and be signed by the pastor, but it is more effective if it comes from one of the members of the church and is signed by that member. The letter should be low-key, express thoughts appropriate to the circumstances, and offer help or support. The writer promises to pray for the person in his or her circumstances and indicates a willingness to talk by telephone or to visit in person. A tract or booklet may be enclosed. If a form letter is used, it is best to hand-copy or to type each one. Each church must decide whether members will automatically follow up the letter by a telephone call and/or a visit or whether the recipient should respond first. One way to encourage follow-up is by including a self-addressed response card; follow up only on those who return this card.
Carefully match the response card to the circumstances the letter addresses. For example, in the case of a bereavement, the card could say,
__ Please continue to pray for me.
__ I would like to talk with a caring counselor.
__ I would like a visit from the minister.
In the case of engagement and/or marriage,
__ We would like a visit from a Christian couple to talk about marriage.
__ We would like a Bible and a Bible study course.
__ Please recommend some books about marriage.
In the case of a birth,
__ Please send us a children’s Bible.
__ We would like to sign up for a seminar on parenting.
___We would appreciate a visit from an experienced parent.
Appropriate tracts or pamphlets may be purchased from Christian bookstores, or you may write for a catalog from
Faith, Prayer and Tract League
2617 Elmridge NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
Nashville, TN 32734
Obviously this requires far more than a simple mailing program; an entire ministry is needed. Members involved in such a ministry should be trained in the skills of active listening in a program such as Stop! Love and Listen, Amity, or the Stephen Series. Teams need special training for visitation. In addition, a promise to pray for someone should be scrupulously kept. Consider recruiting a team of people who will concentrate on such a ministry of prayer.
Churches can expand such a ministry in two ways: First, they can hold annual or semi-annual seminars on marriage and parenting issues. Materials for this are available from Christian Reformed Home Missions in the Family Life Series. Second, they can start support groups for people who have lost a spouse, for single
parents, and so on.
Such ministry focuses on people who, because of their circumstances, are likely to be receptive when treated with respect and concern in a non-confrontational, loving manner.
Churches may also purchase a mass mailing piece to send out at regular intervals-four, six, ten or twelve times a year. This kind of literature can also be placed in waiting rooms or personally distributed by church members or those ministering in the armed forces or in prisons.
There are several sources for mass mailing materials:
1. Encounter Brochures. These well-designed, letter-sized pamphlets are three- fold, with a full-color photograph on one panel. Another panel is left open for the church’s name and address and that of the recipient. Each brochure is written to reach the non-churched at their level of awareness. Some are also
appropriate for the personalized mailing ministry described above. Topics include “The Art of Staying in Love,” “Life beyond Death,” “Training Up Children,” “You, Too, Can Be a Winner,” and so on. Orders of 500 or more can be imprinted with a short message from the church. For further information write
ACTS International, P.0. Box 157, Claremont, CA 91711.
2. “Have a Good Day is published monthly by Tyndale House Publishers in Wheaton, Illinois. It’s a small pamphlet with bright, positive, and often humorous messages. The church rubber stamps its name and address and writes or pastes the address to which it is sent. For further information, write Have a Good
Day, Subscription Services, P.0. Box 1910, Marion, OH 43305.
3. Semi-prepared newspapers or tabloids are also available. About two-thirds of the content is supplied by the publishers; the other one-third is written locally, then sent to the publishers. The publisher’s articles tend to be lengthy and not very personal or need-oriented. For a price the paper will not only be prepared for the church but also mailed to the zip codes the church indicates. This latter service is not available for Canadian postal codes. For further information, prices and sample issues, write Gospel Publishing
Association, 1435-4th Way NW, Birmingham, AL 35215.
4. “Quality Life” is published by Christian Reformed Home Missions in denominational and non-denominational versions. The denominational version usually includes an item that describes an event or activity identified with the Christian Reformed Church or a related agency. The non-denominational
version does not mention the Christian Reformed Church. Each issue has two sheets (four pages) and is printed on good paper with red headlines and halftones. Published six times a year, it is attractively illustrated and contains a variety of brief articles appropriate to each season. There is always one brief summary of the gospel.
Space is left for the church’s name and for an address label. Quantities of 3000 or more may be imprinted with the church’s name and address. Churches can also arrange to include a brief article about the local church if they order sufficiently large quantities of each issue to make a special printing worthwhile.
“Quality Life” may be distributed as is, but its proven effectiveness is increased when the church inserts one letter-sized sheet with local information. Suggestions for such a sheet are available from the publisher. For further information contact Christian Reformed Home Missions, 2850 Kalamazoo, S.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49560 or 3475 Mainway, Burlington, Ontario, L7M 1A9.
WHO SHOULD RECEIVE THE MAILING?
Churches have two options; on or both can be used, depending on the church’s evangelism strategy.
Custom Mailing List
For regular mailings, the church should build up a mailing list of everyone to whom the church has ministered in some way, as well as members’ unchurched friends and associates. To begin such a mailing list, ask the members of the congregation to submit the names of friends, relatives, and associates who are unchurched or nominally churched. Add to this the names of people on whom the church has called
in its visitation program, those who have visited a worship service, parents who have sent children to the annual vacation Bible school, and so on. With some of these people the church will have regular personal contact of some kind, but others are not open at this time to personal contact. For them, the mailing is the
primary way to keep in touch until they become more receptive to personal contact. In addition, the names of new residents will go on this list, especially if the church pays welcome calls to new residents in the community.
The church will need someone to maintain the list–an important function, since the list is in effect the church’s “prospect file.”
Will members also receive the regular mailing? Perhaps only fringe members? If members have submitted names of unchurched friends, it’s good to include the members in the mailing to let them know what has been sent to their friends. This may also be an incentive for members to strike up a conversation about the content of the mailing. If the mailing is the church’s newsletter it will, of course, be sent to members as well as the church’s friends.
Mass Mailing List
A second and perhaps more common way to decide who should receive the church’s mailing is to send the mailing to an entire subdivision, town, zip code, postal code, or section of a city. For example, a church may decide to send the mailing to every address within a five-mile radius of the church. One church established two parishes: a visitation parish and a mailing parish. Within the visitation parish the church makes a friendly visit in each home once a year. New residents within this parish are visited immediately with a small gift, an invitation to worship, and an offer of further information about the community and its churches. The mailing parish includes the other but is larger. Every home within this parish receives “Quality Life” six times a year, and new residents receive at least a letter from the church.
It’s also possible to send a monthly or quarterly mailing to those who have had at least some personal contact with the church, and an annual or semiannual mailing to the larger community. When “Quality Life” is used for both these purposes, the church can simply order a standing quantity for the bi-monthly mailing but increase the order for one or two of the issues-the Christmas and Easter issues, for example.
HOW TO MAIL OR DISTRIBUTE
Probably the most common way is to write or type addresses on the mailing piece, put on the postage, and mail. Maintaining a computerized address list with a printer that will print labels will simplify this task considerably. Even if the church does not own a computer, it is likely that several of the members do. One
of them may be glad to maintain the list and print the labels. A postage meter will also simplify the task. The cheapest mailing will be bulk mailing (rules for this change frequently both in the U.S. and Canada; ask the local postmaster about the cheapest way of mailing).
Address lists can be purchased or taken from the city directory. Many communities have commercial mailing services that will, for a fee, provide information on the latest postal regulations and provide labels for zip codes in the U.S., postal codes in Canada, or carrier routes. Some mailing services provide the names of people living at each address; others have only the addresses (the label usually reads, “Resident” or”To Our Friends at. . .”) Of course, the church will have to weigh the convenience of the mailing service against the cost. Sometimes the use of an outside mailing service will free members for person-to-person ministry, while in other cases a church does well to recruit several people who cannot be in another ministry.
There are also other ways of distributing the materials. Delivery services put advertisements in a doorknob bag and deliver them door to door; the church pays for each piece delivered. Youth societies might be willing to deliver the church’s mailing several times a year as a service project.
One effective distribution method is to insert the mailer into a daily or weekly newspaper-preferably the weekly shopper, which is distributed in many communities. The church simply delivers the piece to the newspaper, which takes care of the rest. This method is economical for very large mailings; new churches have used it to introduce themselves to the community.
A mailing program cannot stand on its own. It is intended as only part of a more elaborate strategy to reach as many people as possible in as many ways as possible. A church can hardly follow up a very large mailing of 25,000 pieces by a personal visit to each address. But a small mailing of 500 to a 1000 can be followed up, even if it takes two years of systematic calling on one Sunday afternoon a month. Church members should have a sample of the mailing with them as a conversation starter: “Hello, I am Evelyn and this is Al. We’re from Fellowship Church and send you this paper every other month. Do you remember receiving it!”
Or ask other questions: “Do you read our mailing?” “Is there anything you’d like to know about the church?” “Is there anything we could do for you or your family?” Have another pamphlet with information about the church to give away and, if possible, offer a free Bible.
The purpose of such visits is not first of all to present the gospel but to determine people’s receptivity. If the opportunity arises to present the gospel, that is wonderful. But if church members discover that the persons they are talking to are open to further conversation, they might arrange a return visit for some serious conversation or offer to pick them up for church the next Sunday (or for a weekday Bible study or other activity). In some cases they should feel free to ask, “Would you appreciate a visit from our pastor?”
Follow-up may also be done by means of a response card inserted in the mailing, preferably with the church’s name pre-printed and the return postage paid. The card might include responses such as
__ I would like to know more about Fellowship Church.
__ I would like a visit from someone.
__ I would like to have a Bible.
__ I would like to enroll in a free Bible correspondence course.
__ I need transportation to come to church.
Response cards could be included in each mailing or be included once a year.
What if It Works?
Each mailing is sent out with the prayer and expectation that it will come at exactly the right time in the lives of some people, who will then respond with a telephone call or a visit to the church. But consider this question: Will the church be ready? Use the following questions to help measure your church’s readiness:
* Is there usually someone who answers the church telephone! If not, should another phone number be used!
* Does the church have an attractive, prominent sign that announces the times of the worship services!
* Are ushers and greeters trained? Is there a clear welcome to visitors in the church bulletin and from the pulpit?
* Will several people engage the first-time visitor in conversation! Is there opportunity for socializing and refreshments after the worship service?
* Are visitors identified, and do they then receive a letter, telephone call, or visit?
* If someone calls with a physical or social need, will the deacons or another group respond quickly?
* Does the church have an attractive information pamphlet that is updated at least annually?
* Is the pastor given time to spend with nonmembers? If not, whose responsibility is this?
* Are there people trained in the art of effective visitation?
No single prescription will work for every church’s mailing program. Each church has its own circumstances and needs. Some may not need a mailing program since they are already well-known in the community through their effective help to people in need. Most churches, however, need to discover additional ways of reaching people in order to share the good news of Jesus Christ in a personal way. A mailing program is one effective way to begin the evangelistic process.
(The above material is a Healthy Church Series published by the Christian Reformed Home Missions.)
Christian Information Network