Build a publication from the ground up.


Have you ever had to start a church newsletter from scratch? If not, you may face that challenge someday. Maybe you’ll accept a job at a church that’s never had a newsletter. Or a publication might become so outdated that church leaders ask you to start over. Or a ministry or program within your church might want help launching a separate newsletter, whether print or electronic.  If that happens, don’t panic! Simply follow these blueprints to move smoothly from initial idea to finished product. 

Determine the newsletter’s purpose.

Brainstorm and clarify what the publication should accomplish. Will it mainly be informative, inspirational or both? Will articles target mostly members or try to reach visitors as well? How will the newsletter reflect the mission statement and members of your church or a ministry? What tone and format will be most effective? How frequently should you publish the newsletter to keep people sufficiently informed? 

List and prioritize the typical contents.

Gather samples of newsletters you admire and jot down the type of material you want to incorporate. Church newsletters should cover all aspects and angles of church life, from worship schedules to committee news. Other common elements include a pastor’s message, activity calendar, new-member information, lists of birthdays and anniversaries, prayer requests, ministry and education updates, community news, inspirational writing, columns, cartoons and more. Consider what will appear in every issue and what will occur only occasionally. What can get bumped if breaking news arises? 

Choose a name.

Brevity is best for newsletter names. Avoid using just the church’s name, however. Think of phrases that identify your congregation (or ministry) and its mission. Brainstorm words that stand out and reflect your church in a positive light.

Design a nameplate.

Once the publication has a name, move on to the nameplate, which usually sits atop page one. This important artwork identifies the newsletter as an ambassador for your church or ministry. The nameplate, often through graphics, visually evokes your mission. Nameplates should include the newsletter title (and sometimes a subtitle) and church name, as well as the date and possibly volume and issue numbers. If necessary, seek out volunteers with graphics expertise. 

Choose paper size, fold pattern and color.

The most economical paper sizes are 8½” x 11″, 8½” x 14″ and 11″ x 17″. You can fold them in different ways that are compatible with computers, printers and copiers. Experiment, keeping in mind how you plan to mail or distribute the newsletter.  When choosing color, remember that black ink on white paper is the most readable combination. Other good paper choices include off whites, light grays and pale pastels. 

Decide on a grid, or number of columns.

A consistent “grid” leads to a cohesive newsletter and visual predictability. One-column formats, which can be difficult to read, are only for narrow pages. Two-column formats allow more design flexibility as you incorporate graphics into text. A three-column format, which works best on pages that are at least 8½ inches wide, provides great flexibility and efficient reading.

Set up page templates.

After an initial startup phase, templates save you time down the road. They include space for elements that occur in every issue. Use a page-layout program to set up a framework for the first, last and inside pages. Although you can creatively place artwork, photos and sidebars in different places occasionally, try to be as consistent as possible. 

Select fonts.

With fonts, more isn’t better. For a clean, professional look, stick to two. Serif fonts, with tiny hooks at the end of strokes, are ideal for body copy. Sans-serif fonts, which lack those hooks, are best for headlines. To add emphasis, use bold and italic versions of your chosen fonts. 

Choose a calendar format and placement.

Readers often clip and save activity calendars, so make them readable and place them in the same location each time. Options range from a full-page “box” look to a trifold list. 

Ask for contributors.

Put out a call for volunteer reporters, columnists and photographers, and provide clear deadlines and word counts. Make it easy for people to contribute, even if they aren’t regulars. Design a news submission form and encourage folks to contact you with ideas or to email material to you. 

Set a production schedule.

Work backwards from the desired publication date, allowing time for all the necessary steps.

Prepare the first issue.

Write and gather material, then import or paste it into the template. Insert artwork and photos, using your grid, column choice and fold pattern as layout guides. If articles are too long, either edit them down or “jump” them to another page. If there’s space to fill, use seasonal material, more graphics, fill content such as quotes, sayings, etc. Finally, have one or more people proofread the publication. 

Distribute the newsletter.

For print newsletters, this will involve printing, copying, folding, addressing and mailing. For digital newsletters, this may involve creating and emailing a PDF, creating an HTML e-newsletter or publishing the newsletter on the church website. 

Evaluate the publication.

You won’t get everything right the first time, but these tips provide a solid starting point. For feedback about the debut issue, informally survey a range of people about the publication’s interest level, readability and appeal. Use those comments to help you improve the next issue — and the one after that.


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