Deficiencies of the Missionary Newsletter
As a missionary, my personal lament is that relationships between supporters and their missionaries is not stronger. Therefore, I err on the side of more communication. There is one tool though, that gives me pause and necessitates an evaluation of its usefulness: the missionary newsletter. Admittedly, when the end of the month approaches I find myself dreading this task, questioning its value for the amount of time it takes.
Undoubtedly, the newsletter serves a purpose when there exists little means of communication. In one sense, it is an efficient use of resources broadcasting a small amount of information to large quantities of people. What was once more a cost-efficient way to communicate with so many back home has become even more so with the advent of technology. Without discounting those benefits though, there are three primary areas in which the missionary newsletter is inadequate.
Easy to Miss
While communication is now easier for missionaries, it has also made it easier for everyone. So, the missionary newsletter is competing for readers’ attention from within an inbox that is often overfilled and cluttered. According to a program we once used, only a third of those who subscribed to our newsletter ever even opened the email. It is much easier to ignore an email than it is to ignore other forms of communication.
Easy to Mislead
The biggest issue with the missionary letter is that the perspective is incredibly limited. Due to many constraints most newsletters are no longer than two pages; and many will even consider that too long! Even if it contained mere words that is insufficient to convey the depths of ministry. But consider that most also include prayer requests, contact information, and photos, the actual space devoted to content is quite limited resulting in two deficiencies.
First, it is easy for missionaries to mislead those back home as to the true status of ministry and the missionaries. With pressures to perform, which is evaluated by numbers and busyness, there is a propensity to amplify what is taking place while minimizing any struggles. Certainly, this is no excuse, but if we are going to be honest, we must consider this reality.
Easy to Misunderstand
On the opposite end, those receiving the letter may misunderstand the newsletter. The brevity of it produces an inadequate picture of what is taking place on the field, leaving readers to fill in the blanks. As a result, it may appear no ministry is taking place at all or even the ministry (and/or missionaries) are in a better or worse state than what the reality may be.
I am remember sending out a newsletter lamenting that status of one of our contacts. One response we got was accusatory, asking us what we had done to destroy such a promising opportunity. Without the full information, which sometimes we cannot share with everyone, judgement has been made.
The question then remains, is there a better way? The answer to that question requires a more in-depth discourse than we have time for. However, there are two considerations. Personally, if I am going to spend up to two hours a month editing a newsletter, my preference is to use that time to have conversations directly. Technology makes conversations with supporters much easier and more can be said in 30 minutes than in a two-page newsletter. In that same two-hour time period, I could meet with four supporting churches one month, four the next month, and after a few months, begin the cycle again. Such a process is not only more informative and intimate, it allows the church body to be involved, asking questions and getting real-time updates.
With that said, sometimes the written newsletter can serve a purpose and many may prefer that method. If that is the case and either you require a written update from your missionaries or your missionaries take the energy to send one, then make the most of it. We have one small supporting church who is quite wonderful at communication. Within hours of sending out a newsletter, prayer update, or any other notice, the pastor emails it to the rest of the church. Even more, this church body reads it, often opening the email 130 times or so within a couple of days (which is a lot when the church body is roughly 60 people or so). Therefore, if we are going to require the missionary newsletter then let’s put it to use. If we are not going to utilize it, then search for an alternative.