The dreaded monthly update letter! It causes missionaries to tremble at just the mention of the task. I would like to discuss the importance of the monthly update letter, the content of the letter and where the letter fits within the grand vision of communication.
I have received a few phone calls from donors over the years asking me “if so-and-so-missionary is still on the mission field?” I am often puzzled at this question because I know that this particular missionary is doing great things, their church/ministry is thriving and they are taking the mission field by storm. So I follow up with the answer/question: “Yes! Why do you ask?” and inevitably the response sounds something like: “Well, I have been supporting them for years and I have not received an update in about 8-9 months. I checked out their blog to see if I missed something and the last thing that was posted was almost a year old. So I was wondering if something had changed?” I remember on particular time I got this phone call it was from a nice old lady who was sacrificially giving what little she had to support a missionary family. It was literally the definition of the widows mite and to be honest I was angry. I was angry at the lack of integrity that this missionary had in not saying thank you and simply providing an update to this ministry partner who is sacrificing a lot to help fund them. On this occasion I told the lady to please give me 10 minutes and you can expect the missionary to give you a call. It was 3 a.m. for the missionary at that time and I am sure they did not appreciate getting woken up and receiving the needed rebuke that I gave them.
I would like you to really think about the reality of people supporting you to do missions. They are giving first, unto the Lord as an offering that will benefit you. That bears a HUGE amount of responsibility. Your paycheck is not simply a paycheck. It is a holy offering that you better manage with integrity! Secondly, those people are choosing to give to support you and be a part of your team. You are the team leader and you are the one responsible for leading your team. These people deserve an hour of your time each month to be briefed on what is happening and how they can pray.
The content of the monthly update letter is truly the hardest part for a missionary. Let’s be honest, there are some months that are overwhelming with ministry and other months that your questioning why you are even on the field. That’s normal and it’s ok. Here are a few steps that will make this task a little easier:
- Know your audience – let’s be honest not everyone is going to read your update letter. Mostly, it will only be close friends and family that know and care about you. It is important to know your audience because it helps you do step #2.
- Determine the content – take a sticky note and write down everything interesting you can think of that would be update worthy. Remember you audience. Your mom doesn’t want to read a briefing book. They want to hear about what is going on in your life. Remember that your goal is not total communication about absolutely everything you did but it’s effective communication about the important things you did. Once you have your list of 5-6 topics take a day and pray over them with the goal of eliminating all but two and at most three topics.
- Select the pictures – we live in a media driven society. If you think someone is going to read a 5 page briefing report that reads like a DMV manual with no pictures you are wrong. Our goal is to actually produce a quality update that people are excited to read. Therefore, you need quality pictures. Which also means that you need to have a vision all month long to have a camera or smartphone ready to capture each important moment. Also, if you are not good at taking pictures, either find someone who is or take a photography class (youtube is also a great resource).
- Brevity is key – Once again, your goal is not total communication about everything. I have seen monthly update letters that are size 10 font and four pages long and I am everything but motivated to read it and if you were honest you wouldn’t want to read it either. Type an update that if you saw it you would want to read. So here our goal is effective communication about the important points and we are shooting for one solid page that maybe drifts on to the second page because of the pictures taking up space.
- Write right – If you are a bad writer you are going to need to work on your writing skills. You will need to read some books and maybe take a class. Writing is just part of the job of being a missionary. Also, make sure to find a good editor that can quickly edit your letter before it goes out. Remember that you are communicating to a wide range of people and most of them won’t care if you have a misspelled word but some of them will be stumbled by it and that is what we want to avoid.
What to do with it?
The days of stuffing envelopes and licking stamps are over (Praise God!). I guarantee that 98% of everyone you know has e-mail. Therefore, those 2% that you know, like your great aunt in Nebraska, that don’t use e-mail you can develop a plan to snail-mail her a monthly letter. Also, the cost of mailing today has gone through the roof. The average cost per-envelope after printing and stating is almost one dollar. That is not cost effective if you need to send out $200 of them. But you can, for free, send out e-mails to hundreds of people with the click of a button and that saves time and money. So what do you do with your monthly update letter? Here are a few ideas:
- Post it on your blog
- Share it to all your social media sites (and you should try to be on all of them)
- E-mail it out to your contact list (ONLY TO THOSE THAT WANT TO RECEIVE IT! DON’T BECOME A SPAMMER)
- Mail it to the 2% that don’t have e-mail
Grand Vision of Communication
A lot of missionaries think that the monthly update letter is the foundation of their communication. Well, that was true 5-10 years ago. But in our social media saturated society the monthly update letter has shrunk in importance and influence. I am not saying that it is irrelevant, but I am saying that you need to recognize that it is simply one aspect of your communication vision. You need to be actively posting on social media – pictures, videos, prayer requests, etc… Our world has shrunk and communication is phenomenally easy today. Utilize the tools that are readily at your fingertips to get your life and ministry in front of people.
Secondly, you need to also plan Skype/FaceTime meetings with people. You don’t need to be annoying about it. But you should be going through your list (see Support Raising 101) and reaching out to people. Probably, above all other communication avenues this is the most important. They can hear your voice and you can hear theirs.
Here is the bottom line (and I don’t say this flippantly but because of experience) – Missionaries that are faithful and proficient at communication are well supported and prayed for and missionaries that are not are struggling.
Writing Exceptional Missionary News Letters