The Witness Rebooted

Communications is vital for any community, and that is especially true churches such as our own because it allows us to stay connected with one another, share important information about aspects of our common life, spread the word about upcoming events and programs, and most importantly, it is how we tell the story of our sacred community to each other and to the world.

The first parish phone tree left something to be desired.

The first parish phone tree left something to be desired.

It used to be that all you needed for good church communications was to drop a newsletter in the mail on a regular basis (once a month, or even once a week for large parishes), and maybe put together a phone tree if you had news that needed to get out quickly.

Times have changed, however. Newsletters take a lot of staff time to write and produce, and with tighter budgets and fewer hours, it is time that staff simply doesn’t have. The cost of postage increases, making the price per communication grow. Further people are often inundated with junk mail and bills so that churches can no longer count on people reading the newsletters that they send.

In an era where many families have both parents working, children engaged in multiple extracurricular programs, and people simply aren’t home as much, communication styles have to change.

Since coming to St. Stephen’s, I have been quietly watching and evaluating our communications methods. I tweaked the means of distributing the Witness so that it relied almost entirely on electronic distribution, so that we would spend less on postage. We also launched the weekly e-News, which brings the next week’s events and announcements to the inbox of our parishioners every Thursday in a short and easily digestible format.

The results? The e-News has been a big success. The numbers show that on average, 47% of you open and read some part of the e-News every week. That number is actually quite good–the average open rate for religious institutions is only 25%. Anecdotally, I have heard from many of you that you value and rely on the information shared in the e-News and consider it your primary means of communication from the church.

At the same time, we know that the Witness was not doing so well. There is no way to measure how many people actually are reading it, but anecdotally, it seems that very few people were actually using it. The one purpose that the Witness still had, and the only reason that most people still opened it, was to check the worship rota so that they would know when they were scheduled to serve. It is an important function, but there are far more efficient ways of sharing that information than a newsletter that few were reading.

After having given this a great deal of thought over the past few months, and after having discussed it with our staff, I have decided to retire the Witness as a newsletter and rely on our weekly e-News for reaching out and delivering information to our community members. At the same time, I do feel that there is still a place and a need for longer form stories, reflections, and updates about our common life that simply can’t happen within the concise e-News.

Therefore, even as I am retiring the Witness as a newsletter, I am rebooting it as a blog on our website. My intention is that roughly every week, we will have a new entry in the Witness blog from a different person. Our regular contributors will be familiar–Lynda with children’s formation, Maryann with music, the Wardens, and of course myself. However, it will not be limited to those regular contributors–anyone who has something to share with the wider community can contribute to the Witness blog, whether it is an update from a ministry with which you are involved or a personal reflection that you want to share. Now that it is an electronic medium, you are also no longer restricted to the written word either–if have a video or music that you think is pertinent to the parish, we can share it here!

What’s more, the week’s entry in the Witness blog will be shared through our weekly e-News (much in the way that you came to read this entry), so that you will always know what’s going on. For those who are looking for the Worship Rota, we’ve moved that online as well, where it will be always available and up-to-date.

Finally, Pam and I will be working out a plan for compiling the information shared within this blog on a regular basis and mailing it to the handful of our members who do not own a computer or have an email address so that we will not lose contact with anyone in this transition.

I hope that you will make use of this new means of communication and that you will support us as we go through the inevitable growing pains of anything that is new.

Welcome to the new Witness!