Did you hear the one about the “Prayer Letter App”?
A missionary shared with me a comedy sketch his team members presented during a recent conference. The joke was a Prayer Letter App that could take mundane events and make them worthy to share with supporting churches. I only remember one example. The actor claimed that when he drove through a puddle, he splashed some people on the side of the road, and they started yelling at him. The script had him enter the event into the mythical app, which wrote something like, “Baptized four people today. They were so excited they couldn’t stop shouting!”
Just last weekend, I was talking with another missionary who commented that he doesn’t have anything exciting to write home about. Here are a few of the “not interesting” things he described that take a lot of time, but are too dull to share:
- Making a new church constitution
- Buying building materials
- Building a new church building
These visible, tangible signs of progress are not interesting? Really? Maybe I’m odd, but from where I sit, I find them exciting!
OK, I understand, they’re not spiritual battles. They’re not glamorous. Maybe they feel <gasp> “secular.”
The Bar Is High
For a missionary who writes four prayer letters each year, maybe these day-to-day activities aren’t spiritual enough to make the cut.
But, believe it or not, there are some supporters who would love to hear about these very details. Those folks will also be your most ardent prayer warriors.
I’ve had my share of mundane items with Edify Hub. In fact, practically nothing that I’m doing here would make the cut for most quarterly missionary prayer letters. Everything I do is mundane and technical.
It was time to write, so I shared what was happening.
It’s laughable to suggest it.
But for some reason people like you choose to read about it. Somehow, you care.
How do I know? My email manager tells me how many times people click to read an article.
What’s ironic is that the recent weekly update with the most clicks was the one I expected to be the most boring. I talked about the tedious task of setting up a technical support center. I even called it “Move Along: Nothing To See Here.” I really didn’t expect anyone to be interested.
I’ll admit, if I were only writing a quarterly newsletter, I wouldn’t have included this little detail. But it was time to write, so I shared what was happening.
An amazing 26% of those who got the email didn’t just open it, but they actually clicked through to read the article that I was sure would be boring.
But you cared.
(In case you’re wondering, yes 26% is – statistically speaking – a high click-through rate for ministry-related emails. That’s why writing often is so important to build a relationship with anyone.)
Why Do People Care?
Why? Certainly you know that better than I do, but I can take a guess.
I do pay attention to studies about what makes communication effective – what makes people pay attention and keep reading. Two big factors are consistency and transparency.
You get a new email from me every week. Every week. Sometimes you read about progress, and sometimes about failures. Sometimes you’re interested, and sometimes you’re not. But with each email is a new opportunity to find something you care about. And with each email you see another part of the long-running story of the Edify Hub ministry.
And just by reading, you become a part of that story.
The same is almost certainly true in your ministry. Sure, there will be some churches and individuals that want only your carefully crafted print-perfect PDF quarterly newsletter.
But there are others who long to understand your ministry. They truly want to connect with you at a deeper level.
How Do We Connect?
If you continue to write only four times per year, you may never find those people. So what can you do?
The more often you write, the less pressure there is for perfection with each letter.
Here are a few steps you may consider:
- In your email manager, create two groups: one for the people who will get every casual update, and another for people who want only your formal quarterly PDFs.
- Add your entire list to both groups. (I’m assuming you already have explicit opt-in permission to send email to your whole list. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be sending them the quarterly newsletters in the first place.)
- Decide on a consistent schedule for sharing your casual updates. Many missionaries write every month, and some write every week. Choose something that works for you, and commit to writing faithfully. Share the honest, frustrating challenges and the tiny, unimportant victories. The more often you write, the less pressure there is for perfection with each letter.
- Use your very first casual update to introduce the additional email schedule. Explain that it will not replace your quarterly newsletter, but that it is for people who want to build a stronger relationship with you as their missionary. Tell them how they can be removed from the casual group without losing your quarterly newsletters. (Maybe they just email you, or maybe your email manager has a “preferences” form they can submit.)
- In each casual email until your next formal quarterly newsletter, include a short reminder that you will continue the quarterly newsletters, and briefly remind people how they can be removed from the casual ones. Sometimes a quick statement in your signature or the header or footer of your email template can do the trick.
- When people ask to stop getting the casual updates or express concern at the transparency of your content, remove them from the casual group. They are not the ones you’re trying to connect with.
- Write consistently. Over time, you can share more transparently with those who remain in the group.
Not all of us supporters are the same. Some of us really do want to know the mundane details of missionary life. Some of us update our prayer lists with those details so we know how to pray.
You don’t need a mythical “Prayer Letter App” to make your ministry sound interesting. It already is.
Are you sending only quarterly prayer letters?
Consider the 7-step process I outlined in this article to connect with your supporters at a deeper level.