In my experience, printed magazines are still a useful tool for church outreach. Not everyone in the local community is connected to the internet; especially the elderly. There’s now so much social media available that a paper magazine stands out as a refreshing change; something to keep by the phone or the kitchen kettle. If you produce a community magazine you can distribute it free to every local house; just imagine the opportunities for outreach to every resident of your town or village! A magazine posted, prayerfully, through the door of every home shows to local people that the church in their neighbourhood cares about them.
Do you find it difficult to justify the cost of church magazines, distributed only to a small number of people in the congregation? A good way forward is to publish a community magazine. Include the usual church news and a page for the vicar or minister to write a piece; but also include pages for sport, gardening and news from local groups, scouts, brownies, drama club etc. It shows that your church is keen to get involved with the community.
What about the cost and effort involved? The cost is a significant challenge. If your community has, say, 2000 houses that’s a lot of paper and ink so printing costs will be expensive. You can raise the funds through paid advertising in the magazine, grants from the Parish Council, or even the church, and crowdfunding. You’ll also need a small army of volunteer distributors but, in my experience, many people enjoy doing this. It’s a chance to chat to people you would not otherwise meet and, maybe, tell them about your faith.
So what evidence do you have that printed magazines really work?
“OK Roger”, you may ask. “So what evidence do you have that printed magazines really work?”. I edit two village magazines; both in the style of community magazines. You can read them online. One of them is the BIG Mag for the village of Barns Green, which began as a four page church magazine given out to church goers 20 years ago. It grew into a community magazine including all sorts of local news, not just church news. Published by local volunteers and distributed to all 900 homes in the village, it’s now an important part of village life, much loved and trusted by villagers; and the village church is right at the heart of the magazine. Many of the volunteers are Christians.
My other Community magazine is the BBH Mag for Broadbridge Heath. Two years ago my church, St John’s Broadbridge Heath, began praying in response to plans to build a huge new housing development in the village. An extra 1500 houses meant that our village would double in size in just three years. We asked God to show us how we can reach out to the many new people who would live in the village. I realised that a community magazine was one solution.
We have seen an increase in new people contacting the church
As a pilot project; a small team of church members volunteered to distribute an eight page magazine which I put together and had printed by a friendly local printer. It was a struggle; but 18 months later, we have been joined by volunteers from all over the village. We have 42 distributors who post the 24 page magazine through all 2100 homes in the village. The church was able to tell the whole village about its regular services and outreach events. The church set up a summer club for village children which was very well attended, partly because the details were published in the magazine.
We have seen an increase in new people contacting the church because they have read the vicar's regular articles. Sports clubs, local voluntary groups and the parish council all send their news items for inclusion in the magazine; this puts the church at the very heart of the village. By the end of 2017 we expect even more houses will be built; so we will have to print and publish up to 3000 copies; if we can get enough advertising and sponsorship to pay for it. So far, a printed magazine is a very useful tool for our church to reach out to the village.
Roger Stamp has been a journalist 30 years; mostly with the BBC. He’s Producer & Reporter for the multi-award winning “Sunday Breakfast Show” on BBC Sussex & Surrey.