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Seeking to inspire members, Mercer County church launches new magazine

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Most newsletters from churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship serve up pretty standard fare: Sermon topics, a list of events, an appeal for volunteers or donations. But today, e-mail, Facebook, and the Internet provide multiple ways to get the word out, as well as the means for two-way communication. In that sense, a monthly newsletter becomes repetitive and anachronistic — and out of date quickly.

More importantly, monthly newsletters are usually written, edited, published and distributed by members of the congregation, requiring many hours of volunteer time. With not-for-profit organizations today facing chronic volunteer shortages, devoting precious volunteer resources to producing a newsletter filled with announcements that most members will see elsewhere seems unproductive.

Faced with all of these things — and a desire to tell its own story in a different way — one Central Jersey church has done what many others would consider unthinkable: It ended its monthly newsletter. In its place, the Unitarian Universalist Church at Washington Crossing, in Titusville, has launched a quarterly feature magazine profiling members and groups within the congregation who uphold the church’s mission internally and demonstrate it to the outside community.

Stories of inspiration

The new Crossings magazine debuted March 16. Its first cover story profiles the work of UUCWC’s Food Ministry, which prepares and delivers 350 hot meals a month for people in and near Trenton who are in need. The article follows Food Ministry volunteers in UUCWC’s kitchen as they labor in the stealth of the weekday — largely out of sight and out of mind, even to many congregants.

“A lot happens in our church that flies under the radar,” Mike Muccioli, a Food Ministry volunteer, is quoted in the article. “A lot goes on that we do not know.”

And that leads to one of the purposes of the magazine: to inspire the congregation to action.

“Unless you are intimately involved with the effort, you may be unaware of the effort required, the challenges overcome, the joy experienced by those doing the work, and the impact on those who benefit,” says Rich DiGeorgio, chair of UUCWC’s Communications Committee. “By telling our stories, we hope to inspire even greater engagement in social justice, charity, and other positive efforts within UUCWC.”

Aside from encouraging volunteerism, the magazine helps UUCWC communicate something about itself to the external community. Through stories about congregational values and how members live those values in ways that benefit others locally, Crossings is seen as a vehicle for attracting new visitors.

Articles in future issues will focus on members’ participation in last month’s Moral March in North Carolina; UUCWC’s history of leadership on sexual- and gender-equality issues; and an onsite organic garden that benefits HomeFront and that was founded by a UUCWC youth group member as a Girl Scout project.

A bold move

Pulling this off is no easy task; producing a high-caliber magazine takes volunteers who have not only enthusiasm but the skills to do it well. Everyone involved understands that the degree of professionalism put into the publication is commensurate with how UUCWC portrays itself publicly.

For this effort, DiGeorgio recruited 25 church members to volunteer for various capacities. Eight serve as writers and four as photographers. Eleven more who are knowledgeable about volunteerism within the church form an editorial advisory board, meeting quarterly to recommend article topics. The last two, making up the production team, are matched with their talents — exactly what the experts on volunteerism say to do to keep enthusiasm sustainable. The Crossings graphic designer does the same work professionally. The editor is a career communications professional who has worked in similar capacities at three magazines.

It’s a grand experiment, and whether the church will benefit more from this kind of communiqué than a traditional monthly newsletter is still an open question. Despite the increase in e-mail and other electronic contact from the church, some members of the congregation miss the traditional newsletter. Eliminating a familiar form of communication risks that some members will miss important messages.

Other members, however, say they get too much routine communication from the church. Changing Crossings from a newsletter to a feature magazine changes that while opening a world of possibilities for member recognition and growth. For not-for-profit organizations that rely on the enthusiasm of their volunteers, illustrating what you stand for through real-life stories may be a valuable new tool in the box.

If you like this article, please “like” it on Facebook. Please also see my story archive and subscribe to updates to this column.

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