British Postal Museum & Archive
I've been working on my "monthly" mailing to youth and their parents, which at this point is overdue 6 weeks. I've been trying to get at it for two months now, but the school year kicked off with roar, and I haven't stopped moving since August 15.
Meeting after meeting after meeting to plan things, to get it all together, the google calendar, the Facebook groups...the ministry blog hasn't been updated since February...I'm moving as fast as I can!
Every meeting with pastors goes something like this:
"People don't know what's happening."
"It's in the newsletter."
"People don't read the newsletter."
"Right. It's in the bulletin."
"People don't pay attention to bulletin announcements."
"Right. It's on the Facebook."
"Not everyone's on Facebook."
"Yes, I know that. Have you considered getting a Facebook?"
<and here it varies, because some of the pastors have one already>
"Harumph. Phone calls are a good way."
"Pastor, people don't answer their phones or check their voicemails. I could text some things, but not the long stuff."
"People still use phones."
"Right. Yes. Ok."
"A mailing might work."
"Yes! A mailing! I'm working on it. I'll have it out by Friday."
"Why don't you let our church admin do the mailing for you?"
Ahhh the mailing. My favorite communication tool for youth ministry! You think I'm being snarky, but snail mail is the best way to reach youth and their parents.
It's tricky, though, to get a mailing right. And it isn't work I can delegate to the church admin--it would take me just as long to explain how I need it done as it would to just do it.
And it takes a couple of days' work to get it right.
Better to get it out than to get it perfect, right?
A poorly done youth ministry mailing just makes a muddle of things.
Better to get it right.
First thing is to address the envelopes. I do this by hand, writing out the student's name and address with my favorite pen. Then the parent's envelope--everybody gets their own. Siblings get their own. It's worth the extra stamps, trust me. As I'm writing the students' and parents' names, their faces come to me, bits of their story refresh my memory, I can picture where they live. As I write, I think about how long it's been since I saw them last. Sometimes I pull them off the active list.
I sort the envelopes as I write into different piles: Middlers, Jr. High, High School, Young Adult, Volunteers. Some of the students are at the boundaries of their age groups, and for one reason or another get more than one set of flyers. The boundary breakers have their own pile.
Some of the parents have more than one student in different age groups. The parents of multiples get their own pile--those parents only want one envelope of information.
The pastors get their own pile. They won't read the flyers, but I can say I gave them the info. It's important to be able to say you gave them the info. Everyone feels better that way.
And then time to make the flyers. Several different sets of overlapping information. Age groups in our ministry come together, break apart, come together again. Part of keeping their attention is giving them a glimpse of what's coming in a year or two. But the high school students don't care what the 5th graders are doing, and the 5th graders don't care what the college students are doing. So different flyers with the info people need.
Who still needs permission slips? Right now everybody, we're at the start of the year. By January, there will be the stragglers who haven't filled it out yet--the ones who come to just a few things, and they haven't been by in a while.
A letter to the parents, hopefully short, explaining why they are getting this stuff. So many of our parents don't exactly know which youth group or church their student is involved with. It's hard to keep track, and the students are notoriously bad about giving their parents info.
My phone number, email, and Facebook page plastered all over everything.
And then notes on the flyers--just a quick one, or I'd be here a week. But a little note to say I miss you, or see you soon, or happy birthday, or just I'm really glad you're around. To the parents, call with any questions or concerns. I'm praying for you. Missing you.
Throw it all in the nearest mail drop.
And through it all, for a couple of days, I remember the hours I spent with my youth pastor, Terry McBride, labeling, stamping, licking envelopes. I remember watching him write a little note on most of them, his all caps handwriting distinctive. I recognized that handwriting from the notes he sent me--those notes kept me coming.
There's a rhythm to this thing. I don't keep this work out of pride, I keep it out of love. Mailings are a prayer, and prayer takes quiet time. And so the mailings are usually later than I want them, because quiet time is hard to find around here.
In this last year, in the anxiety of congregational systems overwhelmed by transition, I got caught up in it all. This year I forgot that I really know what I'm doing.
We've had people come and go, and everytime someone stops coming for a while (or for good), the congregation feels the anxiety of that loss. But that isn't how youth ministry works. We keep our hands open so that people can slip through like water. They come when they want. They don't when they don't. We try not to grip so hard. They'll be back, probably. If not, they'll get my note.
And in the end, whoever comes to the banquet, that's who we feast with. We leave an empty chair for the prodigals and prop open the door for the bridesmaids who forgot their oil.
It isn't just a mailing, it's a prayer. It's a hug in an envelope. It's an engraved invitation to step back through our doors. It's a fervently held wish. It's a promise fulfilled.
It isn't just a mailing. And it'll be out by Friday.