The Church for Today

Snail mail still works

Thinking through technology’s uses

by Richard Hong



My first job was in software development, creating the first-generation of programs that replaced laboratory notebooks with computer systems. Our clients expected that computerization would solve their problems. But we had a saying: “The computer doesn’t do it better, it just does it faster.”

My boss also had a saying: “If the computer had been invented first, paper would have been hailed as a breakthrough.”

I love technology. But we have to appreciate every tool for what it is and adjust to it. Too often we adopt the new, use it like the old, and get the worst of both worlds.

Consider the paper newsletter. Many churches now email their newsletter as a PDF file. We don’t. My congregation is fairly advanced technologically, yet we still print and mail our newsletter – first class – every month to every family. Why? Let’s compare the media.

Paper: the paper newsletter has a major advantage – persistence. The mailed newsletter is perfect for laying on a kitchen table or nightstand, where days (or weeks) later the recipient picks it up during down time. Boiling an egg? Read the newsletter while you’re waiting.

E-mail: emails are transient. The emailed newsletter (emails in general) have effectively disappeared the moment they scroll off the top of your inbox. This is why we schedule our email blasts so they are sent at 7 p.m. After 7 p.m. families are settling in, and finally have time to check personal email. We want ours to be near the top of the inbox. If you send it at 10 a.m., by the time your congregants check their personal email, yours could be buried under dozens of others.

Adaptation: I hear about a lot of congregations that switched from paper newsletters to email. The driving force behind the switch was usually cost. But ministry decisions should be based on effectiveness, not cost.

We estimate that the cost of printing and mailing our newsletters is about $7 per family per year. If the content we deliver isn’t worth $7 per family per year, we should be rethinking the content, not the means of delivery. Second, most churches that switch from mail to email keep the frequency the same: monthly. Monthly makes sense when using the expensive and persistent medium of paper mail. But if you switch to email, why are you still sending monthly? Why not divide the content into weekly or even bi-weekly chunks? Why not repeat the content across emails that are more frequently sent? You should offset the transience of email with frequency.

When you change your medium, you need to transform your methods.

When we adopted online giving, we changed the language of our call for the offering. We knew that people felt strange allowing the offering plates to pass them by. Yet our goal is for online giving to be predominant. So we begin our call for the offering by thanking our online givers. We say: “We want to thank everyone who supports this ministry online or through other forms of automated giving.

Now is the opportunity for the rest of you to bring your tithes and offerings to God.” When we began live streaming our worship, we adjusted our order of worship to shorten the gaps between elements and lessen the “dead air” in the live stream. We are very technological, but we still use paper when paper serves our ministry purposes.

Sometimes the existing technologies are the best. But when we adopt a new technology, we optimize our processes for it.

When you decide to change, go all the way.

The Rev. Richard Hong is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Englewood, New Jersey. He is excited to be blogging about his passion for the church for Presbyterians Today. Hong’s areas of interest are church technology, leadership and church growth. If there’s a particular topic you’d like to for him to address, contact him at