Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cyber Circles: Creating a Virtual Prayer Group-Elizabeth Givens

Prayer groups are important – but times change.

Bev walked me to the door as I slipped out of the ladies missionary circle luncheon at her home. I’d been there three hours already and it was not winding down. Though I am far from young, I felt like a teenager among these ladies, but Bev, on the other hand, was the oldest woman there and probably the wisest!

“This kind of thing is dying,” she said. “It’s not going to go to the next generation.”

“I know,” I answered. “I’m sorry to leave, but I took off work to come and I’ve got to get going.”

Bev went on, “When these women began this missionary circle it was the only women’s group they had. Now we’ve got choices – Bible studies, small groups, all sorts of things. Prayer groups are important – but times change.”

It was said without rancor. Bev has seen it all. She doesn’t particularly LIKE change, but she rolls with it. Except when she says to me, “I have no computer, no email, no Facebook, and no cell phone. You can find me at my land line!” She’ll stick with the circle, but she won’t expect me to be there every month.

A few years ago a younger mom told me she would love to be part of the missionary prayer circle, but she had young children, and there was no childcare. The same issue had kept me out of the circle for years. We brainstormed how to get more people praying and decided that we should create a “cyber circle.” Today she receives the emails from all the missionaries of our church and then resends them to hundreds of people in the church who have signed up to pray. In a given week, I get 5-10 missionary emails. No wait, no turnaround time.

The secretary at another of our churches collected email as they came in and then sent them all at once. It was cumbersome and if you had an urgent prayer request, you might wait a week for it to be sent. I told this secretary about our cyber prayer circle and she immediately changed her system. Now, as soon as she gets a letter on email, it is sent to her circle of prayer partners in the church.

In a quick survey recently of twelve churches, I found two “cyber circles,” two that forwarded missionary emails to a limited list, and all the rest were still printing paper copies and making those available in various ways. A few are posting on the web – which poses other complications for people working in limited access areas.

Our challenge as missionaries is to figure out how our supporting churches handle our letters and tailor our communication to their system. If we have the relationship, we may be able to crank them up a notch and get them to create a “cyber circle”.

Everyone benefits. More readers mean more prayer, more giving, and more involvement in God’s plan to reach a lost world.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Marketing Yourself and Your Ministry-Elizabeth Givens

In an era when personal communication is ubiquitous and easy, each missionary has become their own marketing director.

Jen started the email letter with “When I received my teaching schedule for the year, I thought ‘oh, this is very manageable.’” Then she proceeded to describe how the semester went bonkers and she ended up teaching seven courses. God was blessing and she loved her work but it was crazy. It’s that first line that got me reading. I could hear her voice, almost, and then her honesty about the difficulty she faced drew me further in.

When we write our supporters and prayer partners, they want to hear our voice. They want honesty. They want to know we are real people.

The bottom line is that most of what Christians know of missions, or think they know, they learned from missionary letters. If all someone knew of missions was what you write, what would they know? Are you perpetuating the myth that puts missionaries on a pedestal or are you carefully teaching about culture, contextualization, and real life experience with each email you write?

In an era when personal communication is ubiquitous and easy, each missionary has become their own marketing director. Financial and prayer support follow interest and we can generate interest when we write regularly, concisely, and interestingly. Keeping your readers involved requires work.

  • Tell good stories that teach what your life is like.

  • Write less—more often.

  • Sort through the ideas in your mind before you start writing and edit, edit, edit, how much you send.

  • Don’t overload on family news. Your prayer partners want to know about and pray for your family, but strike a balance between “all about us/me” and “all about ministry.”

  • Write clear, understandable prayer requests. Give enough detail so someone can actually pray today, and tomorrow, and maybe till they hear from you again. Be sure you reader can distinguish who is who in your prayer requests, even if you don’t use real names.

  • Use creative formatting to help your reader track through the screen. If you include pictures, size them to 50 kb or less so the email downloads quickly.

  • Include contact info and make sure people know where to send money! Never frustrate your reader on contact info.

  • Say “Thank you” often, regularly, and with deep sincerity!

Finally, remember that some people still don’t do email but may be invaluable prayer partners. Twenty years ago we used to mail 700 paper letters; now we email 350, including churches that send the email out in bulk. BUT there are 30 people who still get a paper copy and they are top prayer warriors.

Marketing your ministry should be a challenge that you take on with prayer and hard work. If God has put you in missions, it is worth your time an energy to do a good job and gather a following of faithful readers—who also will pray and give and maybe, come and join you or go somewhere else in the world.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Prayer Letters Worth Reading-Elizabeth Givens

The Key to Writing a Prayer Letter that WILL Get Read

I remember arriving in the north of the Philippines about 20 years ago after a long day on bus, jeepney, and foot. I had hardly sat down at our friend's table when she slapped a letter down in front of me.

"Read this!" she said. "This is our last letter and I've gotten more response on this than any letter I've written in decades. What did I do?"

It only took a quick read to understand why people responded. Fay had told a story. Her husband was to speak at a gathering of tribal people and he got sick, so she went in his place. As I read, I could feel her concern on the trek that her language wasn’t as facile as her husband’s. I could smell the rice in the mountain paddies. The mud seemed to ooze through my toes as I crossed the river with her, and then I sat in the little clearing while she spoke and watched people’s faces as they hungrily drunk in her teaching of the Word. In short, she had taken me with her.

I'd read her letters before. They were accurate chronological descriptions of their ministry, but they were flat and dry. This couple was anything but flat and dry. This time she had invited her audience into her heart and allowed them to think, feel, smell, and walk with her. I didn't need to know what she did five days a week, or ten weeks a year. I only needed to go with her this one time and I grasped far more of what her life was like than pages of ministry details.

Today her letter would come to me on email. Unlike a full page for graphic design, now you have only a little window of space to grab the reader's attention. The beginning of the letter is vitally important. When you write, don't waste time on greetings and apologies. Jump right into the story. Tell a story first -- then follow up with schedules, prayer & praise, details.

What kind of stories? The best ones teach without preaching. I don't need a lecture on contextualization, but I'll read about why Kazak women feel comfortable with pillows and low tables, playing the dombre, and drinking tea as they learn the stories of the Old Testament. I want to hear how Hannah’s story brings tears to a gathering of Muslim second wives who are barren and why riding shot-gun to an archery contest with a bunch of vodka-swigging Mongols is core to evangelism.

I want reality. I want to smell what’s cooking in the hot oil at the market, listen to the lonely pathos in the voice of the woman you are trying to lead to Christ, hear the cacophony of the bells at the temple down the street or the call to prayer across the way.

I am guilty of writing rather dry, boring reports some months, but when I get a lot of response, it’s because there was a story.

~by Elizabeth Givens


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