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Telling our story in print

July 18, 2012

I have been collecting leaflets and booklet as I have traveled around the various churches I have visited. I thought it might be instructive to share a few thoughts from this collecting. These fall into a few categories. There is, firstly, the obligatory church guide. Some of these are very good being well printed and presented. It is not just bigger churches

which you might expect to have greater resources in order to produce something good. Saint John the Evangelist, Ickham Kent, has the above. It is of an unusual  format being an A3 folded sheet. It has a suggested donation price of £1. A very good effort.

Another good effort is this – here 5 rural churches have produced a joint guide. Again, this is professionally printed. It is informative and sells for £3.

Then there are the very common freebies given out by churches. Again, very variable in quality. A few are very good indeed. Most are produced on the office photocopier and do suffer from that sometimes. I really do think that we have to make a bit of an effort when we produce materials to give out. Even on a tiny budget it is possible to produce leaflets which are, at the very least, of a presentable quality. Typically, there is a welcome note from the vicar, some historical facts to guide the visitor and some information about the life of the church. Here is a good example, along with a simple prayer leaflet, from Cirencester.

Some churches spend a bit more and produce some very nice free guides. Here are two I picked up in Northleach – a book mark and a ‘To help you pray’ leaflet. Professionally printed. Obviously this costs a bit more, but isn’t prohibitive if you can order a lot at a time. They do give a very good impression and say that here is a church which takes it’s visitors seriously.

So far, so straightforward but, then we get into more difficult territory.

Children – it is actually quite rare to find a leaflet of booklet aimed at the younger visitor. Sometimes those that are on offer are simplistic, patronising and naff. Some churches, unfortunately very few that I have yet found, are making an effort. Here are two, a locally produced one for younger children from Northleach and a published one from Cirencester, which is a bit dated but is much better than nothing. This last one retails for 25p in the church shop. It is by Spectrum Publications in St Albans – I am not sure that they are still in business. There is a gap in the market here but it is quite a difficult thing to do well – certainly worth a try though.

Then there is the whole area of trying to communicate the Christian faith to the visitor. It hasn’t really surprised me that very few churches are making much effort in this area. Some are though. Those that do provide something tend to fall into two camps. Firstly there are evangelical churches who provide a stack of tracts which are often very wordy and rather worthy but I do really wonder how well this sort of thing communicates with the average visitor. A good example of this genre is ‘the real Jesus’ by Rico Tice and Barry Cooper. My copy was picked up in Burford church.

I find this rather depressing. For a start, the cover is attractive but the inside is just words. There are no illustrations at all.  Thetext starts by telling the story of Jesus, all well and good, but, as you read on, it moves into the whole realm of sustitutionary atonement with dire warnings about sin. Not much about love. Then, in order to clinch the argument, there is a story quoted from the American Civil War about a soldier who willingly gives up his life to save another. It is a good story (probably apocryphal) but I cannot see how such speaks to a person toady. Then there is the use of male language throughout – cannot women be saved by a faith in Jesus? Of course, it ends with the obligatory prayer for Jesus to come into my life, and an invitation to join a ‘Christianity Explored’ course and get a free book. I bet that is  a good read.

Some won’t like this but it really isn’t good enough. All this does is reinforce the negative stereotypes that people sometimes have of the church, that it is completely out of touch and irrelevant to peoples everyday lives.

Fortunately there are a few better alternatives – unfortunately only a few. Once upon a time, there was a charity called Scripture Gift Mission. These produced free leaflet, nice and bright but hampered by one thing.

They ever only used the words of scripture which severely limited the leaflets usefulness. Roll forward a few years and they have become sgm Lifewords. The range of leaflets is less extensive than it was but they are now rather good. Above is picture of ‘Look around you’ a foldout leaflet which gives a meditative walk around a church building. So, for instance there is a simple meditation on the church door, being a symbol of God’s welcome. Then a verse from Psalm 100 – ‘Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures for ever.’ Then it concludes with a prayer –

‘God, thank you that you are here. Thank you that you know who I am and you welcome me.’

Very good.

The other camp is –  Some churches have recognised the problem of suitable leaflets and produced their own. The best of these I have so far come across are these:-

Tony Windross, the Vicar of St. Leonard’s Hythe has produced a series of twelve leaflets which cover topics such as ‘ Why bother to think about religious questions?’, ‘Why bother to think about God?’, ‘Why bother to think about Holy Communion?’ and several other topics. These are simple, thoughtful and well produced. They are available as a book as well – ‘The thoughtful guide to faith’ by Tony Windross.

An extremely good effort. It is a pity that a few more churches didn’t try to produce something. We are rather missing a trick here I think.

Obviously, the views expressed here are purely my own!

‘Why bother’ series from St. Leonard’s, Hythe

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