(Youth ministry is not an easy ministry. And in this series, Every Youth Worker Needs:…, I want to highlight a variety of things that might make your ministry a little easier. This ongoing series will include ministry tips, book suggestions, technology helps, and many other nuggets of advice.)
Most students seem to have one preferred method of communication – text messaging. Many students (as well as adults) use their cell phones to send more text messages then to make phone calls. I know several students who spend 100% of their time on their cell phone just sending text messages. The youth culture is becoming (some areas have already become) focused on instant communication sent using technology. This attachment to technology is exactly the reason why every youth worker needs to be able to write a postcard.
The goal is to regularly connect with students and parents through a postcard. Remember that what you write on one side can (and will) be read by many more people than just the intended audience.
Benefits of writing postcards
1. Shorter length.
A postcard only has a little room for the message, so you do not feel pressure to write more than a paragraph. This allows you to focus on one key point. There will be times that you struggle to even write a postcard, imagine how you would feel if you needed to fill an entire page. You can keep your message short and not feel the need to stretch it out just to fill a certain space.
2. Shows importance.
A written postcard shows the recipient that they are important enough for you to take the extra time to hand write the note and not just send an email. People are accustomed to receiving emails, text messages, and phone calls. Taking the time to do a little extra will reinforce that the person has value as an individual. Writing a postcard is a great way to rise above the normal.
3. Big impact.
Writing a postcard does not take a lot of time; therefore, you get a lot of impact for a small amount of work. You can write three or four postcards in 15 minutes, but the impact will last for years. Remember that emails are quickly deleted or left to collect digital dust, but a hand-written postcard will be kept by most students. And when they find your postcard while cleaning up their room, they will remember more than just the words written – they will remember your impact.
Tips on writing postcards
1. Use printed address labels.
I have found that using printed address labels for most postcards does not take away from the personal touch. (Plus if you are the lead youth worker – making these labels available to your team makes it even easier for them to write postcards.) You can print both the recipient’s label and the return address label or you can just print the return address label. Using labels saves a few minutes and helps you keep track of who you have and haven’t sent postcards to lately.
2. Use 4×6 pictures as the postcard.
People love to see pictures of themselves. Why not, turn a picture into a postcard? This works great when you are writing about a specific event. Not only are you able to speak into the person’s life, but you are also giving them a very tangible memento. Before digital cameras became so popular, it was fairly easy to just use one of your extra printed pictures. Today, you have to go and purposely have the picture printed. This might seem like extra work, but I think it allows you the ability to choose a great picture (and the ability to edit it when needed).
3. Find funny or unique postcards.
Using pictures of the students is great, but sending funny postcards can be just as good. When you are traveling, keep an eye out for unusual postcards. Find postcards with funny pictures that remind you of a student or two. You can find some great postcards at very touristy stores. My favorite postcard was bought from a Hallmark that was going out of business. It said “welcome” on the front and looked like a miniature version of a welcome mat, complete with artificial green grass. I used it to send to visiting students as a follow-up to their visiting our group.
4. Block out time to write.
Schedule time each week to write a few postcards to different students. I have found that if I do not plan on writing notes to students, it will get pushed off. The more I push this task to the bottom of my “to-do” list, the more unlikely I am to do it at all. The easiest way to block out time to write postcards is to find fifteen minutes in your schedule each week. It might be right before your weekly staff meeting, first thing Monday morning, or after you get back from lunch. It does not matter when you schedule postcard time, but you do need to make time for it.
5. Track each sent postcard.
Keep track of who you send each postcard to. I use a printed sheet with each student’s name, but you can use excel or another youth tracking software, too. You can track on a monthly basis, but make sure you keep your old records. Use this information to make sure you write at least one postcard to every student on a regular basis. Along with postcards, make sure you are making other contacts with the students and their families.
6. Be specific.
Write an encouraging message or talk about something you saw them do. Do NOT use the postcard to simply promote an upcoming event. This shows that you are more concerned with their attendance than anything else. It is much more effective to keep the note simple and related to one specific event, action, or attitude.
Hand-written postcards are a great youth ministry tool. When was the last time you sent one?
(Every Youth Worker Needs: A Blog Series About Things You Need in Youth Ministry)