Magazines are "the showcase for the church in the wider community"

Parish magazine editor Sue Robinson reflects on how magazines can be used as a tool in mission and ministry.

Warrington Padgate’s parish magazine, Grapevine, was acknowledged as an example of good practice at the recent Association for Church Editors Awards in London. Editor Sue Robinson reflects on the importance of parish magazines and reflects on how they can be used as a tool in mission and ministry.

What are the benefits of a parish magazine?
I believe that our magazine is the showcase for the church in the wider community - it presents snapshots of both the work and the people. The magazine helps keep the wider congregation working together as a “family”, with both information about the parish and individual members’ news.

What are your priorities when putting together the magazine and why?
Getting to the printers on time! I aim to get a broad sweep of articles and involve as many contributors as possible. We need to include the more practical reports that place us in the wider church, (team, deanery diocese etc) but we also include the more personal, individual stories and celebrations; they are equally important. I also try to include either news about a local charity or a piece about local/church history. My three “must haves” are the clergy letter, a “person profile” and a prayer, verse or reflection.

What potential is there for parish magazines in the mission and ministry of their church?
The magazine can put a friendly and welcoming face forward to those who would otherwise have no or little contact with the Church. They hopefully know that we are there and “how we tick”. The magazine is a means of offering support and services to the wider community.

On what aspects was Grapevine acknowledged at the ACE awards?
The judging panel liked Grapevine’s consistent layout style from month to month so that readers know where to look; ie. the formal content at the front and the social, chatty and humour towards the back. They also liked the front page with a clear bold banner and the inclusion of the Diocesan logo, the consistent typography, (Ariel for the headlines and Calibri for the body, all left justified (ragged edge). They particularly liked the inclusion of pupils’ work from our Church primary school each month. They said that this was different from including children’s pages. They also commented on the use of lots of photos and graphics together with cartoons.

Looking at the other magazines at the awards, I liked their use of punchy headlines – this is something I am looking at incorporating in Grapevine. I also liked the regular inclusion of a challenging Christian article, so I have set myself a target to get some Christian/Theological training to give me the confidence to tackle this aspect.

Most people are now able to access the internet – what can a magazine do that a website can’t?
We already put our magazine or parts of it, onto our church website, and at some point we are going to have to think about following our children’s lead onto Twitter or the latest equivalent, but I am convinced that a hard copy magazine is also with us for a long time. At a recent PCC meeting we resolved to introduce basic IT lessons. The magazine can be put into local homes as a “good read”, something that is either delivered regularly or can easily be picked up; it is always there to browse. A website needs a reason to be visited. A printed magazine can be kept as a permanent record, (either as a church archive or as a personal memento) while the web has a fleeting nature.

What do you think the challenges are for magazine editors?
Deadlines, deadlines and not enough space! I have to plan ahead and commission articles to get a balance in the magazine and then keep reminders going; always keeping my ear open for an interesting story now comes automatically. The most difficult aspects in producing the magazine I find are: Keeping writers to a word count (500 words for two A5 pages, less 100 for every picture); applying a light enough touch when editing to allow the writer’s personality and style to show whilst keeping to a house style; keeping a balance between the Christian content (a seasonal prayer, reflection or comment) and the social news and the humour.

What are your top tips for parishes thinking of starting or improving their parish magazine?
I think the most important thing is to identify who you are writing for - is it the regular congregation or is it for also for anyone in the parish who is interested enough to glance at your magazine? Keep your target audience in mind as you select content. Once you have got your audience keep them with you by making the page “easy on the eye”; break up the page with photos etc. and keep plenty of white space. Try to keep your articles local, or a local take of a wider event or issue. Keep a feel for the character of your Church’s worship and congregation. Introduce your congregation to the rest of the parish with people profiles. I hope that people are more inclined to “give us a go” if there are faces there that they recognise.

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Find out more

Want to find out more about editing a parish magazine?
Take a look at some of the winning entries and swap tips at the next Association for Church Editors (ACE) meeting and workshop:

Saturday 15th June 2013
10.30am – 3.30pm
Padgate Community Centre,
Station Road,

Topics include:
1. Back to Basics – an interactive look at some easy ways to improve our magazines
2. Winning entries in the 2013 ACE National Awards
3. Feedback from the Annual General Meeting held in May 2013 at Central Hall, Westminster
4. Magazine Swap Table – please bring along a few copies of your magazine
5. Q and A with Keith Milmer, Chairman of the Association for Church Editors, together with your North West ACE Team.