The often neglected child of good church communications is the written copy.
Which is weird, since the bulk of our faith instruction comes from God’s written Word, so you’d think we would recognize the importance of it. Yet, I digress.
“More and more people today are reading less and less.” I forget who I heard say that, but I can’t help but recognize the truth in it. That’s why we have to be better at copy than ever before.
Gone are the days where we give our church members both barrels of the copywriting shotgun and think “they’ll find what info they need if I give them all of it.”
Yeah, information. That’s what makes people do stuff. [sarcasm font]
Today, we have to focus more on inspiration than information when we write copy, whether it’s for an email newsletter, social media caption, or printed flyers and posters for the lobby. You have to cut through the noise and get their attention.
And that looks different for each church, so let’s talk about some copywriting no-no’s that definitely DON’T inspire action in your copy that you can go ahead and leave on the side of the road without looking back.
Asking a Yes or No Question
Are you looking to improve your marriage? (no). Do you want to know more about the Bible? (I do, but I can’t add anything to my plate right now). Are you the parent you should be? (probably not, but thanks for making me feel good).
Whenever you start a blurb with a question that can be answered with a yes or no (really a no), then you allow someone to qualify or disqualify themselves from whatever you want them to do without even reading the rest of your copy. Try making statements instead of starting with a question. For example, instead of asking “do you want to improve your marriage?” start with “Even if your marriage seems pretty good, everyone can use a tune up.”
Define the problem, don’t ask about it. When you define it, you start in agreement on common ground without allowing the reader to immediately opt out of the solution before you give it.
Ignoring What’s In It for Them
Often, we focus on features instead of benefits. A feature is why some product, like a Bible study, is good. It’s the details. It meets at a convenient time or has people like you already there or it can provide community that you might want. All features and not very compelling reasons to add one more thing to someone’s already busy life.
Benefits are what’s in it for them. Being able to talk to your lost friends intelligibly about the Bible (not feeling stupid) is a benefit of Bible study. Being able to lead your kids well at home in Christian thought and behavior is a benefit. Why? Because they answer core issues for people that they truly care about. Am I a good parent? Am I a good Christian?
Getting better at knowing the Bible is great, but most think they can just do that by coming to church on Sundays, so no need for anything else. But when your copy taps into the base problems, they begin to see what’s truly in it for them and it becomes more compelling.
Long Paragraphs Without Breaks
This is a trick of the eyes. Whenever a reader sees a big wall of text with no paragraph breaks, it immediately makes them want to skip reading it. So many newsletters and emails from the pastor are WAY too long.
Notice in this blog I only go 3-4 lines before breaking to a new paragraph. That’s a good practice for today’s reader who’s probably consuming most of the copy they read per day on their mobile phone. That’s a small screen to stare at all day, so it better be worth it! Make it easier on their eyes and they’ll love you for it.
There has GOT to be a better way to end a blurb or caption about an event other than “you don’t want to miss it!” There has to be. But in order to kill this annoying cliche that makes me immediately want to decline the event, you have to start further back in the copy.
This phrase is lazy writing. You’ve spent all your copy telling people about when it is and what’s going to be there and where they should come and how much and left absolutely NO room to write a compelling reason why they should CARE. So you throw this little crap sentence in as a lazy, last-ditch effort to entice them. You don’t want to miss it.
Um…heck yes, I do.
I’m busy and you gave me no reason to rearrange my schedule to be somewhere other than condescendingly telling me that my life would not be as good if I don’t come. How dare you? You don’t know me at all, what gives you the right to say something like that to me?
Other cliche phrases might be “It’s going to be awesome/epic/amazing/the greatest, etc.” or “It’s going to be life-changing!” If you live in a wealthy area, then nobody really wants to change their lives that much and you can add as many adjectives to it as you like, but it still isn’t compelling copy.
Burying the Lede (not the “lead” I’m told)
Whenever you send an email or write copy for an event or even when asking for volunteers, I’m surprised how many times something comes across my desk that’s around 200 words and they don’t tell you what they want from you until the end. They bury the lede!
As someone reads copy, they start to check out more and more as they read, especially in the world of email. We can tell this by looking at which links are clicked for action in our email campaigns. The ones at the top get clicked a lot more than the ones at the bottom, especially if the one at the top of the email is a big’ol button.
Recognizing this, it makes more sense to put your ask/lead/action step in the first paragraph of your copy. Introduce the problem with a statement like “Many marriages fail because they waited too long to start working on it.”
Then hit them with the lede, “That’s why we’re inviting you to Re|engage, our 16-week study that shows couples in every stage how to keep their marriage healthy. Sign up if you want to strengthen the best example of Christ’s love for the church your kids will ever see.” Ok, that’s pretty heavy-handed, but you know, show them a positive future.
Then give them a big’ol button that takes them to a sign-up page and BAM, you’re done. Then you can write all about your volunteer opportunities to lead groups and stuff after that. But your primary goal is to get new couples to sign up, so don’t waste their time or yours. Get to the point!
What else is there? Do you have some cliches you’d like to see take a dirt nap? Anything on this list you struggle with or would add to? Let me know in the comments or join The Seminary of Hard Knocks Facebook group and let’s discuss it!