Writing Prayer Letters That People Want to Read

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By on February 1, 2012   /   3 Comments

On a visit with Herb and Sandy, one of my first ministry partners, Herb pulled out a neat stack of prayer letters and thank-you notes from the last ten years. Sandy said, “He has all of them.” Today that comes to over 38 years of letters and notes we wrote them! Herb stumped me when he referred to something I specifically wrote some time ago. After he prompted me, I finally remembered!

Is the hard copy prayer letter dead? Brian Barela, Campus Crusade’s Director of Digital Media, is an advocate for the right use of social media when communicating with our financial partners. Speaking to our support coaches, he quipped about the practice of e-mailing prayer letters, “Save a stamp now and lose a ministry partner later.” No question there are great ways to additionally connect with our partners through texting, e-mail, Facebook, etc… but a hard copy prayer letter is still a best practice. The question is how do we get people to read them?

Question #1, “What is the purpose of my prayer letter?” Its purpose is to tell the story of your ministry, cast vision and connect your partners to that vision. Question #2, “Why do my partners support my ministry?” While some began because of their relationship with you, what needs to compel them to continue to give is what your ministry is accomplishing for the cause of Christ.

When I was a new support raising coach, I learned the development principle that people give to people justified by the cause. It is true that for people to give for your ministry, they need to like you. However, they need vision and encouragement that your ministry is worth investing in. Learning to tell the story of what God is doing in your ministry will cause people to look forward to each of your letters. They not only will want to know what God is doing in your ministry, but they will also enjoy reading the stories.

What is the message your partners are currently hearing from you? For us who are married, it’s good to include something about our family, but some letters are too focused on family and too little on the ministry. One couple wrote about the momentous occasion of potty training their child. Very important, but doesn’t belong in a prayer letter… nor does a journal about family vacations! While people like you and your family, they’re supporting you because your personal involvement in the ministry helps advance the kingdom.

Exercise: Go through your last 12 months of prayer letters and write the dominant theme at the top of each. When you look at those themes, are they about your ministry (people coming to Christ, being discipled, etc.) or are they mostly about family or struggles in ministry? It’s okay to share appropriate personal info, but try and keep it to a paragraph. The prayer letter is not the best place to share struggles, but instead, do that personally with your inner circle.

Lastly, don’t mention or drop subtle hints about your need for support in your prayer letters, hoping your readers will catch on and send in an extra gift. Avoid the temptation to include support envelopes as way of prodding them or slipping in your shortfall in your prayer requests. Instead, when you have a funding need, write a letter that’s purpose is to ask people to give. Your prayer letter is not a fund appeal letter. Its focus is vision and the story of what God is doing through your ministry. Writing prayer letters that people look forward to read is worth the effort. I bet you even have a few people like Herb who have kept all of your letters!

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