If you're writing your first prayer letter and aren't sure where to start, give yourself some quick wins by setting up a layout.

Choose Your Software

On Windows, Microsoft Publisher is a great choice, if you have access to it. Microsoft Word is also extremely common.

On Mac, Pages is a great choice, and readily available.

On Linux, LibreOffice is probably your best bet.

If you have, or want to have, any background in design or publishing, Adobe's Creative Suite (Windows or Mac) is excellent, and is available on a subscription basis. Be aware that it has a learning curve, but is tremendously powerful once you've figured it out. InDesign and Photoshop are the tools you'll use most.

There are many other options available. The key thing is to choose a program that will help you write your letters, rather than get in your way. To that end, it's worth taking a few days to learn as much as you can about the program you choose (all of the programs listed here have extensive online training available, either for free or for minimal cost). But you needn't do that right away.

Start with a Template

Nearly every word processor and page layout tool has built-in templates nowadays, and they're great places to start, particularly if you don't consider yourself a designer.

Additionally, a web search for "[your software] newsletter templates" will give you many more options. Add the word "free" if you want (though spending a few dollars for a design you like can be well worth it, and you'll often get better choices).

Browse through your options, and pick one that stands out to you. Don't spend much time on this step – preferably not more than ten minutes. You can always change it later, and this is an easy place to lose track of time.

In most cases, you'll want either a one-page or a two-page template. Four pages is too long for most prayer letters, but you can often take a four-page template and cut out the middle two pages if you like the front and back.

Add Essential Information

Your template most likely includes a header and footer. That's where you'll put all of the contact details and ministry info that will be the same for every letter. If the template has a sidebar, you can also spill over into that area.

  1. Your Name

    Put this in the header. You'll generally use your full name (including spouse, if you're married). If you have kids, a common choice is "The Smiths" (no apostrophe) or "The Smith Family".

  2. Your Ministry Location

    This also goes in the header. It can be on the same line as your name (e.g. The Smiths in Honduras) or separate (Serving with [ministry] in Honduras).

    These first two items may seem utterly obvious, but they're extremely helpful for churches, which may want to post your letter on a bulletin board or pass it around to Sunday School classes.

  3. A Recent Photo of Yourself

    One of the best ways to keep your relationship with readers from becoming stale and impersonal is to include a recent photo with every letter.

    You needn't change it every time, but if your photo is older than six months (and certainly if it's older than a year), it's time to get an updated shot.

    The photo needn't be a professional studio portrait, though if you have one, it's fine to use it.

    Include the photo in the header or in a sidebar. If it's part of your story (e.g. a ministry-in-action photo), it can go there instead.

  4. Your Sending Agency or Church

    Some of your supporters may be more connected to your ministry than to you personally. Your ministry also provides accountability and oversight, which will help your readers be more comfortable, particularly when challenges come up.

    If your sending agency has a recognizable logo, consider including it, though it isn't necessary.

    Place this in either the header or the footer.

  5. Contact Information

    Include your mailing address, email address, and phone number. If you're married, include a separate email address and phone number for your spouse, if applicable.

    You're not likely to be overrun with people using this information to contact you, but some will, and you should always encourage two-way communication.

    All of this will usually be in the footer.

  6. Giving Information

    Include a mailing address for checks, and a web site for online gifts (if available).

    Place this in the footer or at the bottom of a sidebar, and don't draw attention to it. People who need it will find it, and for the most part, you shouldn't be focusing on finances in your prayer letters.

Create Placeholders

Finally, there are some elements that should be in each letter, but which will be different each time. Create boxes for them so that writing your letter has some "fill-in-the-blank" elements.

  1. Date

    This will generally just be the month and the year. There's usually no need to include the day.

  2. Praises and Prayer Requests

    This can be either one section or two, depending on your preferences.

  3. Main Story

    This is where you'll write the actual update. Include space for one or two pictures.

  4. Family Update (Optional)

    Many missionaries include a "Kids Corner" as a recurring element in their prayer letters. If you have young kids, this probably isn't optional.

    Create space for a picture and a brief family update, typically one paragraph.

    At times, you'll want to dedicate more of the letter to family updates, in which case you can use the main story section of the letter as well.

That's it! With a template ready to go, you can focus on writing your prayer letter without figuring out a new layout each time.

Next Step: Write Your Letter