Your prayer letter should involve your readers vicariously in your life and ministry, and help maintain and build your relationship at a distance.

Most of the people reading your letters have no idea what it's like to be a missionary, except through your updates and those of other missionaries they know and support. They are involved in ministry through you, and want to know what it's like.

Therefore, each of your updates should focus on one highlight of something that has happened since your last letter. You can list a few others, but it's better to talk about one ministry experience in depth than it is to write a paragraph each about three or four activities.

Many times, you won't have any trouble thinking about a topic for your letters – it'll be more an issue of choosing just one. If you're facing writer's block, however, we've put together a list of prayer letter topics to provide some inspiration.

Tell a Story

Think of your letter as a story rather than a report. Consider what makes for a good (true!) story, and include those elements in your writing.

You may not consider yourself to be a natural story-teller. That's okay – with practice, you'll get better at it over time, and writing a story is easier than telling a story, since you have the opportunity to make changes.

Include a Picture

Always include one or more pictures in your letters. Not everyone will read the letter, but everyone will look at at least one picture, along with the caption underneath. A carefully chosen photo will draw people's attention and make them more likely to read your update for more details.

Pictures also engage us more fully than text alone. It's one thing to read about Sarah's conversion story, but it's much better to be able to see Sarah while we're reading about her.

Ask for Prayer and Praise

In addition to telling your story, you should ask for your readers to engage in ministry with you through prayer and praise. Give them specific areas where they can thank God for things that are happening in your ministry, as well as areas where you would appreciate prayer.

We don't recommend asking for financial involvement in your prayer letters, other than a brief "How to Give" section in the footer of your template. Instead, keep your prayer letters focused on building your relationships and telling about ministry, and send a special financial appeal – using a different layout – once or twice per year.

Include a Personal/Family Update

After your main story, or in a sidebar, most letters should include an update on how you and your family (if applicable) are doing. Write about both the ups and downs.

A personal update reminds people that you're human, not some holier-than-thou super-Christian. For your friends and family who are on the list, it's also an important part of maintaining your relationship with them, and will encourage them to reach out to you, both in good times and bad, and provide updates of their own.

Think "Epistle," not "Compendium"

Keep your letters short. They should be a single piece of paper, either single-sided or double-sided.

Longer letters will generally be skimmed, and may not be read at all, except for your most devoted supporters with extensive free time.

Edit as much as necessary to get your letters down to this size. If you feel like you have too much to cover, break it out into several letters, particularly if you're not yet sending monthly letters.

An exception to this rule would be an annual report to donors. In this case, we recommend one ledger sheet folded into four pages. Write a cover story on the front, use the two inner sheets to highlight your ministry activities over the course of the year, and use the back page, for information and financial summaries.

Next Step: Choose Recipients