Writing prayer letters can be a very daunting task at times, but they are very important to your supporting churches and readers. So what makes a good prayer letter? There are a lot of items that can be included in a prayer letter, but how do you know what items should be included in your prayer letter and what should not be included? What are your readers looking to read about in your letters? These items do change a bit between a deputation missionary and a field missionary, but the main elements are the same for both phases of missionary status.
Every prayer letter should be specific. Give specific details about your church and family—how many were in attendance on a big day, how many visitors, how many salvations, how many are being discipled, etc. Do not give general statements like “The church/family is doing fine.”
However, do not be too specific. Do not give details in your prayer letter that you would not give to a stranger in a conversation; for example, detailed or impolite medical conditions, personal issues with spouses or children. Remember, what you write in a prayer letter will get back to your spouse and children. You don’t ever want to embarrass them. You eventually will make it back to the States, and you don’t want someone to walk up to your child and say, “I heard you . . .” It puts the child in a very uncomfortable position and may create some resentment in them.
Every prayer letter should be positive. There are times when you may need to mention a negative, but on the whole, prayer letters should be praise letters. Don’t say things like, “The government here is bad; it’s very difficult here.” Statements like, “Our government is considering doing . . . Please pray for this situation, and this is how it could affect our work here.” This way you are mention a “negative,” but you are relating it to your mission work. Don’t mention money in the sense of “We need more money to survive. We can’t make it on what we are getting in support.” If you do need money, make it about visions, plans, and faith.
Make your letters interesting. You want to attract your readers to your letters, especially your younger readers. You want to show them that serving God is exciting! If your letters tell all the bad things that are happening and only list facts and figures, you will convince your readers that you are not happy in the Lord’s work. When you mention your family, share how they are each personally involved in the ministry—how you work the ministry together. Include stories about what you do with your family outside of the ministry; readers obviously know you are a missionary, but they also know that you are a family man. When missionaries do not include anything about their families, readers wonder what is happening with them. An occasional photo is also nice.
Every letter should include personal soul-winning stories. Stories about national pastors, Bible colleges/ institutes, etc. are great and should definitely be included in your prayer letters; but personal, one-on-one soul-winning stories are a must. They show that you are still involved in the ministry of winning souls and not just being the CEO of your growing ministry.
In the end, your prayer letters are a representation of your supporting churches’ financial investment in you. When letters appear to be formulaic with just a different date, it can bring up the question, Is this a wise financial investment? Letters need to be new and fresh. Also, you want your prayer letters to attract and recruit future missionaries, not discourage anyone.