This is part seven of a series. The previous articles may be read here: Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.
Our world is rapidly changing. With each product upgrade or advance in technology, some other product or technology breaths its last breathe. As bigger and better hits the market, people naturally reject the old and outdated. It is only natural then to consider the question: What level of print quality is suitable and necessary for the Gospel message? Can we run tracts on a copy machine or print them in one color on cheap paper? Or does everything have to be high quality, full color, and glossy? I have heard arguments for both views.
I know some missionaries who hold to the view that basically anything is fine for a third-world country, and it is a waste of money to print nice tracts. I do see their point, but we should always remember that even people in a poor country like to look at pretty things. In fact, the majority of houses I have observed in Cambodia have pages from magazines and catalogs glued or stapled to the entire inside of their house! It’s a poor man’s way of decorating the house, because they dislike dreary and drab as much as anybody. On the other hand, it would put most printing projects outside of the parameters of the average missionary’s budget to try to print every piece of literature at a quality level which would impress Americans. Obviously this is a very subjective topic, but here are three questions to consider.
1. Is the country where you serve as “image conscious” as the US?
In Cambodia, matching clothes is not necessarily a big deal. It is not uncommon to see a bricklayer wearing a woman’s hat with a big flower on one side or a police officer driving down the road on a pink scooter. Many Cambodians dress very sharply, but I am just saying that the way something looks isn’t such an all-consuming issue here like it is in the US.
This definitely has a bearing on how we print tracts. Suppose you set out two tracts side by side, one with a full-color, glossy photo cover costing $.15 per tract, and the other a one-color tract with a clip art picture on the front costing $.01 per tract. If people don’t have an overwhelming preference for the first one, why spend all the extra money? I know that in America people will hardly give a second glance to something with clip art on the front or something that is not printed in full color. But that is not necessarily the case in other countries. So how are we supposed to know what is effective? I will answer that question by asking another question.
2. How are local businesses advertising?
Looking at the printed materials of local businesses is a great way to ascertain what level of print quality is suitable and necessary for a given area because the bottom line of a business is different from the bottom line of a church (or should be). In other words, we will pass out literature even when we see no visible results, because we believe so strongly in sowing the seed of the Word of God. Businesses, on the other hand, are going to make adjustments to their flyers as quickly as possible if they are not getting results. Therefore, we can glean wisdom just from looking at what successful businesses are printing.
Even though Cambodia is a third-world country, the brochures and flyers that are printed by local businesses are quite nice. The large companies are printing full-color, glossy advertisements. The companies that are not printing top quality flyers are at least printing things that look sharp, not cheap and chintzy. The truth of the matter is, some of the most horrid printed materials that I have seen here have been Gospel tracts. Fonts that are too small, photocopies of a color tract, single white sheets of paper filled with small text and no pictures… these are not the kind of tracts that people read. If people are being handed flyers from a cell phone company, a school, a pizza place, and a church, why should the cheapest, most ugly flyer be from the church? This brings us to our final question, another question to help us make wise decisions in our printed material.
3. Which tracts are our people excited to distribute, not embarrassed to distribute?
Listen to the nationals! They will know what will be easy to distribute and what will be embarrassing. This is why it’s always a good idea to run a mock-up of a new tract by some of the church people (or other nationals if you have no church yet) and get their opinion. Colors, pictures, styles, layout, questions, phrases…all are looked at differently by different nationalities.
Ultimately, Christians are going to pass out more tracts if they themselves are excited and proud of the tract. If we print cheap, cheesy-looking tracts, some people are not going to want to pass them out, even if the message in the tract is excellent.
We don’t necessarily have to have the most expensive and most professional-looking materials out there. With all the cultural barriers that you already have, you don’t need to add one more barrier by being thought of as a spendthrift.
On the other hand, if the tracts and literature are so pathetic that no one will read them, then spending a minimal amount of money wasn’t wise, but foolish. As in so many issues of life and ministry, balance is the key. We need to be willing to spend what is necessary, but wise enough to not overdo it.