15 Tips for running a successful correspondence course program

Click to View

15 Tips For A Correspondence Course Program

Standard practice

May I suggest...

Purpose to Convert & Baptize

Purpose to Salt & Cultivate

Doctrinal & Controversial Topics

Create Desire For Further Study

Length 5 or More Lessons

Length 3-4 Lessons

Mass Distribution of Lesson #1

Distribute Enrollment Opportunity

Personal Contact only Completers

Personal Contact Every Enrollee

We Pay Return Postage

They Pay Return Postage

Name and address only at enrollment

Get phone # on enrollment coupon

Mail Follow-up, (Reminder letters)

Personal Phone Follow-up

Members involved in running course

Preacher Runs Course

Preacher Conducts Resultant Studies

Members Do Resultant Studies

Use Box Number

Use Address of Church Building

Offer Second Course

Offer Personal Bible Study

Computer Record Keeping

Manual Record Keeping

Sloppy Or No Record Keeping

Methodical Record Keeping

No long term follow-up

Phone them every year


At one time or another, most churches have used a correspondence course to reach the lost. Results differ dramatically. Having worked with Bible courses intensively for over 12 years and having developed a course of my own, I would like to discuss 15 tips that should bring success to your congregation in saving souls. I speak from my own personal viewpoint. You may not agree with me on every point.

There are several different ways we can use correspondence courses. We can use them as a tool for grounding new Christians, as individual tracts, as Bible class materials or as a method of evangelizing. Let me make it clear that this article will only focus on using a correspondence course for outreach. I ask that you re-evaluate this method of evangelism and give it a second chance!

150,000 coupons ($1000)

150,000 of lesson #1 ($22,000)

70 return coupon to enroll in L#1

70 people decide to complete L#1

Only 30 people return L#1

Only 30 people actually return L#1

Total contacts: 70

Total contacts: 30

Click to View

1. Purpose of course

(Convert/Baptize or prick interest for further study) The design of some courses is to actually try to convert them through the mail. This is wishful thinking! I have never heard of it happening. Many courses actually ask if the student wishes to be baptized on the last lesson. Yes you may get them to request baptism, but you still haven't truly converted them. Further teaching is always needed even if they do.

Some people write correspondence courses in the same way they would study one-on-one. This is a big mistake. We are talking about two entirely different processes here. With a correspondence course, your primary objective is to get a personal Bible study. Unless you get that study, you will not likely convert them. Therefore, the course you choose to use should create interest for further study. Look at the course you are presently using and ask yourself, "Does this course strongly direct the student to a personal Bible study when completed?" If the course you use tries to "convert them through the mail", you've got the wrong course. Look for a course which asks them to commit to further Bible study upon completion of the last lesson.

Click to View

2. Subject Material of Course

Surprisingly, I have found the subject material of a course is not important, as long as the student finds it interesting or thought provoking. Many courses place special emphasis on proving key doctrinal points. This is usually a waste of time because the student usually doesn't get the point anyway. In the past, I have used courses that spend an entire lesson on baptism. Yet when we talked with those who completed with 100%, they did not comprehend the lesson at all and hadn't made the personal application.

The point is this. Doctrinal subject material in a correspondence course is best saved for a personal Bible study where you can state things in such a way that they fully understand what you are saying and how it conflicts with their personal beliefs. Rather than trying to prove by correspondence that certain doctrines are false, get them to question the origin of the doctrines they believe. "Why do you believe what you believe?" is a better approach than "What you believe is false". Avoid correspondence courses that have a heavy doctrinal content.

Click to View

3. Length of course

I have collected over forty courses which vary in length from 3-30 lessons. For outreach, I have found that the ideal length is 3-4. The drop out rate increases for each lesson of the course. For example, only 10% will usually finish an eight lessons course whereas 30% will finish a three lesson course. Courses don't need to be any longer than 3-4 lessons to accomplish our purpose.

In addition to the drop out factor, there is a time factor. It takes an average of three weeks for a student to progress through each lesson. For a seven lessons course that is almost five months! My three lesson course will take them about two months to complete. The student is less likely to lose interest in a shorter course. Many changes can happen in 3-5 months. Shorter courses also cost less to purchase and for postage to mail.

Click to View

4. Mass Distribution Of Lesson One

An expensive mistake churches sometimes make, is to distribute the first lesson of a course as a mass mailing flier.. I have heard of people spending $3,000-$4,000 doing this. Never mail out or hand out the first lesson. Instead, mail out an enrollment coupon where they send in their name and address to receive the first lesson.

The main reason is not cost savings but overall response rate. I have documented that less than 50% of people who enroll in a correspondence course ever complete the first lesson. Lets assume that we mail dropped 150,000 lesson #1's in one area and 150,000 enrollment coupons in another area. Here is approximately what would happen based upon several mail drops we have done in Hamilton. (See table)

One of the reasons churches will justify mailing out the first lesson is because they feel it is "preaching the gospel to the community". Use the newspaper instead, it is cheaper and many times more effective.

Click to View

5. Contact every person who enrolls

In the past we have not valued the person who enrolls, but never returns the first lesson. We assume that this person is not interested in Bible study. Such reasoning is very wrong. If they were not interested, they never would have enrolled in the first place. There are several reasons why someone never returns the first lesson. I have found that usually they are too busy, but are still interested. More times than you might imagine, they never actually got the first lesson or did not remember receiving it. You must contact every person who enrolls. I give them 30 days then I phone them. Most people only contact those who complete the course. Sadly this way of thinking misses many good opportunities

Click to View

6. Don't pay return postage on lessons

Some churches actually place a postage stamp on all the return envelopes they enclose in each lesson. These churches reason that it will make it easier for the student to return each lesson. Remember, only 50% return the first lesson. What a waste of money! Better to use business reply mail. Better still let the students pay for all the postage from the enrollment coupon down to the last lesson. People under value things that cost them nothing!

Click to View

7. Get phone number at enrollment

You must ask for their phone number right up front at the time they enroll before you mail them the first lesson. "You have not because you ask not." We are often too worried about asking for information. Phoning is the primary contact medium and it saves much time.

Click to View

8. Contact by phone, not mail

A phone company commercial says it well. A boss who is trying to impress on his salesman the need for personal contact says, "Another piece of paper (mail) won't get their attention, but phoning long distance will." How true. Traditionally, we have conducted most of our follow-up by mail. Some reason, "It is not too pushy and doesn't invade their privacy. Maybe they would be intimidated by a phone call. Perhaps it will scare them away." Such worries are completely ill-founded. What would they prefer us to do knock on their door or merely phone them? We are not assertive enough in our follow-up. Jesus said to "compel them to come in" Luke 14.

Phoning is vastly superior to mail follow-up for so many reasons. It doesn't cost anything but time. It is much quicker. It is personal. You get an instant picture of "where the contact is" in spiritual terms. It gives you an opportunity to qualify or refine your course students. The more personal contact you have, the better. After all your goal is to eventually get a personal Bible study with them. I guarantee that if you phone those who have never returned the first lesson, you will set up personal Bible studies. It is time consuming but the results are impressive. In fact, phoning is the most important part of the entire correspondence course work.

Click to View

9. Preacher, not members run course

There are a number of ways you can operate the course. Some congregations enlist 20-40 members who grade the lessons of students assigned to them. The idea is to get the members involved in soul-winning. Yet it can have the opposite effect. They may grade 20 lessons over a period of a year and never actually sit down with the student for a personal Bible study. This can discourage members from soul-winning as they see very little resulting from their efforts. This method also delays the return of each lesson by about 1 week. The preacher gets the mail midweek then hands the lessons to the appropriate member for grading. The member may be sick or out of town which means a 2 week delay. Once the member gets the lesson in hand for grading, he may delay for several days, or may forget to mail it. For the sake of efficiency, one member, preferably the preacher, should be involved in running all aspects of the course. Running a correspondence course is a tedious thankless job and it is best run by the preacher or someone willing to commit much time to this large task.

Click to View

10. Involve the members, not the preacher, in Bible studies

If the preacher is using personal phone follow-up even for those who don't send in the first lesson, he can't help but set up many personal Bible studies. Give these studies to willing and properly equipped members. This takes some organization and training. You will need to decide what material they will use. Choose study material that the members will actually teach from an outline or learn by heart, but it must be a personal presentation. The student must see the Christian using the Bible. The Jule Miller filmstrips are a quick and easy solution but it is not a good one. They tend to be like a shot gun when a single, well aimed bullet is needed. Very exciting things can happen when the members are involved in teaching the personal Bible studies that result from the preacher's follow-up. It is a team effort and souls will be won for Christ. It is addictive. Christians will want more and more once they try it! Let the preacher train and support the members in the efforts of soul-winning. He should take studies as a last resort when there is no one else available.

Click to View

11. Do not use a PO box number

A very common practice is to use a box number instead of the address of the church building. The idea seems to be to portray an image of neutrality and anonymity. I suggest the students mail the lessons to the address where the lessons will be graded. This saves time in getting the next lesson out to the student because many times a lesson may sit in the PO box for several weeks. A box number is more costly, inconvenient and time consuming. There are no advantages to getting a special box number just for the correspondence course. Use the church building address. You might be surprised to have people drop in personally to the building to chat. The address should be "Bible Course, 123 street..." or "John Doe, 123 Street". Do not use "church of Christ, 123 street".

Click to View

12. Offer 1 on 1 study, not second course

The standard practice when someone completes a course is to offer them a second course. I believe that if they are not ready to study one-on-one at the time of enrollment, you will likely never get a study. Why offer another course to those who are ready to have a personal Bible study. What do you think everyone will request given those options? Why the second course...of course! Encourage them up the ladder of commitment and to become involved in a "higher level" Bible study by not offering a second course.. You know where you want to lead them, so why give them an option you know is in the wrong direction. Offer them a personal Bible study.

Click to View

13. Use manual record keeping

With the advent of computers, some have used it to keep records. There are some advantages to this but unless you are a computer buff, manual record keeping is far superior. I have used a computer for 10 years to generate personalized form letters which I include with their graded lesson. Here the computer shines. But for record keeping, it is much more time consuming. Remember that you will be doing phone follow-up. If all your records are on computer, you must have a phone beside the computer. Whereas if your records are in a book, you can take it with you and phone from anywhere. (A book can't crash and lose all your data like a hard drive! And computer records become obsolete with each new upgrade making all the work useless 5 years down the road.) The next person looking after the course will appreciate a "paper trail".

Click to View

14. Keep good records

Correspondence courses are often run out of box or a drawer. The records tend to be a pile of paper and letters. There are three basic components to efficient record keeping: First, you need to have an enrollment coupon, either the very one they mailed in, or a small slip 4x6 inches upon which you write down all the initial information you know about them at the point of enrollment. You have one slip for each enrollee. When you send them the first lesson, place the slip in a "revolving monthly time file". You simply glue 31 file folders together or use a recipe box with 31 partitions, one for each day of the month. You place the slip in today, then one month later, if they haven't returned the first lesson, you will take it out of the 31 day file and phone them for follow-up. Each day you check the file for those placed in last month. Phone them!

Second component: The Master List. Once they return the first lesson you simply pull it out of the time file and record them on a master list. It is a single sheet of paper ruled to hold about 25-50 students. Each student is assigned a number. Record the following information: Student #, Date of enrollment, Name, contact method, whether they ever studied one-on-one.

Third component: Detailed record sheet. Take a binder and place 50 pages in it and number each page to correspond with the master list. One page will be solely dedicated for one student. Each page is legal sized paper with the bottom folded to form a pouch. The final page size after folding is letter size. The pouch will be used to hold the letters they include in the lessons they return to you for grading. Three hole punch this paper and place in a binder. At the front of the binder place the master list sheet. After adding them to the master list sheet, glue the enrollment coupon you took from the time file to the back of their detailed record sheet. Now you have everything on that student on one main page in one book! Simple and effective.

The detailed record sheet keeps track of their enrollment date, and the date they returned each subsequent lesson. It also records each lesson's grade as well as any questions they asked you on that lesson. When you go back and review months later, you get an instant picture of the student as well as important data regarding advertising results.

Click to View

15. Phone all students every year

After several years of operating the correspondence course with good record keeping methods you will be able to look back and glean maybe 15 or so out every 100 enrollments who seemed interested but nothing ever resulted. Phone these once a year to keep in touch. I did just this with students whom I hadn't called for 2 years. They all remembered me because of the personal contact by phone. Better still, one lady said she was now ready to study. She was baptized 5 weeks later! So phone them all again!

Click to View

I have put together a 3 lesson correspondence course. It has been under development for 10 years. It has been tested and evaluated over that time and fine tuned to bring about the optimum results. If you would like a sample set, send $5 to 33 Highcliffe Ave Hamilton, Ont L9A 3L3.

Steve Rudd

Click Your Choice

Go to Interactive Bible Websight

Go back to Evangelism Websight