The church bulletin is a staple, tried and true, trusted in and relied on by all. Bored by the announcements? Peruse your well-loved bulletin. Looking for something to fill your calendar with Thursday night? Yep, the bulletin can help you out. Need to know if giving is up or down? (Depending on your church), your bulletin might just have the answer.
Yet if this is true, why are so many bulletins cast off to the church floor or left on seats, resigned to a destiny consisting of recycling or being thrown out with the half-drunken Styrofoam coffee cups. We create the bulletin with the intent that each and every church member will hold on, write copious amounts of spiritually-inspired notes from the sermon, and hang on to them indefinitely, cataloged in a special file folder at home (okay, I digress, that’s probably just me).
What happens when printing costs rise, volunteer help is down, and people look less and less to paper and more to their iPhones?
The bulletin has seen its heyday; its prime just might be past. The time to change, or at least audit the bulletin’s effectiveness, just might be upon us. I know it’s hard. Most of us don’t like change too much. Or we like change in specific areas like what we’re having for dinner, not how we interact with our church each Sunday.
These thoughts were spawned by a recent conversation with my pastor at church. The times, they are a-changing. In my 12-year tenure at my home church, the bulletin style and format has not changed. Not even once. Same size, same font, same tear off response card, same layout for sermon notes.
While sameness isn’t in itself bad, and change in and of itself isn’t good just for the sake of change, we all should take time to refocus, reflect, and redesign what meets the needs of the Church.
So what are our options for change and growth in the area of the church bulletin? I spent some time researching and thinking about ways to grow, expand, and change in this area of church communication:
Option 1: Scale Down Print Bulletin Length
As with any change, executing the change slowly and carefully is the key within most organizations, but especially within churches. If you currently have an 8- or 12-page bulletin, perhaps the first step would be scaling it down in size if you’re moving towards cutting out the print bulletin altogether. This would be a good way to “test the waters” and see how much resistance you might get. While this isn’t a technology option, it should go hand-in-hand with the other three options below in order to ease out of the bulletin-creating cycle.
Back in April, Thom S. Rainer blogged about Five Things Church Members Want in a Church Bulletin. His informal poll helped guide the list, and the comments below the article are worth reading.
Option 2: Create a Mobile-Friendly Church Website
This option opens a can of worms because EVERY church should consider having a mobile-friendly website no matter what. I use this example within this discussion of church bulletins because your church can have a helpful church website with current events and information posted and a mobile-friendly interface that can be used effectively for bulletin-type information such as: sermon notes, current events, online registration, giving information, and much more. If your site is running on WordPress, WP Touch is a great free plugin to make your site more mobile-friendly (ChurchTechToday uses this plugin, FYI).
Option 3: Utilize YouVersion Live
While YouVersion Live does not take the place of a good mobile-friendly church website (nor should it), it can be a great tool for attenders to engage with during church services. It’s free for churches to use and can be a great way for folks to follow the sermon outline and take notes within the YouVersion app on their phones. Users can follow along with message outlines and take notes, read related Bible verses and click through to the expanded passage, vote on a poll and see the results live, ask questions anonymously, give, request prayer, and take it all home with you on your phone. It works well on any web-enabled phone, tablet, or computer with internet connection. With tens of millions of people using this app, there’s a good chance that the majority of your congregation is already familiar with YouVersion.
Option 4: Build a Church App
Many churches – yes, even smaller ones – are seeing the benefit of creating their own church app. Whereas five years ago, a church needed a four or five figure budget to create their own church app, now it can be done for much, much less making it a mere pittance in cost when compared to the printing costs of the good ‘ole bulletin. Your church can set up a landing page that directs them to download the church app when they visit the church website from their device. Through the app, the sky’s really the limit. Offer podcasts, sermon outlines, a place to take notes, online giving, registration for events, push notifications and updates through the week, and more. Companies like ROAR serve churches with specific advice and expertise in creating affordable church apps.
I’m curious. If you’re reading this, do you still create a print bulletin each week at your church, or having you chosen any of the options in my list above yet?