December 23, 2014

4 Technology Options that Might Kill the Church Bulletin

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?

Church Bulletin

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?

About the author  ⁄ Lauren Hunter

Lauren Hunter is a freelance writer, consultant and blogger who loves the Lord and desires to encourage churches to better use technology to improve every aspect of ministry. Her blog, ChurchTechToday, was born out of a need to find a place to discuss how technology can impact the Church in positive ways.

26 Comments

  • Reply
    DL Church Websites
    September 30, 2013

    Interesting. Recently, our church simplified its bulletin – took out a lot of the information. While it didn’t really make it shorter, it did make it clear and easy to read and find something.

    It’s hard to believe that the bulletin will ever go away completely, but I imagine it certainly will as this generation gets older and using their iphones is second nature. But it could happen even sooner than that with the way things are progressing.

    • Reply
      Lauren Hunter Author
      October 1, 2013

      Sounds like good changes to make! The bulletin is like an old friend to so many . . . change is hard. Blessings on your ministry!

  • Reply
    September 30, 2013

    Great article. We have been investigating options to reduce and or do away with the bulletin all together. We are using digital signage as well as looking into putting our main announcements/events on video.

    • Reply
      Lauren Hunter Author
      October 1, 2013

      Hi Phil, I’d love to hear more about your digital signage use. Would you be willing to share a bit here? Tell us how you have the screens set up and what you currently use them for. Thanks in advance! Sincerely, Lauren

  • Reply
    September 30, 2013

    I have been on staff for 5 years. In that time, we have changed our bulletin, or worship folder, about 3 times or so. Costs, production time and reader engagement have all been factors in the changes. We currently print a shell that contains core information about the church and larger ministires. The cover changes to match the series. Attenders drop the shell in a bin if they do not want or need it for future reference. These are reused the next weekn until a new series begins. Printing is done inhouse.

    The shell contains 2-3 inserts; a message outline, a connection card and some weeks an insert regarding a particular ministry or event. We print a monthly “newsletter” that lists upcoming opportunities and requires very little design. This article has made me think about creating a QR to provide a an electronic version of the newsletter. I think we will make this happen in October!

    We also use YouVersion for another message outline option. Our website is mobile friendly and we head people there for more info as well. We send out an email every Friday that contains info and hotlinks for immediate response. Social media is also utilized but with intention to start more conversations and create thought than to promote.

    Would love to explore options to have an app. Sounds like a good project for 2014!

    Thanks for the article!
    Carolyn

    • Reply
      Lauren Hunter Author
      October 1, 2013

      Hi Carolyn! Love your sharing – great problem solving and being “green” with the bulletin shell recycling. I love that idea! Also, kudos on bringing up QR codes – these can be super helpful as well. Would love to test them out at our own church. Love that you are using a smattering of solutions unified through one plan. Are you the church’s communication director? I’d be open to hearing more of your solutions to these communication issues. Perhaps you could post a link to your Friday email newsletter? That would be great to see as well. Sincerely, Lauren

  • Reply
    October 1, 2013

    I do agree, those tired, cluttered bulletins must go! One thought I would include is that social media needs to be leveraged by the pastor or church.

    A stand-alone app is a great idea, but is still rather expensive and requires people to open it up on a regular basis. On top of that, if it’s not professionally done, people won’t use it repeatedly.

    I also don’t believe that a church website will replace the bulletin. Most regular attenders of a church NEVER visit the website more than a couple of times. In my opinion, the website should serve as a great introduction to your church, designed with the community in mind.

    The great thing about social media is that a large majority of the congregation is already connected/addicted to facebook and twitter, so by getting the congregation to follow the pastor or church, you have an ongoing opportunity to spread the news about upcoming events and concerts, last-minute surprises, and message content (either as a promo or follow up to Sunday’s talk).

    • Reply
      Lauren Hunter Author
      October 1, 2013

      Hi Benjamin. Thanks for chiming in on Twitter and here at the blog. I appreciate your readership! I do see your point about the church website not replacing the bulletin, however, there are some mobile church websites that offer app functionality through the website, which I really like. On Sunday, while running errands after church, I noticed a banner for a new church. I quickly looked up their website from my droid phone (my husband was driving) and up popped a great scaled down mobile website with announcements, the sermon podcast, and a few other helpful bits of info.

      I do think social media can assist in the overall communication plan, but I don’t think it plausible (yet) in many churches for Facebook updates or Tweets to replace the personal touch that a bulletin or church app can provide, especially if you have a multi-generational church who struggles in their regular and consistent use of social media in general.

      How do you handle the broad spectrum of ages in your church’s communication strategy?

  • Reply
    October 1, 2013

    We had teased the idea of getting rid of paper bulletins. After looking at the make up of our Church, which is pretty diverse in ages and tech levels, even among the young, we decided to go the first route, and only do the scaled down option. We decided that if going tech only would prevent communication from the techless, we should not alienate that part of our congregation.

    There was some fightback for even doing that much! However for the most part it was effective! I would rather go paperless, and if I was one of those type of Pastors I would of said tough luck! I thought about it though! ;)

    • Reply
      Lauren Hunter Author
      October 1, 2013

      Hi Tim. Thanks for chiming in! I think scaling down the bulletin is a viable option, especially since you don’t want to put out that “stuffing” or “folding” committee full of seniors, right? Glad you’ve figured out a workable system. Blessings on your ministry!

  • Reply
    October 1, 2013

    Lauren. My point exactly. A website serves as a great introduction to a church. A church definitely should look into a mobile version (a lot of websites have that option built right in), but I don’t think you should expect regular, ongoing visits to the site from people who are already a part of the church. I would much rather get event info from social media (which may indeed give me a direct link to an information page on the church website) than troll the site looking for it. I would much rather subscribe directly to a church on ITunes which auto-updates messages than stream it or download it from the website. The more convenient the content is, the happier people will be. For myself, opening up a church app on a regular basis is inconvenient. If I’m on Twitter or Facebook, I would much rather have that information/content in my newsfeed…not to mention it’s super’ easy to share or retweet it to others.

    Because of churches being multi generational, I think you’ll agree that the same people who are unwilling/unable to connect via social media, will also be unwilling/unable to visit the website or use a dedicated app. For this reason, churches can’t get rid of bulletins altogether. I would suggest designing the bulletin with the audience in mind (a teen won’t likely study it or take it home, but a senior would). This means highlighting events/information in the bulletin specifically towards those who are 50+. Another tip would be printing only a small number of bulletins and rather than passing them out to people, tell people where they can be picked up (at a welcome table or guest services).

    • Reply
      Lauren Hunter Author
      October 1, 2013

      All good stuff, Ben. Can I ask if you’re on staff at a church? Your Twitter bio doesn’t divulge much about you . . . love to hear what role you play at your church.

  • Reply
    October 1, 2013

    Been a Student/Assistant pastor for over a decade here in Canada. Currently in transition after nearly 8 years at my last church. On the hunt for something new, be it a return to youth min or a jump to lead.

  • Reply
    October 11, 2013

    Great write up Lauren,

    I did a lot of Web work and Social Media for my last church and am just starting to get involved at my church here in Virginia.

    We moved a simple 1 page card bulletin that is themed to the series and has some upcoming events, contact information, and discussion points from our family ministries (we have found getting into the parents hands directly increases engagement when they are picking up their children). The card is about 4″ by 4″ so it is not terribly expensive to produce each week (using a local print shop we have a great relationship with). Dr. Rainer’s blog post was quite interesting to me as well, as we don’t have all that material in ours. Frankly we only have the high quality presentation, basic sermon information, and announcements on there.

    We do have a well put together website I believe, but I have noticed it’s not very Mobile Friendly. I’m going to speak to our main tech guy about trying out that plugin (it’s wordpress based). We launched a church app earlier this year and it’s been a good tool for us. I know we are getting a lot of sermon streaming there and I have found it’s an engaging way to share our church with someone who asks or I get into a conversation with (I pull up the app and I can show them things about Journey). Roar does an excellent job I agree.

    I really enjoy your blog Lauren! Thanks for sharing with us, :)

    • Reply
      Lauren Hunter Author
      October 11, 2013

      Hi Adam, Thanks so much for sharing what you’re doing at your church. I really like the postcard-style bulletin you’re doing. It would be really cool to see what that looks like. Do you have a way of taking a photo of the front and back of your bulletin cards and putting a link to it here in another comment (maybe put it on your Google+, Facebook, or Pinterest page)? I’d love to see what it looks like. I appreciate your kind words about ChurchTechToday – it is encouraging to hear that my site is of help to you! Sincerely in Christ, Lauren

  • Reply
    Robin G Jordan
    October 15, 2013

    My church no longer uses bulletins at its two campuses. We use a range of other options to communicate with congregants– church website, Facebook, Twitter, online bulletin board, and video clips and brief announcements at worship gatherings.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2013

    Some great discussion all the way around. I would add that print won’t go away, though it’s importance to the church and how to use it effectively is changing.

    Electronic media is useful when you need to get a quick message out. It also helps filter the messages you don’t need. If you are a young parent, you probably aren’t interested in the youth ministry’s bonfire and frisbee tournament just yet. You just want information that pertains to you and your family. Social media, apps and mobile-friendly web sites can do that very well.

    However, a printed bulletin is useful for the more important information all the church needs. It should be used for events people want to remember, such as baptisms and baby dedications. it should be used to help the congregants retain the sermon’s main points through the week. Electronic media is too fleeting to keep an event in the congregants’ minds.

    A printed bulletin will always be important in funerals, weddings and important events in the church. We need a memento to remember the milestones of our family, whether it’s our blood relatives or church family. An app or web site just isn’t appropriate in those situations.

    Electronic media is a useful tool and has its place just as printed bulletins and printed materials will still have theirs.

    • Reply
      Lauren Hunter Author
      October 24, 2013

      Hi Kevin, Thanks for chiming in with your good feedback! I do agree that a print bulletin is a necessity in some situations. Cheers, Lauren

  • Reply
    November 3, 2013

    Yes we still use bulletins in a limited fashion. We only print sermon notes on them, all of the church activities are posted on the web site. However, I really like the notion of using an app.

  • Reply
    November 5, 2013

    We are exploring the option of doing away with or scaling back our Sunday bulletin. Timely article for us.

  • Reply
    November 5, 2013

    We scaled our bulletin way back in content, trying to keep announcements from being lost in the sheer amount. So we are way down on announcements. But I’ve thought about putting the bulletin early onto the website before Sunday, or to create an app. As the only staff person in te church, neither has happened.

Leave a Comment