It is Thursday afternoon at the church office, and the church administrator (we will call her Stacy) is on the phone, sending emails, and begging from office to office for graphics, important dates, and content for the weekly church bulletin.
After three years of working at the church, Stacy is starting to get bitter about how her deadlines for this weekly publication is often seen as a necessary evil of the office. After getting the info finalized at 2:00 pm, Stacy finally goes to print, and the printer jams a few times and she prints and folds the last one by 5:00 pm.
Stacy just spent 8 hours on the church bulletin, and she gets a phone call from the senior pastor.
"Stacy, I am so sorry, but the event information I gave you was wrong. Can I give you the changes?"
Does this sound like your weekly process? For some churches, large or small, it is a love-hate relationship with the church bulletin.
So, I often get asked the question, "When is a good time to cut the church bulletin?" My initial answer, "NEVER!"
Seriously, there is never a good time to do it. The church bulletin is a hotly debated topic in church communications today, and for a good reason. There is no universal answer to when a church should stop publishing a church bulletin; however, it is good to be aware of some key indicators.
Church Bulletin Cost Evaluation
At our church, I did a cost analysis on the church bulletin when I first came on as the communications & creative pastor.
For math purposes, our church was averaging over 1,200 in weekly attendance and using Lifeway.com as a resource. We bought our weekly bulletin sheets for $125, we spent another $120 in copy fees, and we paid one of our admin staff to work on it about 8 hours or the equivalent of $120. If we tally the weekly numbers, we spent $365 weekly, $1,460 monthly, or $18,980 annually on the church bulletin.
Are you taking into consideration the cost and stewardship aspects of your church bulletin? Much like making any significant decision, the "money factor" should not be the only reason for stopping or starting something at your church, but it should weigh heavy on the scale.
There are two people to consider before you stop publishing your bulletin, the church member, and the staff person.
If you cut the bulletin, will you be ending the employment of one of the church staff? For some, this can be an easy decision, but we are running an organization in the name of Jesus, so our management of people should be in light of how we are to love people (an article for another time).
Will people leave your church because there is no bulletin? The answer depends on the average age of your church membership, but people do not leave churches for lack of bulletins. There are much greater issues that cause this before the bulletin could ever be the culprit.
If your congregation is older in age, the chance of getting bad feedback is higher.
Church communication is probably the most frustrating aspect of running a church.
Everyone communicates a certain way and trying to understand how your church is reaching people about key events, relevant information and understanding of church vision can be exhausting without a communications plan.
What if you do not have a communication plan? It is never too late to make one, but if you do not, take some time to survey key ministry leaders, your senior pastor and staff, and your congregation.
Just asking everyone to rate their favorite method of communication and what method has given them the best information about the church will give you plenty of information to run with.
Getting rid of the church bulletin can save you money, but it will cause bigger issues with giving and attendance if you do not have outlets that will absorb the effectiveness your bulletin has in the church. You have to strategically craft a plan for church communication in a post-bulletin world.
How Do We Cut the Bulletin?
You have done the evaluations and decision makers at your church have given you the thumbs up to cut it. Do you just cut it and let everyone know they will no longer see that bi-fold slice of church life? Now you have to sell it!
You have the authority, you have the knowledge and every right to cut it now, but it is in your best interest to perform a weaning process from this paper delight.
1. Go to a monthly version, with only important events for one-quarter, printed in house or cheaply printed by Vista Print or some outlet.
On this document, list all your methods of communication (social media, text service, website). Make it as headache-free as possible.
2. Setup your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram so that it looks and feels like your church with graphics that they would see on your website, social media outlets and inside the building.
3. Build your social media following during the quarter you do the monthly print.
Use the pulpit, Facebook ads and printed graphics in the building to push it.
4. Create Facebook Events for what would normally be in the church bulletin and an event feature for your website.
Do both because you will create a strategic umbrella of information that helps you with SEO and spreads the word via social media
5. Stop printing the bulletin, and create a printed business card or postcard at the information area where they are invited to find out about events and information.
They can take it with them, and hand it to others as well.
You can save the job of the admin who was in charge of the bulletins by having them train in social media publishing, and they handle that task instead. After 6-9 months, most of the people at your church will ask, "What's a bulletin?" Then you can tackle some other communications issues at your church.
Your push to social media will convert a 2D announcement to a 4D social conversation about your church.
Josh Moran is the communications and creative pastor at Christian Life Center, a multi-site church in the Chicago area.