Growing up, my brothers and I used to have a lot of fun teasing our dad about his quirky habits.
One in particular that still stands out in my memory is how, every Sunday after mass, he would take the church bulletin, roll it up like a sacred scroll, and tuck it into the back pocket of his suit pants.
That church bulletin became as characteristic for him as the ever-present cup of coffee in his hand, and I’d be surprised if there isn’t a stash of those curled bulletins filed carefully away somewhere in my parents’ home.
To my father and many others, the church bulletin was and is as necessary to Sunday service as the Bible or hymnal.
Web sites, email lists, and video announcements sent out through a centralized church management software are all fine and have their place, but what about the churchgoer that still doesn’t have a smartphone? Or what about the first time visitor who would be lost without a physical church bulletin in their hand as a roadmap?
As Kevin D. Hendricks, editor of Church Marketing Sucks wrote, “The bottom line is that [the church bulletin] is an important component in how a church communicates. It’s likely the one thing visitors and members will take home with them.”
A 2014 study by Thom S. Rainer revealed that most churches still use some form of printed bulletin despite the digital revolution, and most guests expect to be handed something by a greeter when they enter the church.
With worship attendance declining by 3.7% at the same time the overall population increased by 16 million, an effective church bulletin is as important now as it ever was.
6 Essential elements of good church bulletin design
When it comes to church bulletin design a little restraint can go a long way.
In his book, Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Visitors, Jonathan Malm asks “What if we curated our announcements? What if we chose the one or two things we wanted to communicate or advertise to guests and kept it to that?”
For example, Malm suggests, why list the senior citizen board game night in your church bulletin when you know that it only applies to eight members and they already communicate with each other reliably through their own channels?
On the other hand, the church picnic, which is open to the entire congregation plus guests and visitors, warrants top billing in the bulletin.
For his article, “15 Lessons from 17 Different Church Bulletins,” Rich Birch sifted through more than 100 church bulletins from across the country. He noticed that the largest churches tended to have the smallest bulletins, and that the essential information boiled down to:
- Website and social media information, so guests know where to find you online
- Physical address and phone number, so they know how to come back
- A welcome message, targeted at first-time visitors
- Some sort of tear-off card that guests can fill out and drop off for follow-up
- An event listing that filters out all but the most important events catering to the majority
- Many bulletins also include ample blank space for note taking, and to let the eyes breathe
That’s it! No need for a listing of every service and small ministry group scheduled for the next month, no lengthy Bible readings, no comprehensive listings of board members. All of that information has a place, but it doesn’t have to be in the church bulletin.
To see just how effective a minimalist approach to church bulletin design can be, look at this bulletin from North Point Community Church in Atlanta. Then there’s this example of an overstuffed bulletin from Doncaster Church of Christ in Victoria, Australia.
5 Digital church bulletin supplements
The beauty of the digital revolution is the millions of trees that can go on just being trees instead of countless pamphlets, brochures, and leaflets that just get tossed into landfills.
But by trimming your church bulletin down to the size of a postcard and relocating the extraneous information to a more appropriate space, you can conserve paper and communicate more effectively.
Here are five digital methods to supplement your church bulletin.
- Video announcements. A prerecorded video announcement can make a personal connection with visitors in a way that text and grainy pictures never could. Fear not, church video announcements don’t have to be boring or dry, they can be awesome.
- Email bulletins. If reading this article has made you shudder at the thought of losing information like birth announcements, prayer requests, or the Pokemon-themed youth group, fear not. Sprawl, within reason, is OK in an email newsletter.
- Church website. Think of your church website as the dynamic, vast church bulletin that is always there. The trick is getting new visitors to find it. That is why a streamlined church bulletin that directs visitors to your website for more information is a solid two-pronged strategy. Follow this approach and you’ll be well on your way to a righteous church website.
- Church app. If your church is super cool and open to smartphone usage during the service, you may not need a print bulletin at all. That’s because your guests can download a PDF of the bulletin through your app and have it at their fingertips. As an added bonus, you won’t have to worry about them leaving their $800 phones strewn across the pews after the service.
- Social media. The church picnic is in three hours but a tornado warning has just been announced. You can’t update the website in time, the weekly email newsletter has already been sent out, and the stack of paper bulletins is sitting around doing nothing. Twitter to the rescue! There’s nothing like social media when you need to reach the masses quickly.
But how do I fix my church bulletin design?
So now we’ve looked into why church bulletins are still important, what belongs in a modern church bulletin, and how to use technology to make your church bulletins more effective.
But if you came here looking for advice on how to make your outdated church bulletin look better, we’ve also got you covered.
Why start from scratch when there are already countless tried and true church bulletin designs to choose from?
- Bulletin Builder is a free online church bulletin design tool provided by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
- Church Marketing Sucks has ten examples of great church bulletin designs you can use as inspiration.
- Concordia Supply has six simple church bulletin templates for use with Microsoft Word.
- More than 70 church management packages specifically include features to create bulletins suitable for online distribution or print.
- Pinterest has innumerable church bulletin design ideas, and the results can be filtered by any keyword.
The church bulletin is dead, long live the church bulletin
The biggest fallacy when it comes to the usefulness of church bulletins is trying to land on a catch-all approach that addresses every church’s unique needs. Some churches will happily communicate exclusively through their print bulletin for decades to come, while others may relegate print communication to a once-a-month welcome card.
As church marketing expert Steve Fogg points out, the right course of action should be dictated by the members of your church, not the church leaders who are attempting to predict the future.
“Your printed bulletin is brilliant for people who are still finding their way into your church. I know for some of you tech savvy people this feels old and slow. But as communicators we need to communicate at our audience’s pace. Not our own,”
How does your church approach weekly communication? What methods have you found to be most effective? Let us know in the comments!