Wait, what’s that? After so much exposition, I have the nerve to state that there’s actually a continuing need for bulletins?
Yes, I said it, and you better believe it’s true.
The thing is, bulletins, in their essence, serve a very distinct and important purpose. We all go to church on Sunday to hear preaching and teaching, not a long string of endless announcements about changes in church policies, upcoming events, and who’s birthday it is this week.
If all of the information contained in a bulletin had to be physically spoken each Sunday, it would take up half of the service time. Too many churches have endless announcements and sharing time without talking about bulletin related matters, as it is.
As I mentioned before, though, when we throw out the term “printed bulletin,” we’re talking about two different things. I’ve made my case against the printing end of things, but that, by no means, negates the absolutely critical role that bulletins themselves play in helping a church to function on a weekly basis.
As you may have already guessed, I have a solution to the problem, and it comes in a sleek, trendy digital format — like so many other things do these days. Obviously I’m talking about digital bulletins.
But before we get too far into the concept of the digital bulletin — trust me, we’ll talk about them aplenty very soon — I want to take a moment to break down just what the different pieces of information on a bulletin, printed or not, are for and why they matter.
This may seem tangential to the greater point, but it’s actually a critical step in the transition to using a digital bulletin. Why? Because at the end of the day we tend to take the functionality of a bulletin for granted.
That’s why it’s important that we briefly revisit the what and the why of a traditional bulletin’s contents before you go about shifting your ministry’s bulletin over to a digital format.
If you don’t clearly understand what each element of the bulletin is for, important information can be underprioritized or even lost during the transition.
As far as what it does, I’ve already hinted a few times at the fact that a church bulletin helps to convey important information to a church’s congregation.
While this information is important for your congregants to know, it typically isn’t worth mentioning during the service itself. While each church prioritizes different things, here are the main components that you typically can find within a bulletin on any given Sunday morning.
The Elements of a Church Bulletin
It’s easy to assume that you already know what goes into a good bulletin. After all, you see one every week, right? If you’re a pastor or church staff member, you may even be intimately involved in deciding what to include in your church’s bulletin.
Here’s the thing, though. Unless you’re the staff member that pulls these things together on a weekly basis, you probably don’t really have a full grasp of everything that can go into a church bulletin.
In fact, even if you know your own bulletin backward and forward, that doesn’t mean you know all of the different kinds of things that churches the world over consider and include in their bulletins.
I wasn’t quite sure about this myself until I did some research. It turns out, there are quite a few different things that you can put in there. This is helpful to be aware of when shifting to a digital bulletin, as the space you’re working with changes significantly, and you may be able to rework what you include in the online version compared to the limitations of the paper original.
Here are some of the most common items found in bulletins across the church landscape.
A welcome speech. This is especially nice for first-time visitors. Including a few welcoming or encouraging words can help a newcomer to your church feel right at home as they settle in for their first service. It can help to connect with them and can draw them into the experience.
A weekly bible verse, quote, about tithe and offering. This one I’ve often seen on the cover. It’s a nice flourish that can lift spirits and provide a little pizzaz to a part of the bulletin that can be hard to fill with original, interesting, or meaningful content on a regular basis.
Your address. This one’s pretty obvious. Bulletins almost always have the address of the church itself. While the need for this is quickly becoming antiquated with things like Google Maps at everyone’s fingertips, it remains a bulletin staple, none-the-less.
Your phone number. Again, much like the address, including the church’s number is a 20th-century calling card that remains front and center in most bulletins ...even if the information is a quick Google search away at any moment.
Your website URL. Much more relevant than a phone number or address these days is the church’s website. This has, once again, become a commonplace element of any modern church bulletin, with the URL for a ministry’s site often being displayed in an obvious spot for everyone to notice.
Your social media accounts. Along with the church URL, another familiar sight is the inclusion of a ministry's various social media channels, handles, hashtags, and so on. This is a great one, as it doesn’t just give the reader a place to get more information, it also invites them to join in your online community as well.
Staff bios. Right off the bat let me clarify that I’m not talking about a long list of pictures and names here. That said, many churches will highlight a member of the staff in their bulletin. This can be especially good for larger churches that can often struggle with humanizing their pastors. A quick headshot and some personal information can help your congregation connect with your church leadership on a more intimate level.
Time-sensitive updates. This is one of the things that jumps to mind the quickest. A bulletin is often filled with updates, especially time-sensitive ones. Whether they’re weekly, monthly, or seasonal, a bulletin often is packed with the latest and the greatest information about a church’s small group meetings, service times, missions trips, local outreaches, and so on.
Internal church updates. Along with time-sensitive information, a bulletin can also be the perfect place for a more plugged in, established church to post financial updates, details about various church ministries, and any other internally valuable information that you might think is worth sharing with the congregation.
Prayer requests. Once again, this is a common one for churches with more “plugged in” congregations. Approved prayer requests (in other words, requests from those who don’t mind the entire congregation knowing about their need) are often included in the bulletins, especially when the church is smaller.
Service order. Another bulletin staple, the service order lets your guests know what they should expect during your service ...and reminds those forgetful regular attendees what’s coming up next, too!
Songs for worship. In addition to the service order, many churches will include a list of the songs that will be played during the worship time.
Sermon notes & Sermon Illustrations. Most bulletins include a space somewhere for notes. While many people take notes on their phones and tablets these days, the sermon notes spot still remains a regular item, and I’ve seen it utilized by a surprising number of people.
Perforated connection cards. Also called “response” cards, these nifty bulletin add-ins allow the recipients of the bulletin to tear them out and use them to communicate their own information, questions, etc. back to the church.
Donation information. Finally, a bulletin can provide some pretty critical information about how people can tithe and otherwise donate to your ministry. Whether this can be done on a mobile device, through a kiosk, on your website, or in those iconic velvety bags or those faux-gold rimmed plates that are passed out mid-service, you can always provide the skinny on how to give tithes and donations right in your bulletin.
For those of you counting at home, that’s a whopping 15 different elements that you can include in your bulletin. And that isn’t even everything. I simply had to cut the list off somewhere.
Now, obviously many of these things are discretionary and don’t necessarily need to be included in every bulletin. On the contrary, I specifically do not recommend you attempt to include everything here, as you’ll end up with a novel that will turn off anyone willing to read your bulletins on a regular basis.
All I’m trying to do here is flesh out what can be included in your average bulletin because these are the critical pieces of information that you don’t want to lose when you consider saving on the costs of printing up bulletins each and every week.
The variety of valuable information that bulletins contain is helpful for so many people in so many different short-term and long-term ways that it’s difficult to simply do away with all of it in order to save a few bucks each week.
Remember, the goal here is to communicate what’s important to those who need to hear it in as efficient and streamlined a manner as possible.
So what do you do in order to maintain all of this information while saving your church hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year?
Enter the digital bulletin...
Digital Church Bulletins, the Revolution
Up until now, we’ve basically made two broad points.
First: Printing bulletins on a weekly basis is an outdated, expensive practice that tends to only benefit the tiny minority of people who don’t discard them practically upon receipt.
Second: Bulletins, as a concept, serve a very important, not outdated purpose of providing and communicating a large variety of critical, up to date information to both your congregation and visitors.
These two points are, unfortunately, at odds with each other. The first point makes the bulletin feel superfluous, while the second demonstrates its clear importance.
And that’s why we’re here.
The clear cut, simplistic, money-saving, information-communicating solution to the whole problem can be summed up in two words: digital bulletins.
The modern age is defined by a lot of different things. Social awareness, globalism, individuality, and so on. Of all of the earth-shaking, tradition shattering cultural and economic shifts that have taken place in recent decades, though, one of the most defining elements of the 21st-century has got to be the technological revolution.
Technology has been changing at breakneck speeds since the Industrial Revolution and arguably even further back into the 19th-century and beyond. However, the change truly began to grow exponentially in the latter half of the 20th-century and, once the 21st-century dawned, it’s sped up to an unbelievable rate.
Think about it this way.
Most millennials were born into a world where cable television was king, the news aired at six o’clock with a chaser at eleven, phones had cords, and the internet was a new buzz word. Just three decades ago shows like Star Trek and movies like The Terminator demonstrated a menagerie of wildly exciting sci-fi inventions that had never before been dreamed of.
In the very, very short amount of time that has passed since then, we’ve been introduced to nearly universal Wi-Fi, smartphones, tablets, social media, and AI that can answer virtually any question. Not only that, but we’re barrelling towards things like self-driving cars and advanced space travel as if they’re just par for the course.
Okay, enough about technology (sorry, it just gets me going on so many different levels!). My point is, technologically speaking, the world is a very different place now than it was even just thirty or twenty short years ago.
Anyone who’s been in church leadership throughout that time is at a bit of an unfair advantage. Once upon a time, you were able to learn the way things were done “in the past” and simply apply that knowledge forward to the future.
If you got up on a stage and began preaching, people would physically come to hear you on a weekly basis at the least.
If you gave a scripture reference, you’d hear dozens of paper Bibles flip open, followed by that distinctly “Biblical” thin paper crinkle as everyone hustled to find the passage before you started reading it out loud.
If a church event was planned, it was typically done by phone and in church committee meetings. Then it would be shared via church announcements displayed on an overhead projector — classic, word of mouth, and the church bulletin in order to make sure everyone was aware of the upcoming festivities.
In short, the church functioned much as it had for a generation or more beforehand. Things were steady. They were predictable.
Then the 21st-century installment of the technological revolution took place. As the internet and all of its newfangled devices have swept through society and culture, the effects have steadily trickled down to the church as well.
Many people no longer come to see sermons on a regular basis. They tune in to the live stream from home, head to a local satellite church to watch it projected on a screen, or even simply rewatch or listen to the recording online later in the week.
When a pastor announces a scripture reference, it’s become natural to expect to see it flash up on the screen in big, fancy fonts. Even if this isn’t the case, the crinkle of real printed paper has been replaced by the silent swipe of fingers as everyone opens up their Bible apps and begins navigating to the proper passage (after checking their social media account half of the time, I might add).
If a church event is scheduled, an enormous amount of the planning and arrangements is done via email, text, and organizational apps. When it comes time to promote the event and spread the word, sure it’s included in the announcements and whatnot, but more importantly, it’s added to the church’s website and social media channels. This allows the church to provide real-time updates and a quick and easy place for anyone anywhere to access important event information.
Once again, to summarize, in the time that it took for a single generation to grow into adulthood, the entire way that the church functions has shifted from long-held traditions and norms to a dramatic, new, technologically savvy model that is clearly tailored to those living in the modern era.
And I want to make one thing clear before we go any further: this is a good thing.
I’m not about to wade into the sticky debate about whether technology has genuinely helped or hurt the church. That’s not why we’re here.
My point is this: if the church doesn’t stay culturally relevant, it’s going to suffer. A church that is stuck in the past is going to naturally have a difficult time communicating with those who are living in the present.
That’s not to say that past traditions and beliefs aren’t critical to what makes the Christian faith what it is. That’s obvious. But the way the church functions cannot be mired in tradition at all costs, or it will quickly become a collection of fancy yet irrelevant physical structures, standing empty and alone.
The evolution of the lower-case “c” church into a social organization that can thrive in the modern cultural climate is a critical part of enabling the upper case “C” Church to impact the societies that it exists within.
Sorry. Am I getting too theological here? I know we need to get back to bulletins. But the point is so important to make that it’s worth the extra time.
Hopefully, by this point, it’s become abundantly clear where the digital bulletins fit in. It’s not simply an alternative to a printed bulletin. It’s a natural progression of the church adapting its temporal structure and operations in order to reach the society that it is operating within.
Two decades into the 21st-century people still need information. In fact, they crave it more than ever.
And that’s precisely what a bulletin is designed for.
So doing away with the bulletin entirely isn’t the solution here. Instead, there needs to be a switch, from print to digital.
Why Digital Bulletins Are Incredible Modern Tools
I think a pretty good case can be made for digital bulletins already simply from what we’ve already talked about. But most of that is circumstantial (like the fact that the world has “gone technical, so why shouldn’t the bulletin, too?”) as well as reactionary (e.g. printed bulletins don’t work, so digital bulletins are a good alternative).
But there are actually quite a few things that make digital bulletins excellent options on their own merit.
Here are a few of the best arguments for digital bulletins themselves. They’re worth committing to heart as you prepare to convince the rest of your church’s leadership that you need to shift away from those inked dinosaurs you keep printing up every Sunday.
It provides easy access to the information. First off, we have the information itself. This has to go first, since, say it with me now, it’s the primary reason the bulletin exists.
In this case, one nice thing that a digital bulletin has going for it is the ease of access that it provides when it comes to getting to that information.
Consider this. How many times have you casually tossed a bulletin aside, only to crawl on your hands and knees under the pews or through your car scouring for it later on when you suddenly realize you need a vital piece of information that it contains?
Digital bulletins can be presented in multiple formats (more on that further down) but regardless of the form it takes, a digital bulletin is easier to store and can even be searched in an email folder, on a website, in a Facebook feed, and so on.
It’s easy to layout. The digital format enables your creative team to deliver a bulletin that is both consistent and creative. Consistency comes as you select a platform and set up a template from which to create your bulletin each week.
From there, all you need to do is swap out information within the same layout and, hey presto, you’re good to go each week.
It gives you more freedom within the design. Along with the consistency of providing updated information, the digital approach to bulletins allows a ministry to have virtually unlimited control over the design elements themselves.
For instance, minimalism and open white spaces are all the rage these days. If you want to work with more open space, you’d have an issue with the natural limitations of an 8.5” x 11” piece of paper, especially with all of the information you may want to include.
Digitally, though, you have no hard boundaries. Layouts, color combinations, fonts, and even length are all extremely flexible.
It’s also easy to add stock footage and even videos, which gives you the ability to spruce up the look of your bulletin without having to worry about the precision of your printer or the cost of colored ink.
It provides constantly updated information. This next one isn’t a universal principle, but for many forms of church bulletins — especially those housed on an actual website — the digital concept gives you the ability to update the bulletin at a moment’s notice.
Remember in our fictitious example above, how Dina the church secretary had to check with the pastor before she finalized things and printed the bulletins ...on Thursday? Once printed, the bulletins were more or less set in stone. If anything happened between then and Sunday morning, it would have to be announced as a correction.
Not so with digital bulletins.
Particularly when hosted on a page on your website, a digital bulletin gives you a chance to make changes right up to the minute before the service starts. Heck, you can even change it mid-service ...that is, if you want to be “that guy” on your phone during church, of course.
It’s good for two different kinds of green. While I’ve already made it abundantly clear that using digital bulletins saves you green in a monetary sense, it can do so in an environmental sense, too. Whatever your particular stance on environmental concerns, the Bible does tell us to be good stewards of the Earth, after all. Psalm 24:1 informs us that “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”
It’s pretty clear that we should be mindful of how we treat God’s creation, whatever the case.
With that said, another clear benefit of digital bulletins is the deliberate avoidance of using up resources, especially paper, when it isn’t necessary.
It saves time. Finally, creating a digital bulletin is faster than designing, printing, and folding a physical one. It’s as simple as that. Not only are you saving money and being a good steward, but you just, plain don’t have to spend as much time on the issue in the first place.
Okay, I’m hoping that by this point you’re sold on why digital bulletins are worth your time. I know it’s been a lengthy explanation, but I felt it was necessary.
Why? Because for all of the obvious pros to digital bulletins and the cons to their printed brethren, this issue simply isn’t being addressed enough. Too many churches continue to slog along with printed bulletins or they simply give up and get rid of their bulletins altogether.
Well, I’m making my stand, right here and right now, in order to say that there’s a third solution, and it’s clearly the best of the bunch. Digital bulletins have become the obvious answer to the bulletin dilemma.
The only question, at this point, is how to make the switch from print to digital.
Long Live the Church Bulletin!
Printed bulletins have long been a mainstay of the modern church experience. At this point, though, they’ve simply run their course.
As technology has continued to propel us forward, it’s only natural that churches should adapt to the changes along with everything else.
This is especially true for the non-theological elements of our services, like the church bulletin.
Bulletins center on providing information — no more, no less. As such, any ministry looking to stay relevant should shift their sources of information online in the form of a digital church bulletin. It’s a natural progression that can yield a host of benefits, from saving money and time to honing your ministry’s communication and outreach abilities.
If I can take a (slightly altered) line from Andrew Conrad of Church Management,
The printed church bulletin is dead, long live the digital church bulletin!