The numbers aren’t exact, but bulletins contribute to the 85,000,000 tons of paper thrown away every year in the United States. If you break down the figure, it comes to about 680 pounds per U.S. citizen, the equivalent of three baby elephants (plus or minus a few pounds).
While going green might not be a strong impetus to transition toward an online bulletin, other reasons exist. I sat down to discuss them, as well as some tips, with Riley Sheehan, digital communications specialist at The Austin Stone Community Church, and John Yeng, Director of Communications.
1. Establish Your “Why”
Before moving forward with an online bulletin, you should establish concrete reasons for doing so. They not only determine how to accomplish a communications goal but also build unity. When your team knows the “why” behind an action, they support it and understand how their work fits into the big picture.
John recommends spending some time thinking about the “why.” He explains that it defines relevant communication for your church, which could look very different from another congregation. “Figure out what’s relevant for you and your people, and let that dictate communication efforts.”
2. Track Activity and Encourage Multiple Actions
An online bulletin offers “huge perks,” says Riley, in that it allows you to track signups, outbound clicks and other actions. Plus, if a person visits the page for information about an event or upcoming class, they could very well sign up for something else.
3. Simplify Communications and Improve Recall
Because an online bulletin acts as a centralized hub for church activities, simplicity is critical. Navigation plays a role at this stage; the online bulletin should be, at most, one to two steps removed from the home page. As an example, The Austin Stone’s online bulletin resides at www.austinstone.org/bulletin. The address is easy to remember and, more importantly, easy to share on and off the stage.
4. Model Physical Reality with Digital Design
Digital bulletin design, says Riley, “should model physical reality.” It makes people feel comfortable, enabling them to interact with and act upon the content immediately. The Austin Stone’s online bulletin implements a familiar format: a brief message from the campus pastor, followed by campus-specific events, classes, and activities.
5. Get Everyone on Board with the New Communication Vehicle
Moving toward an online bulletin requires everyone to be aware and supportive of the change. “We had a meeting with our campus leaders about the change and the need for them to share the web address during announcements every week,” says Riley. By wedding the spoken words with visual slides, the message sinks in deeper, and people become accustomed to heading to the website for information.
6. Use Print Collateral to Make a Larger Impact
An online bulletin doesn’t herald the death of printed collateral, such as a family devotional guide or reminder cards for Easter services. At The Austin Stone, print continues to perform a critical role in building up the body.
“When we think about print,” Riley says, “we ask, ‘Is there a real benefit to the church body?’ For us, a printed product should produce a moment of intrigue and cause people to think more deeply about how the Sunday message relates to their daily lives.”
Print still has a role to play in the church today, but you should consider augmenting it with digital communications (or vice versa). The two working in tandem help you share information and get attendees involved inside and outside the local church. By investing in the tactics, you will see an increasingly vibrant and growing church body.