Why My Church is Sticking With a Print Bulletin

Why My Church is Sticking With a Print Bulletin

May 1, 2017 by

This month our Courageous Storytellers Membership Site is focusing on bulletins. We’ve got all kinds of resources for members, including example bulletins, a bulletin debate webinar, how to transition to a digital bulletin, proofing checklist, and more. Join now!

Whenever we talk bulletins, I feel a bit like the church stuck in the last century. All these hip, modern churches are busy killing their bulletins or switching to online versions.

Not us.

My church is stuck with our print bulletin, and we’re not likely to change anytime soon.

Liturgy

First and foremost, we’re an Episcopal church. We use liturgy. Our weekly bulletins feature call and response, as well as stand up/sit down directions. The announcements and church updates comprise a small percentage of the bulletin. (The announcements actually are a separate insert.)

You can’t kill the bulletin because you don’t like it.

We can’t leave visitors struggling to follow along, so those responses and directions are critical, no matter the format. Those format options are limited:

  • Bulletin – Tried and true method for my church.
  • Big screen – This works in some spaces. I’ll explain why it doesn’t work for ours.
  • Digital – A digital bulletin might be a great solution for some congregations, but it works best when the bulletin content is not crucial to the service.
  • Book of Common Prayer – If anything, a bulletin is a quantum leap forward from the days of flipping pages in the Book of Common Prayer.

Space Limitations

Besides the liturgy, our physical space keeps us committed to the print bulletin. Our church was designed and built in the 1950s, so the sanctuary doesn’t accommodate screens well. We have a screen for the occasional youth slide show, but the equipment isn’t exactly an aesthetically pleasing addition to the brickwork. Plus, readability would be an issue for people sitting in the back.

The Digital Factor

A digital bulletin solution could be an option. Digital is a great way to deliver announcements and cut down on printing paper. But it might not be the most user-friendly approach for visitors when liturgy is involved.

For bulletins, figure out the most user-friendly mechanism for delivery.

When the church service involves responses and directions, 100% of the people in the pews must have immediate and easy access to those directions. Handing out those directions via a bulletin at the door guarantees that access. (They can always refuse a bulletin, drop it, or ignore it, but at least we handed it to them.)

You can’t get that with a digital bulletin. You assume everyone walking in the door owns an internet-connected device, sees the URL, and types it in accurately. That’s a lot to ask of people. The method might work for something extraneous to the service, like announcements. But when the content is vital to service participation, you’re asking too much with an all-digital format.

You also need to pay attention to your audience. If you have a tech-savvy crowd that takes notes on devices and tweets the sermon, a digital bulletin might work. But if your congregation frowns at anyone who pulls out a device, you’ve got an uphill battle when it comes to digital.

Don’t Have the Stomach for It

The three items above stand as practical hurdles, but the largest deterrent is our congregation. We simply don’t have the stomach for making the switch to digital.

A few years back, we faced a budget crunch and staff were looking at reduced hours. Rather than make those cuts, I looked at the budget. I saw we spent $10,000 on bulletin printing. I figured cutting it could save some staff hours, so I proposed switching to some kind of PowerPoint projection system. I figured a little inconvenience in the format would be worth keeping the staff.

You would think I had committed sacrilege—read the Satanic Bible for the lectionary or tried to baptize via full immersion.

A bulletin isn’t merely a matter of practicality. It concerns psychology.

A high-tech system and screen doesn’t feel like our church. It reminded too many people in our smaller congregation of impersonal mega-churches.

Admittedly, the words smack of the “that’s how we’ve always done it” response. There was a visceral rejection of the slick, modern solution. Call it stubbornness, call it backward. But there it is.

This is the challenge many churches will face when they change the bulletin: psychology.

In many cases, it won’t be worth the fight, and we could lose church members and visitors in the meantime. Is that how we want to spend our energy? Dickering over the merits of a paper or digital bulletin? I don’t think so.

Goals and Purpose

Any successful bulletin strategy comes down to goals and purpose. What’s the purpose of your bulletin? And what are you hoping to achieve by changing it? For any change to be successful, it must fit your purpose and strategy.

So my church continues to use a print bulletin. It works for us. And until there’s a cultural shift and we’re willing to address the challenges of our space, we’ll likely continue to embrace it.

Image: freestocks.org (Creative Commons)
Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks


When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998 and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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One Response to “Why My Church is Sticking With a Print Bulletin”

  • Dawn
    May 2, 2017

    I agree. We’ve looked into ditching the printed bulletin several times, but it all came down to our audience. Two years ago, out church went from two sites to 8. The new congregations are typically older and less techy. Not to mention, one the sites is turn of the century (and I don’t mean the most recent 100 years) has no running water, no internet service…you can’t even get a cell phone signal. We use a lot of newer technology, but it will not completely replace paper any time soon.



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