SPECIAL Extended Article
I walked toward the Worship Center. An usher briefly caught my eye and handed me a ministry guide. I didn’t really want it but I felt like I was obligated. Greeters are good like that. It’s like they’ve been challenged to give away the most bulletins.
Whether you call it Ministry Guides, Church Bulletins, or Worship Guides, it seems that most don’t want one. Every Sunday I find myself wondering why I ended up with the brochure. Fortunately, our church reduced the size from a monster pamphlet to a small mini-flyer to save money.
I wondered though if I’m the only one who doesn’t want one. So after service and before our Bible Fellowship Class started, I polled the 60 that were present for class. We’re multigenerational (20’s-60’s) so we’re a wonderful cross-section of our church. Half go to the “blended” service and the other half go to our contemporary service. This was NOT scientific, but based on church client conversations it’s very typical:
• 92% Received Church Bulletins
• 23% Glanced at It During/Before the Service
• 8% Read Previous Week’s Church Bulletins Sometime During the Week
Based on this quick survey, only 1/3 used the church bulletin for its purpose (to communicate). Almost 70% totally had NO USE for church bulletins. Should we stop producing them? If you look around you’ll see that print communication is dying. So what should the church do?
- Stop forcing people to take one. People are simply throwing them away. Let greeters actually greet. Put a table out so people can pick up church bulletins IF THEY WANT ONE! You’ll be surprised how few are taken.
- Reduce the size. Only put “congregation-wide” or “brand-building” announcements in it. Imagine the savings!
- Ensure your website is current AND accurate. The world’s switching to a digital hub from the old-school print hub. Make your web reliable so people will use it when they want information. It’s easier than “finding” church bulletins. Plus you can cluster announcements for age groups and interests.
Don’t get me wrong. Print is NOT dead so don’t trash church bulletins completely. Instead, figure out how to co-exist with the digital world. If you get it correct, even though it’s diminishing; print communications will continue to have influence.
We still read books and flip through print magazines. We just do it differently. So let’s solve the issues so more will read one of their church bulletins — and ultimately figure out how to communicate information effectively.
Digital communications allow us to analyze reading and user habits (it’s difficult to do that with print). So let’s take what we’ve learned from the digital world and incorporate that knowledge into the print world:
- People Don’t Have Time. If a long email arrives in your mailbox, you skim it or delete it. People don’t want to “work” to understand — especially when it’s promotional. We want the promoter to research the info and compress it to a clear benefit.
Bad (70 words): You are invited to participate in the National Day of Prayer this week. Join with churches all across our great nation to pray for the needs of our country, church and community. We’ll pray for the President, other elected, and appointed officials. We’ll meet this Thursday in our worship center at 12:15pm. We’ll spend only 30 min, hearing various needs and testimonies. Please join us for this great event.
Better (20 words): National Day of Prayer: This Thurs. Noon-12:30. Church-wide Prayer Service. Prayer changes things. Details: yourchurch.org/pray
- People Engage with Personalized Content. Think “What’s in it for me”. People want to read info geared for them. Be clear who’s invited. Tier your communications so everyone clearly knows what they need to look at.
Tip: Create an “All Member” area, “Teen” area, “Children” area, etc. and limit the event info to just the facts. Websites give more details.
- People Scan Instead of Reading. Use bolding, indents, and spacing carefully so people can quickly scan. Bulleted points help reveal important facts. Promotional “paragraphs” are dead so make everything scannable.
Once people see you’re using this style of compressed communications, they’ll scan the bulletin more, which ultimately achieves the goal of communicating the news. But how do we coordinate with the digital hub?
The communications position in the church used to be the person who changed the sign and produced the bulletin. Now, the job has grown into more than double the work with the web, social and email communications. It really must have constant attention in order for it to be done correctly.
Here are 3 suggestions for making the job easier:
- Have a Simple Strategy. With the leadership of the church, determine what your goals are for your communications. Do you want EVERY piece of information to be released officially from your church? Probably not. So decide what should be communicated from the pulpit, in the bulletin, on posters, the sign, website, social media and the list goes on and on.
- Content and Editing. Decide who’s going to create the text and pictures that will be used. This can’t be done easily by one person. Teams work better. Be sure you have an editor who can make everything sound like the same voice, and in few words.
- Timing and Process. You must have deadlines for the material you’re communicating based on the tool you’re using. Print requires the most lead time and digital can be shorter (but limit those expectations). It’s critical to create a communications plan for the timing of the release. When do you post on social media? When do web postings happen? Print?
Be sure you consider the tools that can be used to tie your print communications to your digital hub. Here are two:
QR Codes: That odd-looking block of digital noise you see on a lot of print materials. It’s only purpose? It allows someone to quickly move from printed communications to the web (for interactivity, or more content). With a QR Code reader app, someone can jump to your web page. Remember they expect a mobile-friendly or responsive website as the destination. With the QR code (search for “create free QR codes” for the ability to set them up) you can easily send someone from your bulletin to the sermon notes or the cool video that was used in the announcements. Remember, once they’re on your website, people can share the content easily!
E-blasts: Reinforce the bulletin message in regular emails to your members. Just keep them short so people can scan them too. And use the email to link to your website for more information.
The Digital Hub paradigm shift is to get your print materials to point to your website where the core content is available and shareable. Make sure your website has a simple design, is responsive for mobile, and always up to date. Let’s get this right so we can communicate your ministries effectively!
This Extended Article originally appeared in Worship Facilities Magazine. Mark MacDonald is a regular writer for this and other national publications.