Like many other innovations of the past, new technologies have given way to updates that in one way or another offer more convenience to the consumer and reduce operating cost of producers. For churches, the paper bulletin itself was once a technological innovation. All of the essential contact information, upcoming events, capital campaign progress, full month calendars, and important announcements all printed on the same document and handed out to all who walked through the door on Sunday morning.
Like many other kids (and adults), I used to stuff church bulletins between the pages of my bible like huge bookmarks. Soon I collected so many bulletin bookmarks that the binding on my teen study bible fell apart. Fast forward to today and you will find that most church bulletins are a double sided one fold sheet 8.5×11 inch piece of paper but still are discarded almost immediately after services, or linger on the floors of cars until cleaning day. When I think about the amount of church goers who have no idea where to stuff their bulletins because they now use a mobile app for their bible, I’m convinced it is time to phase out the old church bulletin completely.
3 Reasons Why Churches Should Stop Printing Bulletins
1. It’s Wasteful. Bulletins are probably the most discarded item in the church (perhaps second to bathroom paper towels). Seriously, bulletins are usually found in the oddest places junking up people’s homes, cars, street gutters, and the planet. Paper waste is also a huge contributor to America’s landfill capacity problem. Sure we can recycle more, see #2 for my issue with that solution.
2. Recycling isn’t that great. Recycling still leaves an impact. If you have “responsibly” set up recycling bins at the exits of your church for all discarded bulletins, don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. The recycling process itself has a environmental impact especially when you consider the fact that paper fibers do not retain all of its original properties, meaning that paper can not be infinitely recycled. If you stopped printing bulletins all together, there would be no need to recycle. Not to mention the gas, exhaust and energy used to transport to and from recycling plants and the by-product waste created in the recycling process. To put it a different way, the Center For Research of Environmental Decisions is quoted by the New York Times stating that “although recycling is important, it should be but one activity in a series of behavior changes.”
3. Bulletins are losing their value. Sure phasing out the church bulletin will save you money on ink, paper, and printer maintenance. But, money savings is not always the defining factor for program decisions. You really have to think about the value for the money. If the church bulletin were a stock option, it would be losing value on the market everyday. Forecast would churn a downward trajectory chart for the foreseeable future. Americans are entering the mobile age more and more and are seeking ways to reduce the amount of paper luggage they carry in exchange for cloud stored information that can be recalled with a simple touch of a smartphone or tablet with an internet connection. What’s gaining value? Social media and an online presence. If the church wants to remain relevant in the lives of people who they want to reach, they need to provide content in the places where people consume content the most.
5 Ways to Replace the Church Bulletin:
1. Design a church app. Church mobil apps supersede more than just the aging church bulletin. Church mobile apps are replacing sermon CD’s with podcasts, blank note sheets are swapped for digital sermon notes with embedded scripture links, and church calendars can now sync with iCalendar, Google Calendar, and Outlook. They are providing methods of engagement Monday-Saturday. A well designed church app has the potential to be a hub for all church content and engagement outside of and even inside weekly gatherings. There’s two ways to go with the design of a church app. You can use a pre-designed template from a pre-existing church app platform or you can have one completely custom designed. Either way there are some great examples of how church apps out there already. For starters take a look at these excellent church mobile apps (they include examples from Elevation Church and Mars Hill). Mobile apps are still fairly new. There may be new ways to connect with your congregation that have not even been thought of yet.
2. Email newsletters. Email offers significant advantages over the paper bulletin. Whether it’s an event calendar, directions, or digital rsvp, email services help you plan ahead and get more accurate information about how people are engaging with your content and programs. Email services link Mailchimp, Constant Contant, and Emma provide professional platforms for your church to build great looking emails and manage your contact list. Email marketing today usually includes brief updates and summaries with links for readers to “click-through” to your website to get more detailed information.
3. Social Media. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest are steadily increasing their subscribers. If your church is not currently developing a presence on one or more of these networks, you are missing out on many opportunities to engage with your parishioners and their friends throughout the week and even on Sunday. Each network is a place where everyone has a voice, the voice of the church here is desperately needed, but the ear of the church is essential to understanding what’s important to your community. A social media profile is not merely a place to try to stay relevant, it is a place where your church can thrive. Extend your reach in the community outside of the walls of the church and beyond Sunday. If you are a church that wants to “meet people where they are,” well a lot of people you want to reach are on social media. You can even create your own social network for your church with platforms like “The City” where your congregation can engage with each other and even create online groups where they can share their stories and prayer requests.
4. Text: Text messaging can be a powerful communication tool for your church. Think about it, users who opt-in don’t have to open a fancy app, enter multiple passwords, navigate to the right page or anything beyond the most basic function of a phone (second to making a phone call). Text messages also tend to have better viewing rates than email. Information will again land on a users phone and can be recalled later on at anytime. Users can usually opt-out or resubscribe at any time. Text can also be a great emergency alert system or a good communication tool for specific ministries (think weather emergencies or kids ministry).
5. Concierge/Help-desk. With change of any kind, there will be those who will cling to the bulletin with both hands. So how can we bring along the late adopters? How about implementing a concierge table in the lobby? Attendees could visit the table before or after service, or by appointment to get assistance with anything from basic event information, taking next steps in faith, or connecting to the church’s online community. The concierge essentially operates like a “geek-squad” help-desk. The concierge table can become another volunteer area where internet and mobile savvy members could help others make the transition creating new opportunities to serve.
Still Not Ready To Give Up The Paper?
Even if your church is not ready to completely eliminate the printed bulletin, perhaps your church might consider limiting the amount they print. If you have a significant population of the older generation who may not adapt to other methods, perhaps you could start an opt-in alternative where they can still pick up limited-run bulletin. You can also set a 5 year goal to phase out paper bulletins. Printed flyers and postcards for special events are still a great marketing tool as they are limited run and often retained and shared with others. Whatever you do, don’t just cut off your churches communication tool without building and testing new methods like the ones above. At the very least, please update your website. Take some time to develop, launch, and then make iterative improvements as the needs of your systems change.
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Other links cited:
Landfills: Are We Running Out of Room for our Garbage?