Every day I hear another church communicator spewing out murderous threats against their church bulletin.
One says “they’re obsolete! Why keep it? Let’s kill it.” Yet others say “We need ours, but we wish it were better.” Still others say “hey, should my church start an Instagram account?”
To those we say “yes, but this isn’t the right thread to ask that. Go search the group for keywords like Instagram. We’ve talked about this, like, a million times.”
For those of you who find yourself in the second camp, forever stuck with a required print bulletin every week for worship that you hate, I think there are some solutions for you here that apply to either situation.
Define the goal for your bulletin
Many bulletins are cesspools of unfiltered church information dumped on the communication director’s/secretary’s desk Friday at 3pm which they must then organize into the bulletin. While “info-dump” is a valid purpose for your bulletin, I feel it’s not a very good one.
In today’s world, your regular attendees need nothing from the bulletin. I mean, really. They can go to the website for announcement info or to the email newsletter. The only thing a regular attendee might really need out of a bulletin is the order of worship (mainly in a more liturgical setting). Otherwise, meh.
Hear me out. I believe that the bulletin should be squarely aimed at the visitor. They are the one who will read the bulletin to find out more about your church there in the seat as they wait for service to start or while your preacher bashes on millennials, so why not make the most of it?
“But, why can’t it be both for the visitor and the regular attendee?”
Well, because that’s the fastest way to make it mediocre. Just ask those churches doing the “blended” service how that’s going. It’s always best to have one singular target unless you’ve figured out how to kill two birds with one stone? Multiple messages can confuse or at best rob your most important messages of their impact and power.
The question you have to ask is “What is the one thing I want my audience to get from this bulletin?” If it were me, I’d say I’d want them to get a sense that they should become part of the church family. Isn’t that the goal? To make disciples? I think we can get the bulletin working for us toward that goal too.
Let’s spend the next few minutes talking about how to make a bulletin that encourages visitors to become a disciple of Jesus at your church.
Make the Bulletin Valuable
What if the only thing a visitor experienced from your church was your bulletin? Would they want to learn more?
Make the bulletin valuable in and of itself by sharing stories of redemption and belonging complete with smiling pictures of people in full color on the front page. Include social media handles and web information or try to get them to explore your church further in a first step class. Show them you are a personable church with instructions on how and where to meet the pastor after the service.
If you are reliant on an order of worship in the bulletin, then sure, put that in there too. However, if your church is more of a screen-guided experience, then don’t waste the space. Fill it with a few well-written stories and just one or two important announcements. Just make sure that their next step is CLEAR.
Don’t forget info about kids and student ministries too as well as singles gatherings. You know your community, so put things in the bulletin that they will be interested in, not the knitting club bazaar on Friday just because they asked.
Make the bulletin valuable enough that they want to keep it for later and again, make sure the next step is clear. Clarity of action makes the action more likely.
Make Action Likely
Writing is a lost art in the church. We think that facts are what compel people to action, but that’s not it. What compels people to action is when you show them clearly what is in it for them.
Church bulletins are all about “come to this event!” and “Don’t miss it!” and “We’ve got the greatest cat-herding classes around!” But that’s all about you. Graphics and gloss can grab attention, but the copy (the writing) is what they read to find out if they want to take part in what the graphic advertises.
Donald Miller has a framework for writing called Storybrand that unlocks the secret to great copywriting: make them the hero of the story. Make actions like “go to our website” and “sign up for a first step class” more likely to happen by focusing on what value those actions bring to the person reading about it.
Trust me, they can get “awesome” and “cool” right on their phone without your help so give them something they don’t have that you know they desperately want. Community, love, acceptance, friendship, peace, happiness, or freedom. They want to know they measure up or that they’re not alone. Talk about how you solve that problem with Jesus or show them others who have found peace in Christ.
Visitors didn’t come to your church to cheer you on, they came because someone promised them something good if they showed up…and I’m not talking about a free coffee mug with the church logo on it.
Make the Bulletin Easy and Helpful
Jesus was pretty clear about his feelings towards those who made it hard for sinners to enter the kingdom of God. He said “Better to have a large millstone tied around their neck and thrown into the sea.” Wow, talk about sleeping with the fishes.
Make it easy for visitors to dig deeper into your church by making your bulletin easy and helpful. What we should all pay attention to here are basic layout and design principles.
Use appropriate contrast between text and backgrounds so that the message stands out. You may also employ the use of bold or font sizes for headings to help the reader navigate the bulletin easily.
Repeat brand marks or important messages throughout the bulletin (like, have your website and social handles on more than just the back page). Make sure that you use proper alignment so that the reader understands the flow of the bulletin (centered text is tough).
Last, keep proximity in mind and allow for proper white space between elements so that the reader’s eye can jump from section to section easily as they search for what is important to them in the bulletin. When I see a “wall of text,” I’m done. It could contain the cure for cancer and I wouldn’t read it. Not because I don’t care about cancer, but because it made me not want to read it, so I didn’t, and I missed it.
I actually got two mailers the other day from local political groups who were on opposite sides of an issue. They were so different. One was a nicely designed card that spelled out the issue and how one side saw it. The other was a white card with a wall of text. I asked my 11-year-old daughter which one she would vote for if she had to vote. She picked the nice one. She said she wouldn’t even read the other one.
“So you’d vote on an issue without reading the other side just because it looked bad?” Yep. That’s how most people are their whole lives. Design is important, especially white space.
Last, think through how visitors are going to interact with the bulletin. Is it a tri-fold? Which way are they likely to open it? Choose what content goes where based on how visitors are likely to engage with the bulletin.
Put your most important messages in the most prominent spots and, like a website, assume that they are only going to look at it for a few seconds before putting it down. What do you hope they saw before they put it down?
Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. I know it’s crass, but the acronym actually spells C.R.A.P.
To Keep or Not to Keep?
So, should you keep your bulletin or go digital? Honestly, only you can answer that. Older congregations or liturgical ones absolutly might need a paper bulletin with an order of service on it. These guidelines still apply.
More modern, technologically savvy congregations may want to get rid of it all together and focus more on notes distributed through their app or spaceship. These guidelines still apply.
Whatever your church decides to do, please please please have a goal in mind and don’t let your bulletin become an info-dump. That’s how you start wasting paper and money fast.
Any thoughts on bulletins? Surely this isn’t exhaustive, so please, we’d love to hear from the community. Sound off in the comments and thanks for reading!