Long Live the Church Bulletin [worship.hack]

a worship.hack (defined here) is a proposed change or question of the way worship typically works to open it up to more people, either in substance or in style. Read on for relevant critiques of worship!
Ah, the Church Bulletin.  You know what I'm talking about.  The ubiquitous item that you are handed when you come in the door.  It's become a staple part of every congregation, filled with more than service information but volunteer opportunities and prayer lists as well.  It is here to stay......or is it?

Park Community Church in Chicago has gotten rid of the weekly bulletin.  Their Communications Guy Tim Shraeder blogged about the Death of the Church Bulletin (hat-tip Church Marketing Sucks) as they transitioned from weekly paper bulletins to a monthly and web version of their bulletin. 
Tim writes why they transitioned:

- the budget savings... we cut our monthly printing budget 75% going this route
- the environmental savings… we’re not killing as many trees. It’s a “green” choice and one that people in our church would rally behind.
- in terms of our organization, it forced our ministry leaders to plan out their events way in advance and caused them to be more organized instead of waiting to the last minute… which tended to be how we did everything.
- it forced us to prioritize and condense. We went from publishing everything to being careful to choose what would further the mission and vision of our church. And we had to do so in a few sentences versus a whole paragraph.
In short, Tim writes that churches should know the primary way the congregation receives information and communicate to them that way!  

Tim is very clear that what works for his congregation may not work for others. For my parish, this is not a great option. Since my scale is not as much (Park Community saved $2000 in printing costs...I think that's twice my annual office budget) and my average age is not at the computer-and-internet level (Park Community's average age is 29), then moving to monthly or internet bulletins is not a significant step forward in innovation and cost-savings.

But for many congregations, this can become a worship.hack: a rethinking of something ubiquitous to try to make it more accessible to people.  Hacking a bulletin to make its information and opportunities fit into the information flow is certainly a worship.hack!  Well done!

However, it strikes me that bulletins are not only instruments for worship, but instruments of interaction. They give someone the excuse to say "hello" to someone.  People who are not as outgoing may not greet people, but will happily stand at the door and hand out a bulletin to them.  Bulletins serve a purpose as an instrument of interaction between two people, not simply broadcast communication between the church and the pew.

So by hacking the bulletin and removing it, you are also affecting an area of interaction...sometimes the only interaction people get on a Sunday morning.  If you are going to remove this instrument of interaction, it might be best to replace it with something else.  Volunteers who hold open the doors for instance.

So if you are looking at this as a worship.hack, ensure that it doesn't remove an area of interaction even as it attempts to streamline communications.  The broadcast nature of the bulletin does have interpersonal aspects to it, and as we look at fitting top-down communication to the congregations' routine, it would be wise to not remove bottom-up interaction from it.

Thoughts? Welcome to our visitors and your comments are welcome!


Stresspenguin August 12, 2008 at 10:09 AM  

I've started to email selected parts of the bulletin out on Sunday afternoon. I include the announcements, the prayer list, and a weekly bible study that I write and print on the back of the bulletin with the scripture references hyperlinked. I've got some folks that like to have their Bible Study and Prayer List with them tucked into their Bibles (who incidentally, don't do e-mail) but I've had several tell me that they love having it in their email and do their Bible Study and morning prayer when they open their e-mail account first thing in the morning (which is what I do, as well).

Ann August 12, 2008 at 10:27 AM  

What about people who use the bulletin to take notes during the sermon or announcements? I know my grandmother always does and I've noticed myself doing the same thing...just this Sunday! I once went to a church that had worksheets to fill out as the sermon was preached. Cheezy, I know. But I looked around and people were participating...So what about a bulletin that combined the aspects of people-to-people interaction as well as self interaction to better understand the message?

Though I must say as an internet literate person, I enjoy getting my church's *newsletter* by email...

Rev. Jeremy Smith August 13, 2008 at 8:47 AM  

@ Ann, from the article, the church illustrated does provide paper in the pews for sermon notes. And I'm like you...I bring my moleskin notebook to church (when I'm not leading it!) to take notes.

I've been to churches like that too with the worksheets! It's definitely not my style, but I've seen it work well. Like Tim said above, if it works with people, then do it!

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