Time to KILL your Worship Guide? 4 Things to Consider

It seems that every day we hear stories of secular newspapers realizing it’s not worth the cost of their reporters, the paper, or the printing. Even with advertising revenues helping to pay their costs!

So why do we think it’s worth the church’s expense to pay for bulletins? Actually, it’s not really the “cost” that’s created this dilemma. The real issue is that the majority of people now want to get their news in another way. Online.

The newspaper industry has lived in denial as their subscriptions have dwindled. And I believe that the church is fooling themselves with faux reasons for keeping the little-read newsletter we call a bulletin. Or worship guide.

But wait! The church needs to consider a few things before writing the obituary on the dearly-clung-to pamphlet of announcements.

  1. Perhaps reduce; before removing. We work with several churches that saw the writing on the wall. Their bulletins are left on the pew, or tossed into the garbage moments after the service. People call the church office asking about things that are “clearly in the bulletin”. Sound familiar? Are you scared to ax the activity of bulletin manufacturing? Understandable. So maybe don’t consider stopping it initially; instead go to an abbreviated edition. Maybe stop all those extra inserts; or switch to a 5.5” x 8.5” rather than your folded 8.5” x 11”, or create an even smaller postcard sized handout. People will get the most important information; and you’ll start saving money — while introducing change.
  2. Figure out if your website is trusted. People get news and articles from trusted locations. For decades we’ve been getting our times and dates from a well-proofed bulletin. And now you’re telling people to start getting that info at your website. But maybe they’ve discovered a poorly designed website; or can’t find the information; and at worse, the information isn’t consistently correct. So they return to the status quo. The doomed worship guide. If you’re going to ditch the handout; be sure you have an excellent, well-organized website first. And ensure it’s accurate with up-to-date information.
  3. Have an effective alternative; delivered just-in-time. Everyone has email; and we love to get reminders from places we feel part of. Be sure you use Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, or similar, to manage your lists, conform to CANSPAM regulations, and is easily customizable to deliver a simple branded listing to your audiences. I’d recommend a Thursday, late-afternoon delivery. But experiment at open-rates for the best time. Need an order of service or liturgical items? Consider projecting them on the lower third of the screen (if appropriate).
  4. Determine what your ushers will do with their hands. Yes. Ushers used to be the people at the doors who walked families to their pews and delivered that soon-to-be Bible Bookmark to each person. Remove that handout while realizing that most ushers don’t guide people to their seats now; and what a conundrum! Maybe, they can actually welcome, answer questions, direct visitors, and love on people. Perhaps their purpose will be better administered without a bulletin!

Have those things in place? Then pull the trigger. You’ll be surprised that most people won’t even show up for the funeral; or even grieve for the aging parchment. And those that do? Offer to print a version of your eblast for them (maybe even set up a printer for that purpose in the foyer. Just monitor how many use it). 

This post originally appeared in the Weekly Update for the National Association of Church Business Administration (NACBA). Mark MacDonald is a regular writer for this and other national publications.

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