How to Have a More Effective Church Bulletin

Date Posted: 7/24/2014

Have you ever looked at your church bulletin through the eyes of a visitor? Would a newcomer know what UMW means? When did you last change up the layout? Here are some tips to update your bulletin for greater impact with visitors and long timers alike.
Church bulletins are quite famous for their bloopers but not so famous for their effectiveness. One famous blooper actually read: “Potluck supper: prayer and medication to follow,” and another said, “Applications needed for two-year-old nursery workers.” While bloopers may be humorous to churchgoers, these and other errors in communication send the wrong message to church newcomers. Vital congregations recognize that bulletins are official documents of the
church and, as such, are often saved to provide a
historical footprint of the church.
Since bulletins may be a visitor’s first introduction to your church – and even the Christian faith – it is critical that they be correct, as well as compelling. Is your church bulletin overdue for a makeover?
Yvon Prehn, founder of Effective Church Communications, believes the church should approach this printed piece with purpose and intentionality as an accurate snapshot of the church. “Try to evaluate your bulletin as if you were totally unfamiliar with church. Remember that the printed pieces we put into people’s hands can be either be the link that will bring them back or get them to attend a small group, or can turn them away.”
Even with the availability of social media, Yvon recommends churches take every opportunity to give visitors information “in hand” to guide their worship and provide reasons to return and ways to follow up. Those who are not ‘regulars’ will be more relaxed by having a detailed order of service, scripture references and page numbers for the songs of the day, in addition to specific contact information for events.
The bulletin as a welcoming tool
Outwardly-focused churches view the bulletin as a ‘welcome mat’ for visitors, rather than a guide for members. Most visitors study bulletins to see what kind of church they are attending. Is this a relevant place where God’s work is being carried out? Is it full of churchy words and acronyms, such as UMW, that they may not understand? Your congregation may understand narthex, but others may be clueless. Have at least one or two people proof it, paying special attention to names and dates.
Visitors need to know profound things such as what your church is about and what it means to be a disciple as much as they need to know practical information like the location of the restrooms and if newcomers are welcome to participate in communion. When keeping the visitor in mind, perhaps bulletins should contain:

  • White space (Readers’ eyes need a breather; include teasers to the website.)
  • A heartfelt welcome from the pastor
  • The church slogan or vision (what you believe and want to achieve)
  • Order of service (knowing what to expect allows attendees to be a participant rather than a mere spectator)
  • A section for visitors that gives essentials such as nursery details, coffee locations or information centers
  • Clearly defined contact information to access staff members or request prayer
  • Information on upcoming events or sermon series
  • Links to the church website and other digital resources
What do members want in a bulletin?
Thom Rainer, author of Autopsy of a Deceased Church, conducted an informal survey about church bulletins to determine what members want in a bulletin. The number one answer was ‘quality’ since this document is an important reflection of the church and God. Secondly, members liked having a spot within the bulletin for taking notes. While there was a debate about including or excluding statistics related to finances or attendance, some believe that information serves to motivate giving and inviting. While many believe all announcements should be in the bulletin, communication experts recommend including a representative cross section of activities of all ages, pointing to details on the web or in the church newsletter. Members answering the survey praised the option of having sermon notes or an outline or in the bulletin, and some expressed their desire to have something they could hand to a friend as a discussion starter.
What if?
There are many strategies and viewpoints around the topic of bulletins, and some churches are experimenting with creative ideas. One such suggestion: What if churches emailed the order of service to the congregation on Thursday or Friday, asking them to begin praying about what they will experience and whom they might invite to join in this service?
Churches reaching a younger audience are experimenting with new ways to accomplish the same degree of communication within the digital culture by using QR codes that link to sermon notes or scripture passages. They even prefer to reference the bulletin as a “flyer” to reduce the church lingo in favor of terms that newcomers might better understand.
Vital churches purposefully create their bulletins to be informative and inspirational. They are most effective when they are an attractive snapshot of your church, answering the who, what, when, where and why for visitors and ‘regulars.’