Church Bulletin: Don’t Kill It, Make It Better

Church Bulletin: Don’t Kill It, Make It Better

November 11, 2015 by

Earlier this year Mark MacDonald shared his thoughts on why print is dying and should be replaced by digital alternatives.

While digital communication is certainly a must for all churches, eliminating bulletins doesn’t always solve the challenge of communicating in the 21st Century.

Plenty of Options

Print’s long-term viability isn’t the issue. It’s simply that there are more options now.

While choices can feel overwhelming, this is a fantastic opportunity to better communicate with those walking through our doors.

To do so, we have to consider our audiences and how the bulletin and any other communication channel can work together to support our broader efforts.

When the Bulletin Is Gone

I used to work for a multi-site church with around 1,000 people at its main campus. Most who attended were in their 30s, and there was a growing teenage population due to the thriving midweek youth group.

There was a lot of change occurring at the time, and with the number of ministries shrinking and amount of work and campuses growing, we chose to temporarily “kill the bulletin” until we could regroup.

While it seemed to work at first, there were several opportunities missed.

The Welcome Mat

Pulling the bulletin removes an easy and effective welcome mat for visitors.

Visiting a church can be nerve racking.

If it’s a smaller church, a guest’s presence is sure to be noticed—and the attention could be too much to bear. If the church is larger, then a guest could feel lost in a crowd.

While it’s optimistic to hope that every new person will be greeted warmly and given just the right amount of information to make their visit enjoyable and informative, it’s probably not reality.

Consider some of the other common Sunday communication channels:

  • Slides do a great job of pushing people to other locations for more information or serving as reminders of regularly occurring events such as men’s and women’s groups.
  • Church apps contain mobile-friendly information for your visitors if they know the app exists. It’s important to consider that not everyone is looking to download a church’s app without commitment to the community.
  • Mobile-friendly church websites make it easy to consume information, but there might be more than needed for the visitor just browsing on a Sunday. This is made easier, however, when being referred to a specific page from another communication source.
  • Video and stage announcements can definitely give a great overview, but a guest will either need to act on the information right away or quickly write down the action step(s) to follow up later.
Hospitality is not just making someone feel welcome, it’s also removing obstacles to connection.

Pulling the bulletin removes an easy and effective welcome mat for visitors.

Most Sunday communication channels rely on people being in the right place at the right time—such as catching a particular slide before it switches or having a church volunteer identify a visitor.

Hospitality is not only about making someone feel welcome, it’s also removing as many obstacles to connection as possible.

The Captive Audience

My church’s guest services team recently began the practice of visiting with those seated in the auditorium before service.

Our volunteers strike up conversations that lead to questions about how we can help our guests get connected into community at our church. We’re still gathering data to determine the full scope of this strategy’s effectiveness, but the anecdotal information we currently have shows significant potential.

I share this to highlight that the pre-service time is an opportunity not to be missed. If you remove your bulletin, how else can you make sure to communicate with a smaller, but captive audience of early arrivals?

There are definitely options, but a printed bulletin is an easy first step.

The Quick Reply

Printed pieces on Sundays can make submitting information hassle-free for the congregation.

While the collection of information—from sign-ups to prayer requests—can be most easily managed directly online, printed pieces on Sundays can make submitting information hassle-free for the congregation and increase response rates to a particular call-to-action.

Going without a bulletin means either eliminating this communication channel or finding a different way of distributing a connection-oriented response card and other resources such as note sheets.

Multiple pieces of paper can be a hassle, and digital response cards through an online form may not be accessible to everyone in your congregation and/or are inconvenient for those wishing to quickly connect with you.

Why the Bulletin Matters

1. It’s hospitality at its best.

Good hospitality will remind your congregation that church is a people and not a place.

At the very least, your bulletin allows you to present the most important and current happenings at your church, along with general information.

By handing this information to your guests, you’re giving them an excellent starting point for discovering your church. If they attend regularly, then the reminder gives them an opportunity to seek more information in person and respond while it’s fresh in their minds.

Good hospitality will remind your congregation that church is a people and not a place.

2. It gives an opportunity to connect into community at your church.

By outlining your current events that affect the majority of those in attendance on Sundays, you can more easily direct people to where they can take action. This can be online or a printed response card that is included with or attached to the bulletin.

Our bulletin at Willamette Christian Church is a single piece of cardstock with information on one side (two announcements total) and space to take notes on the back.

Toward the bottom is a perforated section that can be filled out with contact information and any action step we include. Guests then tear it off and drop it in a box on their way out.

Being a multi-generational church, we recognize that print is accessible by everyone, and sometimes digital can actually be inconvenient compared to something right in front of you.

Bringing the Bulletin Into 2015

Each church is different and there is no debating that our world is growing increasingly digital.

So how do we integrate a printed bulletin into a comprehensive marketing strategy?

Figure Out Where to Share, Then Connect the Dots

The best first step is to take inventory of what channels exist. Where can you share information from to reach your congregation?

Create a list of places, then figure out how each item of information you need to share can fit in these different channels.

In some situations, you won’t need to share information everywhere.

For instance, when we promote men’s ministry at my church, it ends up in the video announcements, bulletin, email updates, social media and push notifications on our app. It affects a lot of people in our congregation, so I make sure to share it everywhere, customizing the message for each platform.

Conversely, our building tour for first-time/new guests happens routinely on the last Sunday of the month. It’s a 15-minute tour, and most people make the decision to attend that day. As a result, we only promote it in our bulletin on that particular Sunday.

Simplify your bulletin by giving only the necessary information.

Need help creating a stronger communications plan? Phil Bowdle has an excellent free resource on his website.

Give just enough information.

Simplify your bulletin by giving only the necessary information.

It shouldn’t be a printed version of your website. Include basic service and contact information, along with maybe two or three timely announcements. Consider integrating your response card with it as well so there’s less to hand out.

For some ideas on how other churches format their bulletins, take a look at this previous article pulling lessons from example bulletins. I’ve also included my church’s bulletin here for you to see.

Make it a gateway to your digital spaces.

In a similar point to the previous one, don’t make it be the one-stop shop for information about your church. Include short, easy to type links that will get your congregation to your website with as few mistakes and typos as possible.

If that’s not possible, direct them to your homepage and make sure there’s a quick link to content you promoted during Sunday service(s).

It’s not a matter of replacing the printed bulletin with a digital one. It’s about sharing your message in different ways across multiple platforms, with each message reinforcing the other.

Simplify your bulletin by giving only the necessary information.

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Post By:

Andrew Hansen

Andrew Hansen is a Southern California native living in the great city of Portland, Ore., where he serves as the communications director for Willamette Christian Church and adjunct instructor at the University of Portland. Connect with him on Twitter!
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6 Responses to “Church Bulletin: Don’t Kill It, Make It Better”

  • Patt Courtemanche
    November 17, 2015

    Such a timely and wonderful article! We are a new church and don’t typically have a ton of announcements but we do have some. I listened to a podcast by Thom Rainer talking about the bulletin being very friendly to your visitors but didn’t quite know how to go about that. Your article has given me some new insight! Thanks for the links to examples as well.

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    • Andrew Hansen
      November 17, 2015

      Patt –

      That’s awesome! If you need to bounce ideas off someone, feel free to email me at

      Even if you don’t have a ton of announcements, the bulletin could serve as a great introduction to your church, how to stay in touch, and basic next steps (giving, small groups, etc.).

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  • Crystal Kirkman
    November 17, 2015

    I agree that the printed bulletin can be pretty effective if done right, and each church has to customize it according to their own needs.

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  • Meredith Gould
    November 17, 2015

    Yes to making it a “gateway to your digital spaces” and not just the website.

    Just like bulletins always include email and phone number info, I wish bulletin would routinely include (as in: make it boilerplate!) an invitation to silence phones but participate via social media.

    From Appendix E (Some Boilerplate to Use or Tweak…You’re Welcome) from the 2nd edition of The Social Media Gospel:
    “You’re invited to put your smartphones on ‘silent mode’ so you can use thyem to share via social media what you discover, learn, see, and enjoy here at [church name]. Don’t forget to use our hashtag! #[church/denomination].”

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    • Andrew Hansen
      November 17, 2015

      Great points. I think the gateway piece can also serve non-digital spaces well too.

      We’re currently redesigning the front of ours to include a better call to action for giving, as well as encourage new people to swing past our front desk to get a larger print piece with an overview of our ministries.

      The most important thing here is to be willing to consistently change it up as you find what does and does not work. We typically don’t have a problem doing this with social media strategy, but for some reason it can feel daunting with print.

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  • Bethany
    November 17, 2015

    I’d love to see some examples of bulletins that do this well. I work for a medium-sized, more traditional Baptist church that likes to include a great deal of information. It’s helpful to a degree, but can be overwhelming.

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