Church Bulletin Jargon
(by Yvon Prehn of Effective Church Communication)
Religious jargon in your church bulletin can sabotage your outreach effort.
Jesus commanded us to reach our world and most churches make a serious effort to do that. At the same time a survey by George Barna shows 91% of unchurched people feel the church is not sensitive to their needs. Why is that happening if our primary calling is to reach them for Jesus? I think part of the answer is in our church jargon in our communications, especially our church bulletins.
An unchurched person walks into your church. Maybe a friend invited them, maybe they were simply lonely and wanted to be around people on Sunday morning. We know that they have a God-shaped vacuum inside. We know their hearts are restless until they rest in Jesus. We know the Holy Spirit is at work to convict them of their need for salvation. They sit down in the quiet minutes before the service and they will read anything we put in their hands.
What do we give them? The church bulletin.
What does it say? Try to put yourself in the place of a total stranger who may not have grown up in a church or ever read the Bible. Imagine your response.
Bulletin cover: often either picture of the church, clip art, or color picture of scenery. Names of church staff, address, sometimes lists of other names of elders, board members, etc.
Possible response: Who are these people? I know what the church looks like, I walked into it, I'm sitting in it. Why a picture of it?
Inside the Bulletin
There may be an order of service... or maybe not, which means the person has no idea how long the singing will last, how long the service will last, what will happen, what they are supposed to do. If there is an order of service it may contain terms like:
- Prelude songs or Introit
- Congregational reading
- Songs of praise
Hymns such as "Tis So Sweet To Trust in Jesus", choruses: "Open the Eyes of My Heart," and "Be Magnified" no words or page numbers given.
Announcements: Actual Examples:
- We are so glad for those who were able to come to the licensing Service for Rusty. I know you received a blessing from the Lord.
- AWANA GRAND PRIX RACES: Check in 11 am. Racing begins at 12 noon. There are racing divisions for: Chubbies, Sparks, Pals, Chums, Pioneers, Guards, and Leaders.
- Moses had Aaron and Hur to hold his arms up. Would you be willing to join a pastoral prayer team to hold up our pastoral staff? Sign up on the Feedback Sheet.
- Upcoming events: Friend Day with Cathy McBride-November 4; Greater than Rubies-November 13; Caring Hearts Luncheon-November 28
Possible response to all of the above that made little or no sense to the visitor reading it:
What are these people talking about? As an outsider, I obviously don't belong here.
We Often Aren't Aware of Our Jargon
We know we shouldn't use terms like justification and sanctification when we are first talking to unchurched folks, but we don't even see so much of our church jargon. The examples above are all out of real church bulletins and similar ones could be repeated thousands of times.
Our insider talk, terms and jargon permeates the initial printed pieces we give visitors telling them that this church is for those in the know only.
We don't even see it, but they do and they don't come back.
Get visitor input
Look at your church bulletin and other publications that are first seen by visitors and ask the Lord to help you see them as a visitor would.
One eye-opening way to find this out is to hire (that's right, pay them a decent hourly wage) to look at your church bulletin and simply ask them to put into their own words what you are saying.
Don't ask them if they like it or if it makes sense or anything like that—many folks are honestly nice and they will lie to you to make you feel good. But if you ask them to resay what they just read and you find them stumbling around and saying things like: "Well, I think here you are talking about...um....little kids? Or what is promise land again? Or what are the "Becomers" becoming?....or I think you're supposed to put a little key code (this really was the case in one church) on this slip of paper and then tear it off and put it into a box in the back if you want to participate in a beach clean up...is that right?...."
If this is the sort of response you get, if what you want people to do, isn't immediately clear, you might want to work on your communications to improve the clarity.
Paying people to test and see if they can use your website is a very big deal today; it's the world of "usability testing." Though I agree this is extremely important to do if you want your website to be useful it is just as important to make sure your church bulletin is useful.
Start by Being Clear with Your Welcome
Ask yourself what would make you feel welcome? What would be confusing to you if you were a complete stranger to church?
At the least, as part of welcoming people, tell them what is going on. On pages of announcements, in addition to explaining the event, give complete information such as beginning and ending times, locations, contact phone numbers, etc. In addition, to let guests and infrequent attenders know they are welcome at events outside Sunday morning, you might consider some sort of heading such as:
"Church Family Activities: below are all of the events taking place in our church this week. We realize that newcomers might not be familiar with all the programs or people. Please call 123-4567, email email@example.com or visit our website, www.ourchurch.com for explanations and more complete descriptions. We welcome you and invite you to participate in all of the activities of our church."
A brief notice such as that at least acknowledges that strangers might be in the congregation.
Don't Assume Understanding, Follow Up
Follow up with some visitors-especially those who are new to church and ask them what would make them feel more welcome, what would they like to see in the church bulletin they get when they come in the door.
Some churches send out postcards asking for feedback along with a welcome letter. A number of churches in my seminars have found this very helpful. I personally think it's really irritating and bothersome, but it has worked well for quite a few churches. Others do casual phone calls and ask for feedback; others wait until someone is part of a membership class and then as part of it they ask how welcome they felt as visitors, what made sense and what did not.
Bottom line here is that different methods work for different styles and types of churches. Try different ones until you find something that works well for you.
However we decide to do follow up, after we do it, make some changes and then ask for responses again. We have incredible communication tools and technology and we may need to fine tune our church bulletins and get rid of our jargon so visitors feel the church cares for them as much as the Savior who died for them.
Return from this page, Church Bulletin, to the main page, Church Bulletin Ideas.
The above material is from the book: The Church Bulletin, The Most Important Church Communication Today, Outside the Bible by Yvon Prehn. For more instruction, examples and ideas about church bulletins and other church communications, visit my web site, Effective Church Communication.