Church Bulletins
The Most Important Piece of Christian Literature
Outside the Bible

(by Yvon Prehn, of Effective Church Communication)

"Church bulletins? You must be kidding!"

Think about it. That bulletin (or worship guide or whatever you choose to call it) is for some people the very first piece of Christian literature they see. It is certainly the very first information a visitor reads about your church.

For many it is their first serious introduction to Jesus.

In our secularized society today many people grow up without reading the Bible or any kind of Christian material. At the same time,

  • everyone has a spiritual vacuum inside
  • the Holy Spirit is active in our world convicting people of their need for God
  • tragedies happen personally and globally

In response to all these promptings, people will come to your church looking for answers.

When they come to your church, they will read anything you put into their hands.

When that happens, what do you give to a person whose eternal destiny may be decided in the next hour?

You give them a bulletin. What does it say to them?

Sometimes a Church Bulletin Has:

  • A warm welcome on the front
  • An Order of Service that clearly explains what is going on
  • An announcement section that is inclusive of visitors and contains all the information needed to make a connection
  • A clear explanation of how a person can become a Christian, what that means, what steps to take.
  • Connections at the church, specific contact people (who will immediately respond), phone numbers and email, where a person can contact someone about the church and the Christian life.
  • Website resources that answer questions about the Christian faith.
  • A connection card that allows the visitor to reach back to the church with contact information, prayer requests and questions.
  • Additional information, tiny stories, challenges, mission opportunities that show what the church is like in its involvement with the community and the world.
  • An overall tone that is loving, welcoming, accepting and inviting.

If these ingredients are part of church bulletins, the bulletin can literally redirect a life for time and eternity.

If Only That Was Always What Happens

I have worked with church communications for over three decades and it has been a joy to see bulletins with the material described above. The churches that have bulletins with these ingredients tend to be alive and growing. But sadly, the churches that have bulletins like this are in the minority.

Though churches don't grow in numbers or their people in Christian maturity with bulletins that do less than the job they could do, their congregations are not the only ones harmed. George Barna tells us that 91 percent of unchurched people believe the church is not sensitive to their needs and because of that, they often don't return after one visit. Where do they get that idea?

I think we tell them we don't care by what we communicate with our church bulletins. We tell people we don't care by giving them a bulletin that:

  • Doesn't bother to tell people what is happening during the church service because they assume everybody who attends loves to praise God and sing for 30-40 minutes.
  • Is filled with insider jargon and terms that don't make sense to anyone who doesn't regularly attend church.
  • Contains schedules that talk about events and meetings without explaining them with the assumption that everybody knows what the church is talking about.
  • That tells visitors to contact a staff member with questions, but doesn't have a phone number near that statement.
  • That contains a large graphic that asks, "Have you made your pledge yet?" This is in addition to pitaful pleas for help in the nursery.
  • The unchurched person reads the bulletin and concludes that this is a place for insiders only and they don't belong.

    PASTORS: keep in mind that these impressions and conclusions all take place before you get up to deliver your message.

    You can pour your heart and soul into a Biblical, challenging message that strives to connect people to Jesus and inspires them to live lives of service and discipleship sacrifice, but your church bulletin can sabotage your message in the hearts of newcomers before you get up to speak.

    Our intentions don't change the results

    Of course we don't mean to do that, but try to take a look at the bulletin produced by your church office with the eyes of someone totally unfamiliar with how a church operates and see what sort of message you would get from it. If it isn't the message you want to communicate, you may want to modify it.

    One tool that may help you see how your church is communicating to those who are unfamiliar with it, is a selection of books from the Effective Church Communications Great Ideas and Sample Swap .

    There are four books in this collection that have over 100 pages of church bulletin samples in each one. These books can be useful in many ways—many people use them for ideas to improve their church bulletins and this is a great use of them.

    In addition, one educational use of them is to look at them and pretend that you are a visitor at the church that created the church bulletin. Go a step further and try to see the church bulletin as if you were totally unfamiliar with attending church, any church.

    What would make sense to you? What would be confusing? Is there anywhere in the church bulletin that tells you how to connect with God? Does it show you how to begin a personal relationship with Jesus? Does it tell you where to go if you have questions about the Christian faith? From looking at it, reading it over (as visitors tend to do, even if your regular attenders don't) what is the church like, the people like from the bulletin? Do you want to spend more time with them?

    Remember that the church bulletin is the one thing that people take home from church. They may forget the inspiring sermon and music. They most certainly won't remember the PowerPoint slides flashed on the screen past the service — but they have the bulletin to remind them about all the things the church wants them to remember. It is the one connection to your church and Jesus they have when they leave the church.

    Ask that the Lord give you clear eyes to see what He wants you to see from this exercise, not to make you feel badly about any of your work, but to help you be more creative and clear as you communicate to broken and seeking hearts of visitors.

    Consider doing this exercise as a communication team or staff to evaluate the effectiveness of your church bulletin. You can get copies of the four volumes of the Church Bulletin Sample books in the resource section of my web site.

    One More Thing about Creating Service and Church Bulletins for Seekers

    Many churches today are very concerned about being "seeker-sensitive." In an effort to appeal to unchurched people they use multimedia, contemporary music and sometimes produce a short skit or drama. All of these efforts can be very effective, but all of the communications of your church must work together if you want to communicate a consistent, true message.

    Look at your bulletin to see if it has the same tone, style and message of your service. If your stage presentation says "Welcome to the 21th century, all seekers" and your bulletin says "This is how we’ve done it since 1950 and if you don't understand our terms too bad for you," you may not get the results you are praying for.

    Printed publications: weakest link or strong connection?

    The printed pieces we put into people's hands can either turn them away from our church or they can be the link that will bring them back next week and get them to attend a small group, social activity, or event for their children. They can either shut doors or welcome people home.

    With this reality in mind, those of you producing the church bulletin and other publications in the church office have tremendous power and responsibility that is often overlooked. As a reminder of what I said earlier, the greatest musical worship and the most powerful sermon can be drained of power by a bulletin that is offensive or insider-only oriented. For example, a bulletin (I won't tell where it is from) that I came across, said in large letters across the front:

    Bridge to the Future is Taking Place!
    $530,000 has been given so far—
    the debt is 3.5 million.
    Have you made a pledge yet?

    Imagine you are a first time visitor — you walk into the church and you are handed this piece with this message as the first one you see from the church. Are you going to come back? I doubt it. One of the largest complaints people have about churches is that all they want is our money. What does this bulletin say? All we want is your money.

    It is a good thing to keep the congregation updated on finances, a listing of offerings and where the church stands in relationship to the budget is a good idea and can be tastefully taken care of in the bulletin. I've seen many examples of a small box that keeps members updated and is done in a tasteful way without commentary.

    This kind of financial challenge is not appropriate for the COVER of the church bulletin. The status of the fund-raising, along with a hard-hitting challenge might be given to the adult Sunday School classes, discipleship groups, or some other class of people committed to the church. It is inappropriate in the church bulletin given to all visitors. Visitors don't make pledges after reading something like this other than one not to return to that church.

    If you want to go beyond the negatives and want to learn what you need to include, please see our additional article: The Ingredients of a Good Bulletin.

    Return from this page, Church Bulletins, 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.

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