What's in this session?

  • Does your church have a bulletin? 64% of responders said yes; 36% said no (0:31)
  • This episode isn’t about eliminating your church’s bulletin (1:04)
  • Principle #1: There is value in physical handouts at an in-person experience (1:20)
  • Principle #2: Your church’s bulletin should align with your overall communication strategy (2:37)
  • Principle #3: The less the content changes - the better (average cost of printing bulletin is $0.25 - a church of 100 people printing weekly bulletins costs more than $100/month) (3:29)
  • Our overall communication strategy is The Central Hub - a single destination for every next step (5:10)
  • Idea #1: Your bulletin should inspire action, not simply contain information (8:20)
  • Idea #2: Your bulletin design should align with your church’s style guide (8:51)
  • Idea #3: Your bulletin should be just as useful for new folks as it regular attendees (10:03)
  • Idea #4: Your bulletin could be distributed monthly instead of weekly (11:14)
  • Idea #5: Your bulletin should point your church to The Central Hub (13:35)
  • What to include in your bulletin? Four squares -> Small groups, giving, prayer request, one BIG event (13:39)

Show notes and resources

Free Bonus: Click here to download The Church Announcements Script Bundle – this free download includes 8 pre-written announcement scripts that you can swipe and start using in your church

The Transcript

Brady Shearer: Most churches still use bulletins. With that being said, when was the last time you examined the true purpose of your church bulletin and whether or not it’s accomplishing its goal? In this podcast, we’ll lay out a series of principles that we believe a church bulletin should abide by and we’ll even give you a free bulletin Photoshop template to help you create your own.

Alex Mills: Well, hey there, and welcome to Pro Church Tools, the show to help you share the message of Jesus while we navigate the biggest communication shift in 500 years. I’m your host Alex Mills, joined as always by Brady Shearer.

Brady Shearer: I asked my Instagram stories following yesterday, Alex, does your church have a bulletin? Yes or no? It’s 759 total responses as of 15 hours ago, so we didn’t let this story run the full 24 hours. We had to get in the booth and start recording. But, of those 759 total responses, 64% of these churches and church leaders said yes, 36% said no.

Alex Mills: I was one of the 64% who said yes.

Brady Shearer: There you go.

Alex Mills: Yep.

Brady Shearer: The majority of our churches still using church bulletins, and I will make this disclaimer at the beginning of this episode. This is not an episode about how church bulletins are stupid and you need to eliminate them, though some would say it’s on brand for us. Let’s start with three principles that we believe should be guiding your bulletin design and also guiding your bulletin strategy. Principle number one, we do fully believe this, as much as we love digital, there is value in physical handouts at an in person experience.

Alex Mills: Sure there is.

Brady Shearer: We go to a lot of restaurants, you and I, because we like to eat. I think there’s one restaurant, it’s the sushi place that we go to, that hands out iPads or tablets to actually order our food. Aside from that, every other restaurant we go to hands out a physical paper, cardboard laminated menu. [crosstalk 00:01:47] back to normal. There is value in having a physical handout at an in person experience.

Alex Mills: Yeah, there definitely is. I know this from personal experience. I’m in the vast minority of people at our church who don’t find value in that printed piece of paper. Most of our church members, if the printer’s out of toner or something and we don’t get to print the bulletins, they’re like where’s the bulletin? I was looking forward to X, Y, and Z in the bulletin this week. I was going to use that for message notes. Now what am I going to do? People really do find a lot of value in that printed material, so this episode is going to serve to help us evaluate hey, people want this. There’s value in this. How can we make sure that what we’re doing with our bulletin is on brand and on mission for the greater value systems of our church?

Brady Shearer: Principle number two, your church’s bulletin should align with your overall communication strategy. The problem with so many church bulletins is that they exist within a vacuum. You’ve been doing the bulletin for 25 years and you’ve done it one way, and you’re still doing it that way. You’ve updated your website, you’ve updated so much of your communication strategies. You’re doing all of this work, and good work, on social media. Maybe you’re pointing everyone to a single destination for all your next steps, but then your bulletin is still living in the Dark Ages. Again, there’s nothing wrong with the physical handouts. This episode is more about optimizing and improving and evolving your bulletin to play in to your whole communication strategy because we do think it should align with everything else. It shouldn’t be this thing that’s on its own that you’re still doing for a small group of people but it really doesn’t apply to anything else. That’s when it can actually be harmful.

Principle number three, the less the content changes, the better. This is a principle that is pretty antithetical to how the bulletin has existed for the last probably 25 years, but we think that there’s a lot to gain by having a bulletin that is maybe distributed monthly instead of weekly, and I actually have two DMs from members of Pro Church nation that reached out voluntarily when I posted this poll. The first one said we have a welcome guide, in brackets. It’s a bulletin. But, I will say, we focus very little on weekly announcements. Instead, make it a first impressions tool. The content has hardly changed, so it’s not as stressful as it used to be when we were updating almost all of the content each week. Somebody else said we’ve gone from weekly to monthly and it actually has allowed us to be so much more creative with our bulletin.

Principle number three of the bulletin, the less the content changes, the better. We actually asked, this was a little while ago, I asked people how much they were paying for their bulletin when it comes to the paper cost, the printer maintenance, whether you do it in house or you’re sending it [crosstalk 00:04:33]

Alex Mills: I would have no idea what it costs for us to print bulletins.

Brady Shearer: Yeah, so we asked about 150 churches and it was pretty wide ranging. The average came out to about 25 cents each bulletin. So, if you’re a church of about 100 people, like Alex is in, and you’re printing 100 bulletins each and every week, that works out to like $109 every month, which for a church of 100 is not a small expense. That’s considerable. This episode is also about finding a way to make your bulletin a little bit more cost effective. Those are the three principles that we think your bulletins should abide by. The principle, the second one, which is bulletin should work within your overall communication strategy, well what is our overall communication strategy? We’ve been teaching it for a while. It’s called the central hub, and it’s very simple. The idea is that you should have a single destination for every single next step in your church. Instead of sometimes pointing your church to your website and sometimes to your Connect Desk and sometimes to your app and sometimes to email the pastor or to call the church office or to talk to leader Betty after the service, just have one spot. Ideally a website so that it can be accessed 24/7, not just on Sunday mornings during service. We think that your bulletin should live within and abide in and help contribute to this overall communication strategy.

Alex Mills: Yeah, and that’s an important distinction to make because some people may be watching or listening and say well hey, Brady, hey, Alex, you guys talk all the time about having that central hub online for online connect cards, let’s say, or online sign ups for your women’s conference. Well, why are you printing materials as well? Well, it’s not another opportunity to sign up for something or to take that next step. Your bulletin is going to serve to point to that central hub, that one location that you have for every single next step. Whether it’s your website or however you are communicating at your church, your bulletin is going to serve not as the medium itself, but as a messenger to point to hey, this is where you’re going to take that next step. Your central hub.

Brady Shearer: The bulletin template we’re about to introduce to you does play into this central hub communication strategy. Separate from that, it won’t be as helpful. If you want to learn more about the central hub strategy, we’ll have the full guide linked in the show notes and YouTube description. Within this guide, you can see real churches, how they’ve implemented it and the results that they’ve got. At this point, if you’re watching, we want to show you what our bulletin template looks like. This is freely available for you to download. If you’re on the podcast listening, it’ll be in the show notes. If you are on YouTube video, you can click the link to download, no opt in required. This is a Photoshop template, so you will need that type of software to edit it. What we’ve done with this template is we’ve tried to take the central hub strategy and create a template for the bulletin that is supplementary to that. It is complimentary as well, in that it’s working with the overall strategy. There are a couple of different things that go into this design.

On the front side, you’ll see four individual squares. If you know what a Nucleus website looks like, you’ll probably recognize the design because we carried over the style guide from Nucleus to the bulletin. There’s four different squares that you can customize the color, you can customize the photo and the call to action. On the back side, we have a bunch of these frequently asked questions. These are the types of questions that, if someone is new to your church, they’re probably thinking. They might not ask out loud to somebody, but they’re running through the back of their head. You could also, if you wanted to, play with the design. Swap out the frequently asked questions for a sermon note. We know a lot of church bulletins have sermon notes.

Alex Mills: Oh man, our church loves that.

Brady Shearer: Yeah, a lot of churches do love that. They love taking those physical notes. If that’s something you want to swap out in lieu of the frequently asked questions, that can be a great thing as well. Let’s talk through this bulletin design and some of the design choices that we’ve made with the bulletin to accomplish and fulfill those three principles that we just walked through. The first thing is that we believe your bulletin should inspire action, not simply contain and share information. You’ll notice in this bulletin design, at the bottom of both the front and the back side, there’s a big black button that points to a URL. In this case, we have lifeabundant.ca, which goes to our Nucleus demo site. The point of this is that your bulletin should be pointing to that central hub, that destination. It’s working alongside and aligning with your overall communication strategy, not working within its own vacuum. Idea number two, we think your bulletin design should align with your church’s style guides. If you look at this, it will look like your Nucleus. If you’re not using Nucleus, you could adjust the design to match your website.

Alex Mills: Yeah, I think that’s the problem I see a lot with churches who are still printing bulletins, is that, like you said, maybe they’ve been printing them the same way for the last 20 years, and they have a website now. They’ve just actually redone their website and they have a new logo, but none of those design assets, none of those style elements, get translated to the printed material for some reason. I’m not sure why we neglect the printed material. We’re just like oh, we’ve always done it this way. This is fine.

Brady Shearer: I mean, all bulletins look the same.

Alex Mills: Yeah, exactly. Often, the-

Brady Shearer: They all have clip art. They all have Times New Roman.

Alex Mills: … Yeah.

Brady Shearer: There’s so much italics. I just don’t know why.

Alex Mills: There’s so many different fonts. It’s like why can’t this printed material reflect our digital material as well so it looks like it’s from the same people? That’s a super important element of this. What’s great about this Photoshop file is that you can use the bones of it and customize it the way you want to adhere to your church’s style guide so it looks like you.

Brady Shearer: The third idea that we think you can add to your bulletin is that we think your bulletin should be just as useful for people that are new to your church as it is to regular attenders. You know, a lot of bulletins can feel like the insider’s guide.

Alex Mills: Right.

Brady Shearer: Right? You read a bulletin and there’s a lot of names you don’t recognize and there’s a lot of insider information. That’s just one thing that can happen within a service that can make someone who’s new feel like an outsider. We always want to do everything that we can to make those that are new to our church feel welcome and feel like hey, this isn’t some small social club that’s going to be hard for you to break into, because that can create a lasting first impression, and not the good type of first impression.

Alex Mills: Yeah, and that’s why we love that frequently asked section bit on the back of the bulletin, which to most I’m sure will be kind of a new idea. I had never actually seen it before until we came up with it. I was like oh, this is a great idea because not only can we serve by giving information on the front, but on the back we can preemptively address some objections that first time visitors may have. They may be sitting alone, wondering the answer to a question and not really knowing who to ask or whatever. You can put that answer. Provide it before they even have the chance to ask the question on the back of your bulletin.

Brady Shearer: Another idea. This type of bulletin template will allow you to print it monthly instead of every single week. It exists within those parameters. It’s meant to be distributed in that way, which will save you money but also get people more used to using your central hub. What’s amazing about digital material is that it can be edited on the fly without any consequences. How many times have we seen an error or a misspelling in a bulletin? Hey, that’s been done. Once it’s printed, I mean, you’re probably not going to reprint all 100 of them. We’ll wait until next week. There are so many fun gaffes that we can-

Alex Mills: Oh, the best.

Brady Shearer: … share about within bulletins because once it’s printed it’s permanent. We recommend having a card on your Nucleus, having an area in your central hub that if you need to be editing and constantly updating these very intricate details, these specifics about things happening in your church, don’t leave that on the bulletin. Have a card on your bulletin on that front design that points to that, but don’t try to cram that all into a physically printed thing because it’s just going to make things more difficult for you. Once it’s printed, it’s forever. If you make a mistake on digital, you can fix it. If you need to add something last minute because it’s Saturday night and someone told you hey, did we get this in there? Oh, well, thankfully it’s all online. You can change it last minute and it’s not super stressful or super hectic. Maybe you’re on your Nucleus in the service on mobile editing it.

Alex Mills: Yep, fixing it up.

Brady Shearer: That happens a lot.

Alex Mills: Yes.

Brady Shearer: We were at a concert this week.

Alex Mills: This happened in real life. I watched. I wondered if I was in an alternate reality. I couldn’t believe that I saw what I was seeing. We were at a concert. I walked up and you were talking to a gentleman that I hadn’t had the chance to introduce myself to. I walked up from behind this guy and I saw him on his phone. He was editing his website on Nucleus. I looked around. I’m like, is this real life? Is this happening? He was at a Kings Kaleidoscope concert, waiting for the opening band to start, and he thought-

Brady Shearer: Caesar’s Palace in Toronto. [crosstalk 00:13:10] it was dark and dingy as it could be.

Alex Mills: Yeah, he’s like I got to fix this thing on the web, so I’m just going to do it on my phone. I was like, this is amazing.

Brady Shearer: Editing his Nucleus in the club.

Alex Mills: Yep, making moves.

Brady Shearer: Pretty amazing.

Alex Mills: Can’t do that with print.

Brady Shearer: Yeah, and he was doing it because he had a question or something from his church. He was like you know what? This needs to be changed. If that was done in print, he couldn’t change it until tomorrow, and then, again, it would incur all of the costs of changing it because you’d have to print it all over again. Final thing, your bulletin should point your church to the central hub. We’ve talked about that. What should you include in your bulletin? This is probably a question that you’re probably thinking through. In our bulletin template, there are four squares on the front. If I had to fill in those squares, I would do the following. Number one, I’d have a square for small groups, I’d have one for giving, I’d have one for prayer requests, and then I’d have one that I’d cycle out every single month for that one big event.

We’re recording this in May, which means that a lot of churches have their VBS coming up, so I would probably have the May or June big event card filled in with the VBS. Probably the one big event that you want to highlight. Bulletins are notorious for taking every single thing your church could, would, and might be doing and then stuffing them into a 14 page folded giant booklet. This is the opposite of that. It’s the simple, minimalist approach to a bulletin because we think that your central hub, your website, can fill the need of having all that information. The problem with taking every piece of information and stuffing it into one location is that sure, there are some people that are going to need that tiny little bit of detail, but most won’t. If you try to stuff in everything at once, much like a website, if you try to put everything on one page and you have a giant slider and there’s all of these different calls to action and everything is just chaotic, people don’t receive the information. They just tune it out because it’s too difficult to navigate.

Alex Mills: I’ve never really understood the tri-fold bulletins that have every bit of information you could ever imagine that you need to know about what’s going on at church. I’m always wondering when are you expecting people to read this? They come to church, they pick up their bulletin, they take a seat. The countdown hits zero and you’re getting up on stage because there’s stuff to do. There’s songs to sing, there’s words to preach. We’re here for a reason. When are people supposed to read this? Then?

Brady Shearer: During the message.

Alex Mills: Right. So, these four cards are basically just titles with a call to action that says hey, if you want more information about this, go here. In 30 seconds, they could say okay, this is what’s going on at church this month and if I want more information about VBS, where can I go? Well, I can go to the lobby after the service and there’s a volunteer standing near the lobby kiosk. They can show me on the site how to sign my kids up for VBS, so I don’t have to worry about doing that during the service. It’s just bringing it to my awareness and saying hey, if you want more information, let’s do this after the service. It just makes sense to me.

Brady Shearer: This approach to bulletins will save you money because you can print less bulletins. This approach will train and teach your church how to use the central hub. There’s always a bit of a learning curve. If all of your communication platforms are aligned with one singular purpose, that’s great. People will learn and adopt to the new platforms faster. This will also work for new visitors, for regular attenders. It won’t be so chaotic, so it’s approachable for every person in your church. Again, this template is a Photoshop template. Fully downloadable, fully free. You don’t even need to enter your email or anything like that. The link is in the description in the show notes. That’ll do it for this episode of Pro Church Tools. We’ll see you next time.

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