From my email:
"We're doing our announcements on PowerPoint and we have all the information about our weekly activities on our website. We are an outreach oriented, contemporary church and our staff has been wondering-do we still need a written bulletin so in this age of technology?"
This is a great question. The answer is more complex than a simple "yes" or "no," so let's take some time to explore the issues.
The context of church communication today: multi-channel
Before we look specifically at the bulletin, it helps to look at the context of church and ministry communications overall. At my church communication seminars, I am often asked, especially by churches involved heavily in technology, if there is ONE way to communicate that works best for churches today: it is the web, email, PowerPoint, instant messaging and multi-media phones, or through blogs, podcasting, twittering and social networks?
Understandably churches feel overwhelmed by the volume of communication that needs to take place and if they could just concentrate on one or two technologically powerful tools, church staffs often feel life would be so much easier. Unfortunately, ministry communications isn't an area where church life can be simplified. The reason is in the church today we have people who span every level of involvement in technology from those who are never unhooked from their web-enabled cell phone and who check their email as it comes into those who will live long, happy and fulfilled lives and never go online.
If we follow the biblical command to "be all things to all people that we might win some," yes, we need the latest tech tools and means of communication, but along with the killer website and fantastic slide shows at worship, handwritten notes from the pastor and printed calendars are still useful-and so is a written bulletin.
We live in an age where we do need to keep adding forms of communication technology to our ministry, but where we can't really do away with anything. We need to communicate through every available channel so that no matter where people are in terms of technology they can understand and respond to our message.
How being outreach-oriented applies to decisions about bulletins
If a church is truly outreach-oriented, and if newcomers are attending each week, though we may feel that cutting-edge technology is useful for the worship service and image, it may not touch people who are new to the church.
For example, if someone comes in late, if they had trouble parking or locating childcare, they may not make it into the service to see the announcements you've just shown on PowerPoint. Also, a new person may not even know you have a website or what is on it. Your bulletin might be the first place they learn you have a website. Without a written bulletin they will have no idea what sort of activities you offer during the week or what is happening in the worship service itself.
For a truly unchurched person to visit your church, for a service to start with 30 minutes of people singing songs they don't know, and then watching an often amateur skit, all with no explanation of what it's all about and not knowing what comes next isn't particularly "seeker-friendly." I often remind pastors that it can be a mentally challenging obstacle course for a new person to make it to the part of your service where you get a chance to present your relevant and life-changing sermon. A written bulletin can explain the process and purpose and put the worship activities in perspective from the minute a visitor sits down.
For regular attendees, even if they see the PowerPoint announcements before church, chances are when Thursday night comes around and they need to remember what the kids are supposed to bring to youth group and where it's going to be held, they won't remember the PowerPoint, no matter how beautiful the graphics. For regular attenders, if it isn't on the refrigerator in the form of a postcard or bulletin insert, the chances of them attending an event late in the week are greatly reduced.
Use your various communication tools: web, PowerPoint, printed in the bulletin and other places, to enhance each other
The website is a fantastic tool to refer to in the bulletin-many church members haven't visited it and don't know it has anything for them. Your church web site can be a great place to store the pastor's sermons for downloading with accompanying notes in PDF format. It can give in-depth discussion and links of a topic the pastor mentions in the sermon. In addition, if the website is continuously updated, it can provide background, directions and more information about weekly events.
PowerPoint can be a powerful worship tool and sermon learning tool. In addition, it can work well for announcements at the beginning and end of the service for things that are going on immediately after the service, such as to invite people to the Fellowship Hall for coffee and questions.
Bottom line: though we need every tech-savvy tool to illustrate our message and for the impact and repetitions they provide, written bulletins are still a useful tool for ministry communications. They are often a visitor's only link to understanding what is going on at the service and in the church overall. They can hold tangible message reminders such as inserts to put on the refrigerator, sign-up forms for camps and conferences, and sheets for taking sermon notes. They can be scribbled on by children, read by anyone, sent to the homebound, and used as reminders of events.
Keep exploring, using and improving every new tool to enable your church to better communicate the gospel message, but don't let go of the time-tested and reliable methods such as a written church bulletin.
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