Though the church communicator emailing me was asking about another topic, in passing she mentioned that she was going to be taking over the production of the church bulletin and was looking forward to changing it every week so she could express her creativity through it.
Her excitement about the new project and a wish to be creative was commendable, but it isn't a good idea to change the format of the church bulletin (or any other church communication) on a weekly or any other frequent basis and here's why:
People don't read the bulletin because they are looking for creative inspiration, they read it for information.
People access information by means of the structure you give them in your communications. The structure of your bulletin consists of the layout, the type and illustrations that you use, plus how you organize material into sections.
You want to come up with a clear system of how you use these structural tools so that people will not be conscious of the building blocks of your system, but will be able to easily access the information.
Type is one of the most important building blocks. On your church newsletter or bulletin, if someone says, "that was an interesting typeface," it isn't a compliment.
Did you notice the typeface on any blog you read regularly, on Facebook, or your local newspaper? You don't because you should always see through the typeface to the content. If people notice the typeface it can be a distraction to your message.
Pick a simple, clear typeface for all text heavy publications.
For flyers and marketing pieces you can go a little crazy with display type (those wild and crazy ones), but for material you want people to read and remember, choose typefaces like the ones that follow. All of these are found in MS Publisher and MS Word. There are many others available online and if you have a Mac, but these always work for the majority of your communications:
- Calibri--contemporary, looks good online
- Cambria--don't use online, serif typeface, prints well
- Corbel--clean, contemporary
- Franklin Gothic--available in lots of weights, great for levels in books, studies, newsletters
- Adobe Garamond--more delicate, nice for devotionals
- Palatino--lots of Bibles printed in this typeface
- Time New Roman--yes, it's been around forever, but it still works as a very readable print typeface when you need to pack in a lot of words in a limited space.
For variation, make some headers bold, make quotes or verses italic, increase the size of headlines. You don't need to change the typeface for enough variation for sections to be clear in your communications.
Keep the sections of your publication in the SAME PLACE
This means the Order of Worship, Prayer requests, Announcements and sections about various ministries need to be in a logical place and STAY THERE, perhaps for years. Many of the best known and best loved communications in print have not changed for decades.
To understand how important this is in practice, think about your local newspaper.The content is organized into consistent sections: world news, local news, sports, entertainment or similar sections. In each section you have a major story on the front page of that section with a major headline in large type. If you want to find out something such as the scores of a team you follow, you know exactly where to look. If you want to find the comics or movie schedule or editorial you know where to quickly find them.
Changing the structure isn't creative, it's confusing
Imagine what would happen if you picked up the paper one day and the comics were scattered in little sections all over the paper and the box scores weren't in their usual place. I doubt if your first thought would be "Oh, isn't the newspaper being creative!" It would probably be much less favorable.
I once made the comment in one of my seminars that if the newspaper changed the location of the comics that there would be rioting in the streets and the group listening to me (I forget the exact city) burst into laughter. I intended the comment to be funny, but their response seemed a little excessive until they explained that their city newspaper did change the location of the comments and there actually were public protests about it.
In similar, but perhaps less expressive ways, your congregation won't appreciate it if you switch up the location of the prayer requests, youth news or any other section of your bulletin each week.
It takes a disciplined servant to consistently create clear communications
There is always the temptation to change things around, to get a new template or typeface, or style or paper color or something when we create a communication for any length of time. Resist that temptation.
People often say to me, "If I don't change things, my readers will get bored!" No they don't. Readers get confused and irritated. If you still doubt the truth of this, think about your reaction when Facebook changes things or Google's constantly shifting privacy standards--most people did not welcome these changes with open arms. I doubt if anyone emailed Facebook and said, "please change things up to confuse me more."
It's often not easy, but always important to choose to serve
Always remember you aren't in your position as a church communicator to impress people with your design brilliance. You are there to serve them. You and your tools should be an invisible lens that helps them focus on Jesus.
Ask the Lord to give you strength to write clearly and to present your material in a consistent way so that people will see through the layout, design, type and illustrations and allow their lives to be changed by the words of eternal life.
Our church bulletin uses at least 15 different fonts. Drives me crazy.
Some of them have a shadow effect that may look good on a big screen monitor or laptop screen, but look horrible and illegible in color print.
Some of them are so small that I can’t read them.
I’m not in charge of the bulletin, but I can share your article as a suggested learning tool.
You are right on. I set up “styles” for announcements, subheads, and main heads, with some variations in tabs for Upcoming Events, but it’s basically all the same two fonts: Myriad Pro for the heads and subheads, and a couple of different weights of Calluna for the text. The sections haven’t changed in at least 5 or 6 years, but once every couple of years I might tweak the design a little. The changes are pretty subtle, though, so no one has really commented about it. The only complaints I ever get are when I make a mistake. But I consider that a good thing, because it means they are reading it! When I want to get creative, I might do that with the artwork on the front cover, and occasionally a piece of clipart to emphasize one of the blurbs, but that’s about it.
Yvon G. Prehn says
Great process for setting up the styles! That is so important as it also keeps us from having to make decisions again and again.
If I remember correctly, you work on a Mac don’t you–different fonts available. I know from looking at your bulletins in the past, I really did like how easy they are to read.
And loved what you said about people finding mistakes and such a good and true comment–does mean they are reading it!
thanks for taking the time to write,
Thank you so much for your informative articles! I have just recently begun taking over such things at our church, which is only 2 1/2 years old….I would never have thought about any of these things and am so grateful to have found your website!
Yvon Prehn says
Thank you so much for your kind comment!
I hope you signed up for the newsletter–I am in process of redoing and updating quite a few articles that I pray will inspire as well as equip church communicators.