“The church bulletin? You must be kidding!” may have been your response when you read the headline to this article.
But think about it for a minute. That church bulletin (or worship guide or whatever you choose to call it) is for some people the very first piece of Christian literature they have ever seen. It is certainly the very first information a visitor reads about your church.
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 and they will come to your church looking for a way to have it filled. When they come in they will read anything we put into their hands. We give them the bulletin.
What does it say to them? George Barna tells us that 91 percent of unchurched people believe the church is not sensitive to their needs. Where do they get that idea? I think we tell them that in our church bulletins. Typically they are filled with insider jargon and terms that don’t make sense to anyone who doesn’t regularly attend church. They talk about events and meetings without explaining them with the assumption that everybody knows what they are talking about. Often they don’t even tell people what is going on in the service that morning.
The unchurched person reads the bulletin and concludes that this is a place for insiders only and they don’t belong. 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.
Many churches today are very concerned about being “seeker-sensitive.” In an effort to do that they use multi-media, contemporary music and sometimes produce a short skit or drama. All of these efforts can be very effective, but 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 ministry 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 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. The greatest musical performance on stage and the most powerful sermon can be sabotaged by a bulletin that is offensive. For example, a bulletin (I won’t tell where it is from) that I came across recently 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. 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, but that kind of information and challenge should be given to the adult Sunday School classes, or discipleship group or some other class of people committed to the church. Is it appropriate in the church bulletin given to all visitors?
THE INGREDIENTS OF A GOOD BULLETIN
A bulletin has to accomplish a lot, but here are some suggestions that might help make it something that will bring visitors back a second time and inform members of continuing events.
It is amazing how few bulletins actually start out with a WELCOME! Put it up front or before the order of service. It can be long or short, but it should be genuine and reflect the tradition of your church. Putting your welcome on the second page or on the back (as I have seen in far too many) doesn’t make sense.
PLEASE give an order of service! I see so many bulletins in my seminars these days that do not contain an order of service. Without one a visitor has no idea what to expect. As Mark Mittlenberg reminds us in his great book, Contagious Christianity, for the average unchurched person to come to your church it is just like it would be for you to attend a Buddhist Temple – we would have no idea what to expect. Be kind; explain things.
ACKNOWLEDGE BOTH VISITORS AND MEMBERS IN THE ANNOUNCEMENT SECTIONS
Some of the best bulletins I’ve seen actually have sections that say “Welcome to Our Visitors” and then go on to give essential details such as the location of the bathrooms, nursery, information table, etc. They also often invite folks for coffee after the service where they can meet folks and ask questions.
In some of the same bulletins there is often a section entitled something like “Church News.” But even these sections can accommodate visitors and people who don’t know every detail of every event by saying something like: “Below are the various events hosted by our church in the coming weeks. Everyone is invited to these activities and we hope you’ll attend. If you need more information or have questions, please call the contact numbers listed with each activity.”
Don’t list events that are closed to newcomers. I’ll never forget a bulletin that contained a lengthy list of groups that met in this particular church, but no contact information. When I pointed out to the lady who put it together that the contact information was missing for new folks who might want to be part of the groups she replied, “Oh, we don’t do that; these are all closed groups and they don’t want new members.” That isn’t nice. Don’t do that.
INCLUDE THE 5 W’S: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY
I think it could revolutionize churches all across North America if folks would just be complete with information about events in their church bulletins.
Church staffs work so hard to put together programs, but if the bulletin leaves out who is putting on the program, what is going on, where is at, what time it starts and ends, what is the cost and if child care is provided, you will get a much smaller turn-out than you want.
These facts are essential and you need to repeat them for several weeks for people to respond. Remember no one will see the bulletin as many times as you do. Because of work and school obligations, many members cannot attend every week. Repetition is critical: marketing experts tell us people need to see something SIX times before they remember and respond.
HAVE A PLACE FOR TESTIMONIES AND ALWAYS INCLUDE A GOSPEL PRESENTATION
I’ve been recommending for years that in every bulletin you put a short piece about how someone can come to trust Jesus as their Savior. You can write up any sort of simple explanation of the gospel message. Here is one used by a church at Christmas; you can modify it and use it yourself at any time of the year:
In the midst of the gifts and goodies we are all enjoying at this time of year, remember the message of Christmas is that God came to earth in the form of a person: Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus grew up not only to become the greatest teacher and miracle worker the world had ever seen, but to die a unique death. In His death, Jesus was not a victim of evil men. Jesus willingly gave up His life and died on the cross so that He could pay the penalty for our sins. His death was His choice and His story doesn’t end with His death. Jesus rose from the dead after three days and demonstrated by doing that that He was God.
When we believe that Jesus died for our sins and we accept the forgiveness He offers us, and decide to follow Him, Jesus promises to forgive us and give us eternal life. If you’d like to have your sins forgiven, if you’d like to be at peace with your God; if you’d like to live forever, tell Jesus you are a sinner and you need His salvation. Ask Him to come into your life to be your Savior and Lord.
After you do that, please read the Bible to learn how to live as a Christian. Talk to God daily in prayer. Go to a church and get to know other followers of Jesus and grow in your faith. A lady who decided to include a brief gospel presentation like this in her bulletin recently reported the results to me at one of my seminars. She said one of the men in her church had to go to prison for a time. To keep him in touch with the church she sent him the bulletin regularly.
He recently wrote her and said, “Thank you so much for sending me the church bulletin, it has helped me feel like I’m not forgotten here. I also wanted you to know that I’ve been able to lead several inmates to the Lord here in prison. I used the church bulletin as my gospel tract.”
Taking the time to squeeze in that gospel presentation in between all the announcements and news in her church bulletin was probably just as hard for the church secretary who did it as it will be for you as you put together your bulletin week after week. But what a great result: the eternal destinies of men changed by the publications from her church office. It is worth the effort.
Work hard on your church bulletins – they are difficult, repetitive and hard to do, but heaven will be different depending on the work you do each week.