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I know this topic is somewhat outside the context of this site, but recently I had a conversation about the purpose of a church bulletin and how to improve it. With the disclaimer that I’m definitely not an expert on this, I’ve noticed that the bulletin is a communication tool churches hand out to all attendees every week, but few church intentionally think through the impression it makes and how to use it to communicate best. Here are a couple thoughts and observations I shared that might be helpful for your ministry, as well.
1. When it comes to events and programs, many church leaders realize the importance of asking the questions, “Why are we doing this?” “What do we hope to achieve?” and, “Is this the best way to accomplish objective?” However, these questions don’t always spill over into other things the church does. It’s important to ask them about everything we do in ministry, including the bulletins we hand out on Sunday mornings. Who is the primary audience? Who is the secondary audience? Can we effectively reach both audiences with the same tool? Out of everything we want to communicate to that audience, what is the most important and what can we leave out for a different communication avenue?
2. Personally, I think bulletins should be geared toward new-comers and guests. (Note: “Guests” is always a more inviting word to use than “visitors” because the latter suggests that they’re an outsider whereas the former indicates that they’re welcomed and in a place of honor.) Long-time church attenders are probably already familiar with a lot of the content in the bulletin. They’ll also be more forgiving if something isn’t there. First-timers are much more likely to read through everything in the bulletin whereas members may skim it and often just throw it away. So prepare it for the people who are more likely to scour the content.
3. You shouldn’t overwhelm a guest with lots of information, especially if it’s all somewhat the same font size and blends together. When nothing stands out as, “This is what’s most important to our church” and “This is the next step for you to take as a guest at our church,” the guest will have to try to decipher on their own what makes your church unique from the one across the street and how to connect. Giving a smorgasbord of options is more likely to leave a guest feeling overwhelmed and unsure where to start than, “Wow, let me pick where to get involved.”
4. Churches should make a big deal out of first-impressions. One study showed that a first-time guest will decide within the first 2 minutes of attending a church whether they will return or not while other studies give up to 12 minutes. That’s why it’s important to talk through first-impressions and have “secret shoppers” come through on a regular basis to help you evaluate it. First impressions include things like facility maintenance, cleanliness, smiles, welcomes, parking accessibility, communication, signage to help them navigate through the building, ease of finding what they need, etc. Bulletins are an essential part of the first impression, too, so a fair amount of intentionality should go into it.
5. Remember that “good design = perceived credibility.” You know that’s true with a website you may visit (again, a church website is often a huge first-impression). If your bulletin looks attractive, is clean and uncluttered, people will be more likely to engage with it and it’s communication effectiveness will be enhanced. If you want it to be a tool that helps move it’s primary audience toward something intentional, than it’s essential that it’s designed well. And I know it’s more expensive to print in color than in black, but maybe the extra expense is well-invested if it helps your congregation’s communication tool increase perceived credibility with guests.
Below you can download my church’s bulletin from last Sunday. Obviously it doesn’t flow with some of the principles and suggestions I’ve already made, but the design element is certainly there, which automatically boosts it’s perceived credibility right from the very beginning and makes it a better tool. Just like preaching, content is important, but presentation is critical. And making a solid first-impression with a bulletin is essential, too. (No pressure or anything!)
Posted on October 13, 2010