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Bulletin Bored: Tips for preparing a useful church bulletin

I have never visited your church, but I know a lot about your ministry and worship. Your congregation has a well-developed vision for ministry, and you make worship a priority. You plan your weekly services carefully and creatively. You place a priority on member participation in worship as well as in ministry, with balanced emphasis on youth and adults, men and women, singles and couples. The Word, music, prayers, and giving are well integrated in your services. Your congregation is also sensitive to visitors.

How do I know? I have a recent copy of your churchs bulletin.

A bulletin (Webster defines it as "a brief public notice") says a great deal about a church, its ministry, and its worship. In fact, it's the most widely read brochure a congregation publishes. Yet few congregations seem to recognize their bulletin's significance and, as a result, put little effort into its preparation.

A careful look at the many ways in which bulletins are used and reused may change that attitude. Bulletins are delivered as a family letter to shut-ins, retained by visitors as a souvenir, exchanged by church members as a calling card, passed to neighbors as an invitation, reread by members during the week as a summary and reminder, and collected as reference material by fellow pastors.

Isn't it obvious that bulletins deserve more care and consideration than most of us have been giving them?

The Purpose of a Bulletin

Most churches appear to have no stated purpose for publishing bulletins—except, perhaps, that every church seems to have one. There are, however, a number of excellent reasons to have a weekly bulletin. Recognizing those reasons and deciding which is most important to you can have a significant impact on what your bulletin looks like.

1. A guide to public worship.
Most churches publish their bulletin as a guide and enhancement to worship and distribute it as worshipers enter the worship center. These bulletins outline the order of worship, contain the litanies, and provide information to facilitate prayer, giving, and note-taking.

2. An encouragement to personal worship.
Many bulletins contain a listing of prayer needs (or a prayer guide) to encourage weekly prayer, a place to take sermon notes for further reflection throughout the coming week, and /or a series of recommended Scripture passages for daily reflection.

3. A church newsletter.
Some bulletins serve as weekly newsletters. They include birthdays and anniversaries, address changes, summaries of council and committee meetings, a "word from the Pastor," reports on various ministries, and fund-raising "advertisements" from church groups.

4. A church newspaper.
Some bulletins resemble a newspaper. In addition to many newsletter items, these bulletins contain "requested announcements" from many ministries and organizations in the Christian community. These bulletins can be very lengthy, very time-consuming to produce, and very expensive to print. Few people read them in their entirety.

The Cover of the Bulletin

Since the cover of the bulletin provides an initial and lasting impression of your church, it deserves considerable attention. What kind of cover should your bulletin have? There are a variety of options:

1. Picture.
Some churches have a picture of the church building on their bulletin covers. Others give what is probably a more complete image by picturing both the people and the building. For example, Calvary Church of Holland, Michigan, uses an artist's sketch of small groups of people, with the Calvary Church building in the background.

The Abundant Life Church of Pasadena, California, uses a more symbolic image on their cover: the picture of a mature, healthy palm tree. The church name, 'Abundant Life," is printed over the picture.

The Ann Arbor Chapel, Ann Arbor, Michigan, frequently uses an artist's drawing of the message theme or ties the cover into the church year. This approach not only highlights the theme of the day but also uses a member's gifts.

2. Church logo.
Some churches choose to keep their bulletin covers very simple. For example, the cover of the bulletin used by Willow Creek Community Church (South Barrington, IL) includes only the church logo, name, and address. Its simplicity makes it appealing.

3. Mission or vision statement.
Bethel Church in Princeton, Minnesota, includes a description of their mission on the bulletin cover: a heart and fish superimposed on a cross above the words, "Sharing Christ's Comfort." This serves not only to remind church members of their ministry responsibilities, but also to inform visitors of the congregation's focus.

4. Scripture text.
The Dwelling Place Church of Hemut, California, places the Scripture text of the morning message on the cover in big bold print. This highlights the main theme of worship for the day.

5. Liturgy.
Some churches, including the Heritage Church of Byron Center, Michigan, print their morning order of worship on the cover. Such covers usually contain the name of the church and a small logo at the top of the page. This approach not only saves paper, but also makes it very easy for guests to follow the worship sequence.

A few churches continue to have a generic order of worship preprinted on the cover. Such a format provides little assistance for worship (the text, message title, and hymn numbers are not included), brings confusion when the order changes, and implies that the worship services are always the same.

6. Panoramic covers.
A number of churches subscribe to the "every Sunday bulletin plan." This service offers very colorful covers that are completely different each week. The cover often highlights the church year and secular calendar.

7. Ministry and benevolence agencies.
Christian agencies often make bulletin covers available to promote their ministry. Since these covers are normally free, many churches use them. Churches that use them too often, however, miss an opportunity to promote their local ministries.

The Content of the Bulletin

What should and shouldn't be included in the bulletin becomes clear after planners have decided what the primary purpose of their "brief public notice" will be. Should it enhance and facilitate worship? Should it promote personal worship throughout the week? Consider a list of possibilities:

1. Liturgy.
Should you print the complete liturgy for the morning and evening service, or just Ust the message titles, texts, offerings, and music selections? If your service has frequent transitions and requires worshiper participation in litanies and responsive readings, an order of worship is helpful. If the service is contemporary or seeker-style, highlighting the message, music, and drama may be sufficient.

2. Prayer requests.
Churches can promote prayer throughout the week by providing members with a separate list of prayer needs or a daily prayer guide (a listing of prayer items for each day). Place the list or guide on one page (or print it as an insert) so the worshipers can place it in their Bibles for their daily devotions.

3. A calendar of the coming weeks events.
This listing should be on one page so it can be tacked on the family bulletin board or taped on the refrigerator for reference throughout the week.

4. A message outline.
A short sermon outline is becoming increasingly popular in many bulletins. It provides a helpful guide for listening to the message. Many bulletins also provide space and encouragement for people to take sermon notes.

5. A welcome to worshipers and visitors.

6. Advance notice of what zvill be happening in worship thefollaimng Sunday.

7. A list of church staff members.

8. A list of the elders and deacons of the church

9. A list of the ministries of the church.

On the back of their bulletins, many churches list their ministries, their meeting schedule, and the people to contact for additional information about the different organizations and ministries within the congregation.

10. Member births, birthdays, marriages, and anniversaries.

11. Baptisms and professions of faith.

12. Thank yous from members to the congregation.

13. Requested announcements from denominational agencies.

14. Requested announcements from local Christian and benevolent agencies.

15. Requested announcements from any Christian organization.

16. Inserts.

Do you use inserts? If so, which inserts are acceptable—Inserts promoting a ministry of the church? Inserts from the denomination? An insert from any Christian organization?

Depending on the purpose of your bulletin, your church council or worship committee should carefully select which of the above items may or may not be included in your bulletin. A clear policy on what should or should not be in the bulletin spares the pastor or secretary the responsibility of making individual decisions. At Calvary, we have adopted the first two purposes listed above. We place items 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7,10 and 11 in our bulletin. We place all other items in our monthly newsletter.

The Composition of the Bulletin

The composition and production of the bulletin are also very important. Who edits the announcements? Who decides what goes in when space is limited? Who is responsible for proofreading the final copy? Is your bulletin typeset and professionally printed, produced at the church on a computer and laser printer, or typed on a typewriter and run on a copy machine? Do you use 8" x 11" or 8" x 14" paper stock? Is the bulletin folded once or twice? Are additional pages simply inserted or stapled in? These issues are important to consider in making your bulletin "user-friendly."

When considering the appearance and readability of a bulletin, remember the following five principles:

1. Simple.
A bulletin should be laid out clearly and simply. The use of different type sizes, as well as appropriate use of italics and bold print, can make a bulletin appealing to the eye and easy to read.

Arrange bulletin items into five or six main categories (e.g., Order of Worship, Prayer Requests, Church Family Calendar, Announcements, and Requested Announcements). These headings should become fairly standard from week to week.

Bulletin announcements should be clearly written. And if worshipers are expected to follow the liturgy without announcement, it must be self-explanatory.

2. Short.
A bulletin, by definition, is a brief document. The following tips may help you keep it that way:

  • People seldom read long announcements.
  • Information that applies to only two or three members (e.g., "The Ladies' Trio will practice at 4:00 this afternoon.") should be omitted.
  • Do not repeat a ministry activity listed in the Calendar in the Announcement section.
  • Any announcements that can wait until the church's monthly newsletter should be placed there.
  • Common abbreviations are permissible.

3. Spacious.
In order to make bulletins attractive and readable, the content should be "broken" by blank space. For example, if one page is dedicated to prayer needs, and one week those needs don't completely fill the page, leave the lower part blank so worshipers can add any prayer needs that are announced or that occur to them during the service. Some empty space on the back might be used for message notes, additional announcements, or writing down the name and address of a visitor.

4. Sensitive.
Bulletin editors must be sensitive to a number of the following issues:

  • Ask permission to place a person's name on the prayer list. Print only information they are willing to share.
  • Remember the elderly and others who are vision-impaired. Many cannot read a bulletin printed in 10-point type. If you are using a computer to print your program, it is very simple to publish a large-print edition for such worshipers.
  • Remember the children. When producing a children's bulletin, design at least a portion of it to enhance their worship experience (instead of just offering them something to do quietly during the service).
  • Be very sensitive to your visitors. Minimize the "churchese." For example, the announcement, "The CD's will meet in the catechism room during the fellowship hour" means little to a visitor. The same announcement might read "Those involved in or interested in joining the Middle School ministry are invited to meet in room 101 this morning at 10:30."

5. Superior quality.
The advice "If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well" applies to bulletins. In this day of computers and laser printers, consumers have come to expect excellence. Friday's consumer is Sunday's worshiper, so you'll want to produce a bulletin you are eager to distribute. If you presently don't use a computer, seriously consider purchasing one. Present prices and the subsequent improvement to your bulletin quality and worship experience make it well worth the money .