When I was a parish director of communications a few years ago and worked in diocesan communications before that, I recognized the importance of the weekly church bulletin. But that recognition comes with some caveats.
The National Catholic Register in its latest issue discusses bulletins and their ongoing relevance. This was brought home to me in my work in the parish. Apart from the homily, the bulletin is the number 1 communications tool in the Church. It’s the primary means by which most people know what’s going on in the Church, and especially their parish, but beyond it as well. Yes, social media and the the website are vitally important, but so is the bulletin.
But there’s an important point to be made here: What’s important isn’t the piece of paper. What’s important is the content.
What really matters is what the parish has to say. The bulletin, Facebook, Twitter, the web site, emails and texts are just the channels for saying it. Sure, the channels shape the form of the message, but the message is what’s important.
Each of the parishes profiled in the story have the common thread that they place importance on how they make the bulletin. Some of them have hired graphic designers or at least have people whose focus is creating the bulletin each week. A bulletin that’s just a dry recitation of calendar notes and data (or worse, mostly stuff about outside groups that they want to get in front of your parishioners) is not a successful Church communications channel.
A bulletin should be well-designed and eye-catching and a pleasure to read. It should draw us in with good writing, good design, and good imagery; not a series of bland boxes with monospaced type and clip art from the 80s. It should do more than inform you of events in the parish. It should entertain and educate; have news of the world beyond your parish; tell stories of your parishioners and ministries and history; expose the reader to the mystery and history of Catholic practices and traditions.
Practically speaking, the bulletin editor needs to find good sources of content for this. (Ideally, bulletin printing companies or Catholic media organizations could help with this.) Syndicated columns, small infographics, and explainers would be great. Homegrown content would be good too. In addition to the pastor, other parish staff members should be encouraged to write a couple hundred words occasionally for use as a bulletin column or blog. If there are parishioners with unique or helpful voices or perspectives, they should be tapped and encouraged.
The bulletin should also be a part of your evangelization strategy. Put compelling content on the cover that will draw in a casual passerby. (Contact information and schedules can go inside or on the back.) Have a column from your pastor that humanizes him and connects him to people and isn’t just a condensed form of the homily.
Then use that same content in other ways. Re-purpose it for your web site, put forms of it on your social media, expand it into videos for Instagram or Facebook or YouTube, make a blog out of it, condense important parts into a mid-week email that acts as a reminder.
My philosophy of Church communications is that communications is evangelization; the word itself implies community building. Let the bulletin be one of your tools for building your parish community.