Your church has a web site and posts frequently to social media, but is it still using printed bulletins and/or classic phone trees to share information with its members? What's stopping you from going where your members are by taking these digital too?

The web and email entered the public consciousness in the mid-1990s. Twenty years later, 85% of Americans are online and use email. Even more important, predictions are that 72% of us will have a smartphone by the end of this year.

Switch to e-Bulletins

My first client, a large church of about 800, had a problem. The bulletin they handed out each Sunday was already a folded 11x17" sheet of paper, yet they consistently had more announcements than they could fit. One result was unhappy ministry leaders whose announcements were left off. Another was that the announcements made from the pulpit, consisting not only of items from the bulletin, but also the omitted items, were taking more and more time.

Our collaboration led to implementing a program of emailed bulletins. Not just one weekly e-bulletin, but four, to cater to specific interests. One contained general announcements, one covered the teens ministry, one for the children's ministry, and one for prayer requests. Each went out on a different day at approximately the same time. We re-tooled the printed bulletin to be more of a welcome to visitors.

Leaders explained the plan to members, and everyone was added to the relevant distribution list. For example, retired members with grown children were added to the general and prayer request e-bulletins, but not to the teen or children's ministry e-bulletins. For the e-bulletins, we used a service that offered the ability to post on its web site links to allow members to opt in or out of each type of e-bulletin.

The congregation also used classic phone trees to get out late breaking important news, such as services cancelled due to bad weather. At the same time it implemented 
the e-bulletins, leaders committed to a plan by which whenever bad weather cancelled services, a notice would be on the web site home page by 7:00 Sunday morning. 
(elderly members who did not have a computer would still be called).

Members who did not have access to the internet were not left unattended. Each Sunday, the church office staff left a few printed copies of each e-bulletin at the office counter. The leaders also arranged for those members to continue to be notified by phone when services were canceled.

These four things did result, yea five did the church love:

  • The church also eliminated announcements from the pulpit, instead directing members to the e-bulletins.
  • The e-bulletins could include links to the church web site for more information, online registration forms or relevant downloads.
  • The printed bulletin had a cut-off time for submissions of Wednesday, in order to give time for creating the Microsoft Publisher document, having it reviewed and approved by the ministers, and getting it printed by the end of the day on Friday. One problem with this schedule was that prayer requests didn't really conform to a schedule ... they came in on Thursdays and Fridays. Sending out the prayer request e-bulletin on Friday allowed for the most current list of requests
  • The online tool used allowed the church office to schedule delivery of the emails, which made it easier to ensure they went out the same time of day each week. This also helped when the office staff responsible for sending the e-bulletins were not in on the day the emails were to go out.
  • E-bulletins reduced paper costs as the church was able to switch to a folded 8.5x11 sheet of paper.

Text your members

Another option for bringing the phone tree into this century that I am seeing more churches do is to update members via text messages. And as with e-bulletins, there are many affordable services that would allow members to subscribe and un-subscribe themselves, and the church could text members en masse.

Friars at a Boston church take it to another level by handling prayer requests by text. Text your need and the friars text a response of support and prayer.

Use social media

Don't forget about free social media. If Facebook is popular among your members, create a Facebook group as opposed to a Facebook page. This has three benefits:

  • You can control who joins
  • You can control who sees the posts, especially when they could include prayer requests
  • The default setting is for group members to get an email of all posts.

Google Plus communities offers similar features.

It's important to realize that one choice may not reach all, and it's wise not to assume you know the best platforms to use.. Ask your members where they spend their digital time to make sure you are where they are ... in email? In Facebook? Texting? If none dominates, you may need to consider more than one venue.