Three ways your church can go paperless

Does your congregation still rely on paper bulletins, registration forms and paper checks? It might be time for some evolution.

Do you know what percent of your congregation is online, whether on a computer or smart phone? What about the number of members or attendees who pay bills online? One source says that nearly 87% of Americans have internet access at home. Last month, the Pew Research Center reports that 64% of adults have smartphones. Alas, I cannot find statistics on online bill paying; I can say that I've done it for over 15 years.

So what are the odds that your church still lives and dies by paper bulletins, paper registration forms and paper checks in the contribution trays? If so, it's time to evolve!

E-mailed bulletins

All the churches I have been involved with in the past few years struggle with bulletin space. I've seen them go from regular size paper folded in half to legal size and even tri-folded 11x17" in an attempt to fit everything in and avoid slighting a ministry leader whose announcement got left out because of a lack of space.

I remember the first client I got to take their bulletins to email, at first using a newsletter email service, later switching to a church-oriented tool.

One issue this congregation faced ... it was a church focused on young families, but of course it had members and attendees from all life situations. One complaint was the perception that the children's ministry got far more space than others. That factored into the long debate as to working out the details of an emailed bulletin.

When the dust settled, the church office staff didn't do just one weekly email, it did four, focusing on different member demographics, and members/attendees could choose which ones they got.  One was dedicated to the children's ministry and one to the teen ministry. The other two were general announcements and prayer requests. They decided to mail each one on a different day of the week.

One concern was that this may not appeal to elderly members. The solution was to print out about 10 copies of the general and prayer request emails, and make them available on Sundays in the church office. I believe they always had copies left over.

This allowed them to return to letter-sized paper for a printed bulletin welcome piece, which took a visitor focus on the congregation and upcoming events. In addition, because an email has no length constraint, announcements made at the start of services dropped to nearly nothing.

There are many services available. Most offer templates to help you create an attractive email. In addition, some offer discounted pricing for non-profit organizations.

Online registration

It's easy for paper registration forms for events and classes to get messy ... someone gives a form to the wrong person and it never quite ends up where it needs to. If it's a paid event, someone hands in the form without a check and thinks they're all set (and most church office staffers I know are loathe to remind someone that he or she still needs to pay). Even when all the forms get to the right person, the master list can easily omit a registrant.

Online forms can go a long way towards alleviating such problems, and if your web site platform doesn't support a forms module, there are several services out there that can handle registration and payment. I have one client who does both: it creates a custom form and then links to a payment service.

Online registration can ensure payments and a complete list of registrants. In fact, most registration tools let you see the up-to-the-second number of signups.  Many of the payment can also allow you to reduce the number of last-minute registrations by offering early-bird discounts.

Online contributions

Most church leaders I know dread one aspect of holiday weekends and summer vacations: a drop in contributions.  Why? Because if the member/attendee is not in the pew, the check doesn't make it into the contribution basket. And most never get around to making it up.

Offering online contributions (and encouraging users of Quicken, CheckFree and online-banking users to go online with their contributions) is a simple way to address this issue. If members/attendees set up recurring contributions, they never miss a Sunday, even when they miss a Sunday. There are services that can manage recurring contributions and event-specific payments, making it easier to tackle online registrations at the same time.

This isn't a pitch to "go green", although that's a worthwhile side effect. It's a recommendation to do more to improve interaction between your church leaders and office staffers and your members and attendees by meeting them where they are. Most are online.