Religion Meets 21st Century Media
By John Spangler
When I offer communication primers, guest presentations in classes here or there, I often like to make the point that "Its not always high tech." Among the several guests who were linked to the Religion and Media classroom this week was the Rev. Elise Brown, pastor of Advent Lutheran Church on the Upper West Side of New York City's Manhattan borough. She said that the look and feel of the Sunday morning bulletin reflects the self esteem of the congregation. This simple point resonated within the class, so much so that I would guess that it is one of those very true and yet very neglected aspects of regular parish activity.
Recent graduate John Wolf spotted the comment on facebook and responded with a brief video (http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151513168020561) demonstrating the ability of a congregation that projects information on the worship space's wall to avoid printing such a bulletin.
Nevertheless, my guess is that more than 90% of congregations are still printing something for distribution for its primary gathering times, and most of them include notes and calendar items that they wish to be useful after one returns home.
Bulletins that interpret and guide people through worship may be seen as "low tech," but are aesthetically important and signify things about a ministry beyond the worship order or the seven days ahead. And in fact, require some technological and design skills to make good use of the current tool box. Desktop publishing changed bulletin printing a long time ago, and for the good. In my first call, the volunteer printing bulletins and news letters "donated" lots of dress shirts to the dumpster because the mimeograph was spreading ink all over him in collateral printing.
I suspect strongly that the "Sunday bulletin" is still the most read publication in the life of the church. Care for the primary guide and announcement tool for congregational use will be around for at least a little while longer. And if it is a barometer of self esteem, a sign of confidence and purpose, and a subliminal source of identity and messaging, then it is time and energy well spent to make sure it is doing its work. Let the bulletin be as effective as all the other forms of preparation, communication and hospitality that your ministry's mission demands. More than we know, it may even reflect upon the credibility of the experience, if not the message itself. What would a visitor conclude about the self esteem level of your congregation?