Church Bulletins: Transitioning from print to digital

Remember 1992 when Superman died in DC Comic’s #175 then re-appeared in various forms? Well, that’s kinda what we did with our church bulletin…

Old bulletin cover 8.5"x5.5" size

Old bulletin cover 8.5"x5.5" size

First off, we didn’t kill our bulletin. Some people thought we did, but that really wasn’t the case. We just changed the way we do church bulletins. In fact, the change seems to be doing a lot of good so far!

Here’s what we did.

We stopped one thing and developed three outlets that accomplish the same goal with greater efficiency, track-ability, and with huge savings in time and money.

  • NO — Big multi-page booklet bulletin handed out each week
  • YES! — Small “bullet” card with brief event info handed out weekly
  • YES! — eBulletin emailed out midweek with links to event signup and more info
  • YES! — A few copies of weekly “Info Sheets” available at Guest Services for those who don’t email.

eBulletin

We stopped making the 8.5″x5.5″ multi-page booklets that we were spending more than a dime apiece on each week. We reduced the size of the bulletin to what we call a “Bullet” (8.5″x3.66″). These Bullets are black/white (except for special occasions like Easter and probably Christmas) on heavy stock and cost us about a penny apiece.  The Bullet only has limited info on them and are blank on the back for notes if someone needs paper. For those die-hard fans of printed paper, we have a hard copy with an extended list of events, family info (deaths, births, & weddings) available at our Guest Services Desk…though these are getting fewer and fewer requests for theses just a month into the new system.  We also started a digital or “eBulletin” which is e-mailed out midweek each week and links people directly to more information about featured events or opportunities. See the archives here.

Reasons.

Nothing too revolutionary…we wanted to get info into the hands of people using a medium that was simple and cost effective. Plus this is a huge time saver for personnel and equipment.  As more and more people are using the Internet and computers it was pretty clear to us that even though some people wouldn’t like the change, this is where we needed to go. Once our lead pastor gave us the clear direction to go for it, we kept pushing to make it happen but we tried to be strategic about it.  We didn’t want to just grab our ministry leaders and twist their arms until they said uncle. So we first did a survey to see what our congregation is already using and how they’re finding out about things.

Here are some highlights from the survey given to over 400 people using paper (no digital) given in the fall of 2009. We plan to do a similar survey in 2010 to see how these responses change over a year’s time after we transitioned to the new eBulletin.

How we implemented the change.

Through meetings, e-mails and personal connections we let department heads, assistants and others know where and why were headed in the digital direction. We personally spoke with the ushers to explain to them why and give them an opportunity to ask questions.

For our staff we kept the info submission process exactly the same. If they want to announce an event, they didn’t have to learn a new system.

Even at the end when we were almost to send out our first digital edition, we had some near halts as leadership had questions about the design which hadn’t been addressed previously. We had a mock up of the design that we’d been using and the mock up “blanks” that we had in the visual slots made sense to me, but not to leadership. Right before a key meeting I realized they needed to see the “real” look. So I grabbed a few photos and graphics and slapped them into the template. I showed them how it would look and it passed with the boss.

Now, we’ll probably do a re-work of the design before the end of the year, (leave comments with any suggestions!) but this design is working nicely for now and I’ve received positive comments form those who receive it. Sure we have some complaints, but it was more from the people who have had some trouble getting it instead of those who actually see it. Check out the 45 responses we received from people who commented on the bulletin change on our Facebook wall.

Advantages of the new digital & reduced printing setup:

  • Communicates directly with people
  • Provides ministry/event exposure in personal environment
  • Allows immediate response, additional info, or signup opps
  • Provides clear stats on what is getting the most attention
  • Reduces waste & labor
  • Saves thousands of dollars annually in printing and production costs

Challenges:

  • People don’t like adjusting to change
  • Some don’t have e-mail*
  • Ministry departments may feel excluded from worship center exposure**
  • Re-locating family info (birth/marriage/deaths)***

* For those who don’t have e-mail or want to get a physical copy, a simple printed version would be available at Guest Services

**Communicating with all ministry leaders to have them on board with this will be key

***Family info would be available on a list at Guest Services (perhaps as pre-service slides also)

Despite the challenges. The change has really gone smoothly and were getting great feedback that shows us that people are using the new e-mails at or near the old level of pick up rates for the old printed version of the bulletin.

The new process not only keeps our info in front of people better, it also helps us keep our web site accurate and up-to-date when it comes to the events lists. It’s all about having a system that works!

Tools we used:

  • E-mail layout design is by our IT graphics guy.
  • Graphics, print versions and content collection is done by our Communications Department
  • We use Mail Chimp as our email service provider.
  • We use Church Community Builder‘s data management system to collect new subscribers because we had some glitches when people tried to subscribe to the eBulletin and they were already subscribed to another category. It wouldn’t update their info so we had to go with our own and then import that list weekly. I’m hoping Mail Chimp will make an update to their subscription management form sometime, but for now this is working nicely. Once they’re in the system, the individual can manage their own subscriptions from the email itself.

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DryPixel.com is administered by Michael Shead and all content is intended to reflect only his personal thoughts and not the official voice of anyone or any organization mentioned herein.

4 thoughts on “Church Bulletins: Transitioning from print to digital

  1. Thanks for blogging through your whole rollout plan. Our church is in the middle of this transition already. But we are trying to think through exactly what needs to be handed out on Sunday. Could you explain “The Bullet?” What info is on it? Who is it handed to?

    That would help immensely. Thanks!

  2. Micah,

    The Bullet primarily has information about key events for the upcoming week and any major upcoming events especially ones that people need to sign up for. Their is often a graphic at the top that ties-in with the weekly sermon series or holiday (i.e. Mother’s Day).
    The Bullet is one-third of a 8.5″x11″ page (actual size is about 8.5″x 3.67″) of a card stock or heavy weight paper. By keeping printing limited to Black & White on one side we greatly reduced costs. Sometimes we do color for special occasions. The back is available for notes. If we have to we have printed announcements on the back and added lines for note taking, but generally we tried to avoid printing on the back.

    Hope your transition goes well!

    Michael

  3. Pingback: Print bulletins vs Digital - Church Flair

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