Get the Word Out

Effective Sunday bulletins are a key to parish growth
By Jacalyn Kolk
This article first appeared in the May 2012 issue of Celebration.

A bulletin’s authors have the opportunity every week to address topics that may be helpful to the congregation.

Is your church bulletin worth reading? We expect information instantly these days. If visitors pick up this week’s bulletin, will they want to come back next week? Does the bulletin inform parishioners of church activities? Does it explain what these activities are and who might want to come? I am a lifelong Catholic, and often had no idea what one group mentioned in today’s bulletin did or why someone would participate. Could this happen in your bulletin?

Does the bulletin reflect the parish’s community involvement? Are parishioners given ways to help in the community? My church bulletin had a request from the thrift store for pots and pans, but no invitation to volunteer at the store. The Ladies Guild did ask for volunteers and donations for a project with local nursing homes. No information on the time or place for the project was provided, leaving the reader unable to participate without calling the church office for more information. No ongoing community projects were mentioned in the bulletin.

Does your bulletin ask for participation at the church? If a parishioner would like to be actively involved, the bulletin can help make this happen. Someone must sing in the choir, or take up the collection, or teach Sunday school. Does the bulletin invite the reader to get involved and give contact information for the person in charge? The bulletin can also be used to acknowledge people who have given extraordinary service.

On occasion, does the bulletin survey parishioners about the best time for services or the style of music preferred? Does it ask how the church can better serve its members, its community or its world? I have never seen suggestions requested in the bulletin! Are elections to the parish council announced well in advance?

Does the bulletin advise parishioners how they can best help in responding to local disasters? Our community faced a disaster of national significance last year. The bulletin would have been a wonderful tool for gathering support, disseminating information or giving information on what could be done to help. Only after parishioners spoke up was the disaster mentioned.

Would a paragraph on the qualities of a good marriage help? Or information on how to begin to annul a marriage that ended in divorce? What about a paragraph dealing with depression? Or one on how to share happiness or material blessings? These are just ideas. So many possible topics are available. Does the bulletin offer some information for each age group? The young members of the congregation will not look at the bulletin if it offers nothing they are interested in doing.

Does the bulletin provide enough financial information to account for the use of funds? What does the bulletin say about the parish priorities? If the bulletin requests money to buy matching baskets or upgrade serviceable fabrics when people go without basic necessities, what message is sent?

Is your bulletin online? Can you sign up to be notified by e-mail about items of interest? One church I occasionally attend refused for a time to give a bulletin to anyone who did not stay for the entire service. The information was not posted anywhere. It may have been well-intentioned, but the message was: “Don’t come back.”

Many people go to the Internet for information. Church websites in our town vary from informative and timely to rudimentary and obsolete. In reviewing sites around the country, larger churches often (but not always) seemed to maintain current websites, with smaller churches only having basic information. The website of a Catholic church in a relatively large Midwestern city listed a staff well-educated in pastoral ministry. The site seemed to be updated at least weekly and was interesting. I kept reading, especially about their mission and health assistance program in Central America. That website showed it can be done.

Churches have an immense capacity to serve. Getting parishioners involved and interested requires giving them information and asking them to help. The church may receive more response than you ever thought possible if the bulletin is used to its fullest potential.

Jacalyn N. Kolk is an attorney and a former Catholic school teacher. She is the author of “Returning Catholics,” published in 1999 in Celebration.