The communications challenge that we are facing as the Catholic Church, is not the message. The message hasn’t changed for more than 2,000 years. The challenge is the means of communication. There are now 211 social media networks, most probably only use a handful or so, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, or LinkedIn. There is also email, text messages and push notifications, but I’ll save that for another post.
I know what you are thinking. A bulletin publisher is telling you that the Catholic church bulletin is not dead. There is research to back up that claim. According to The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), 41% of all adults use their parish bulletin (either print or online) once a month or more while only 9% (12% of parents) use their parish website. About half (49%) use none of the sources listed in their survey. See complete report. Don't believe what they're saying? Remove the bulletin for a weekend and see how many angry calls you get on Monday morning.
While some may say that the bulletin is dead, CARA’s study clearly shows otherwise. When we think of the bulletin as an essential piece of communication for both events and happenings at the church, and a tool to proclaim the good news, we will invest our time and effort into making our Catholic church bulletin a vibrant piece of our parish communications.
If all those people are looking at your bulletin, let’s start by making it easy for them to find. My parish hands out the bulletin as everyone is walking out of each Mass. Parishes Online is also a great place to put that bulletin, so parishioners can subscribe to receive the bulletin in their inbox each week. Parishes Online is the largest online directory of Catholic churches in the country. Liturgical Publications customers have their bulletin added there as well as their website automagically. Even if you’re not an LPi customer, you can add your bulletins yourself. Here’s how.
Use your cover wisely
Like the US Today and every other paper in the country knows, the front-page of the newspaper is the most valuable real estate. Changing the cover each issues makes the paper more engaging.
One priest said, “Why do we have the picture of the church on the cover of our bulletin? If they don’t know what the church looks like when they walked in, I don’t want ‘em here.” If you have a logo, or small picture of the church on a small part of the cover, that’s great. He was talking about having the entire cover with the same church picture, week in and week out. Understand that the cover is valuable and use it as such.
Use the bulletin to highlight a ministry. Use a color picture of the ministry in action on the cover. Have the ministry leader write an article about the good that their group does in the community or highlight a special project that they’ve worked on. Also let them know how they can get involved. How many hours per week, what are the requirements, and who to contact. You can then have those ministry leaders give a short 3-5 minute presentation during Mass that weekend and set up a table in the gathering area to answer questions. This three-pronged approach to highlight a ministry is a great way to get more people motivated to join a ministry. You’ll also have ministry leaders competing for weekend, so make sure to lay out some ground rules.
If you have a parish festival, special event, or any other happenings that you want to remind people about, use the cover. Not only the weekend that it's happening, but the weeks leading up to the event.
Repurpose your bulletin
You are probably spending a great deal of time putting all the content together for the bulletin. A great communications strategy is to repurpose that content for the website. It gives you great content for your website and in Google’s world, content is king. Anyone who has grabbed the bulletin and didn’t have time to read it all, may also come across the information on the website giving you multiple opportunities to reach parishioners. Blessed Sacrament in Walpole, MA, does exactly that. You are able to find many bulletin articles that are published on their News page.
What would you like them to do after they read the bulletin?
As your parishioners are paging through your bulletin, think about what you would like them to do next. If it’s information about an event, go to our website for further information. It’s great practice to direct all your traffic to you main content source, your website. When you do this, you will need to make it simple for people to find the further information. Make a Bulletin Articles Button that directs people to a page on your website with further links to the bulletin articles. Use the same pictures on the bulletin as you do your website. Your bulletin may have limited space, but your website should be unlimited.
What ways are you using your bulletin to effectively communicate to your parishioners?
Keith Alberts has been providing personal education to church staff for 4 years about the need for easy to use online tools they can simply manage themselves. This includes online giving, websites, social media, and a custom church app. Through LPi, he conducts Building a Vibrant Parish seminars to give best practices of parish communication for Catholic churches in a fun and open setting. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.