If you’re looking for an in-depth academic look into the history of church bulletins, you’re probably going to be sorely disappointed. There aren’t any books written that detail the (presumably) exciting history of church bulletin use.
Before church bulletins, information about the service was limited to hymn numbers posted on a board at the front of the church. And any pertinent information was passed on via announcement before or after the service.
Over time, churches started using mimeograph machines. Edison patented the first autographic duplicating press in 1876; by 1887, flatbed duplicators were selling for $12 (about $250 in today’s currency). Churches created an early market for the Edison Mimeograph. Suddenly, they could produce service leaflets or programs that provided information about their services: sermon titles, hymn numbers, liturgical notes, and so on.
The introduction of offset printing and bulletin covers
The Edison Mimeograph manufacturer, the A.B. Dick Company, branched into offset presses after World War 2. These early duplicators led the way for the independent quick printing shops of the 60s and greatly improved the church’s bulletin options.
It wasn’t too long before Christian companies began offering bulletin covers that featured art and photography adorned with passages of Scripture. Bulletin content was printed on the inside.
Churches eventually began designing their bulletin covers on the computer, and you can still find churches who swear by them.
The future of bulletins
There will be opportunities for bulletins going forward. But it’s probably time for churches to wrestle with the cost and waste associated with printing bulletins. When you think about the time churches spend putting them together and then consider what happens to them when it’s all said and done, one has to wonder about their usefulness.
- They provide a weekly place to post the order of worship, upcoming events, church metrics, information, etc.
- They contextualize greeters at the sanctuary door, providing one more layer of connection with visitors. If they’re not handing out bulletins, it might seem awkward to park people there.
- They’re expensive. When you factor in the time it takes to put them together and the printing cost associated with that many weekly bulletins, it adds up quickly.
- They’re wasteful. Even for churches that make a point of placing recycling bins at the doors, too many wind up in the parking lot, people’s car floor, and landfills.
- They’re handed out in person. So if someone can’t make it to the service, they miss out on any news contained in the bulletin. (This is one of the many facts that hit home during the pandemic.)
Churches who embrace mobile apps find that they’re printing fewer bulletins (if any). By encouraging people in the service to download the app to get the bulletin, they can stay connected through the church’s primary communication tool. That’s the weakness of a bulletin: once you use it for its intended purpose, it’s garbage.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that bulletins are worthless, particularly on high-traffic holidays like Easter. But moving away from obsolete forms of communication to embrace more digital forms should be part of every church growth strategy. The church bulletin’s future is probably one where they’re reserved for special occasions instead of a weekly given–with many of the jobs they used to do handled by church apps and websites.
If you’re curious about what a mobile app can do for you, visit our church-app page. And consider investing in a low-price monthly subscription to Sharefaith Suite to meet all your digital church needs.
Thinking about updating your church website? We can help! Download the free eBook, “10 Signs It’s Time to Redesign Your Church Website: Transforming Your Website Into a Visitor Magnet” now.