Should We Keep Printing Church Bulletins?5 min read

As I walk through our church building following our Sunday services, I often find lonely pieces of paper littering the rows of chairs, the entryway, and the fellowship hall.

Sometimes they are Sunday School coloring sheets left behind by the children. But most of the time, they are discarded bulletins, valid for two hours and now a relic of the past.

Some people decline the church bulletin when they enter the building on Sunday. Others insist on having them and express concern if certain things are not included in the weekly bulletin.

Church BulletinBulletins also vary from location to location as some churches print the entire service liturgy while others just give a list of upcoming events. Having visited many churches during my lifetime, I have seen many different flavours of the church bulletin, and I have collected several for reference.

For the most part, I have stopped collecting others’ bulletins and just take pictures of things that I find interesting.

In my own church, I am one of those who decline the bulletin on Sunday, and I am also the one who recycles the piles of bulletins left behind after Sunday.

Do printed bulletins really have much value anymore, or is this a church tradition that we can discard?

Before exploring a potential answer to that question, let’s take a look at the history of church bulletins.

Medieval Period

During the medieval period, with the rise of Christianity as the dominant religion in Europe, churches became centers of community life. Church services were conducted primarily in Latin, which was not understood by the common people. As a result, church leaders began using written texts, known as “missals,” to guide worshipers through the order of service and provide translations of Scripture readings and prayers.

A missal is a liturgical book used in Christian worship, particularly in the Catholic Church, containing the texts and instructions for the celebration of Mass throughout the year. It typically includes prayers, scripture readings, hymns, and other liturgical texts necessary for conducting the Mass.

Missals were designed to guide people through the proper order and structure of the service, including the prayers and rituals associated with each liturgical season and feast day.

The Reformation

The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century brought significant changes to the practice of worship. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other reformers advocated for the use of printed hymnals, catechisms, and sermons to facilitate worship and education among believers.

As a result, churches began producing written materials for distribution to congregants, including pamphlets, tracts, and newsletters.

19th Century

Modern church bulletins date back to the early 19th century when churches began to print and distribute simple handbills or programs outlining the order of worship for their services. These early bulletins typically contained hymn lyrics, scripture readings, and announcements, and they were distributed to congregants as they entered the church building.

The widespread adoption of printing technology made it easier and more affordable for churches to produce printed materials. Churches began publishing weekly or monthly newsletters, containing announcements, event schedules, and pastoral messages.

20th Century

The use of church bulletins as we know them today became more standardized in the last century. With the advent of photocopiers and desktop publishing software, churches were able to produce professional-looking bulletins with ease.

Bulletins typically include the order of service, Scripture readings, hymns, announcements, and perhaps the outline of the pastor’s message. They even featured decorative elements, illustrations, and photographs.

Contemporary Trends

In recent years, digital technology has transformed the way our world communicates. Many churches now offer digital versions of their bulletins, accessible via email, websites, or mobile apps.

Digital bulletins allow for greater flexibility and interactivity, enabling churches to reach a wider audience and provide timely updates and information.

Purpose and Practicality

The widespread adoption of church bulletins throughout the years coincided with the availability and affordability offered by advancements in printing technology. As churches sought to organize and standardize their worship services, printed bulletins became an essential tool for communicating important information to congregants.

But does the printed bulletin still have that value today?

I do think there is value in keeping people informed and putting regular reminders before people of upcoming events. But that’s about the only thing needed in a bulletin, in my opinion.

If people like to take hard copy notes, a separate printed piece of paper can be made available to them. Even better, have a generic one that can be used week after week! Here’s one that I made for that reason.

People don’t need to know the order of service unless they have an active part in it, and songs don’t need to be printed if you already have hymnals or a projection system. The only exception would be if you don’t have a projection system and the songs you sing are not in your hymnals.

Other information like offering numbers, reports, birthdays, etc. can all be communicated via digital media. In fact, everything can be communicated via secure sources online!

In a day when almost everyone has a digital device with access to the internet, I think that digital communication and digital bulletins are the way to go. In fact, some people rely more on digital communication than printed materials.

If you have a congregation in which some people don’t have easy online access, then maybe a few printed bulletins with upcoming events are helpful for them.

But for the most part, I think it’s time to save money on paper and ink expenses and move the essentials online.

Yes, this tradition was good for a time, but it is now largely outdated. It definitely is not a biblical requirement!

Summary

The history of church bulletins reflects the changing needs and preferences of congregations over time, as well as advancements in technology and communication methods.

For this same reason, I submit that digital sources of information for the church are now the most practical, and some elements of the traditional church bulletin simply should be eliminated.

What does your church do? Do you have reasons for thinking we should keep the printed bulletins?

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