By Jonathan Howe
In a previous article, I listed emerging technologies in churches. Today, I focus on communications and practices that are declining to the point of non-existence. Your church might still use some of these, but if the trends continue, you won’t be using them for long.
Technological advancements and cultural changes have ushered in new practices in church communications. As a result, these seven practices are not only being replaced, they are dying.
- Clip Art. Thanks to the rise of easy-to-use and affordable graphic design, many churches have all but done away with clip art. What was once a staple of church bulletins has been replaced in many instances by designs that look professional and stylish.
- Bad Fonts. We all know the names—Papyrus, Comic Sans, Copperplate Gothic, and Algerian. If you do any kind of design work, you’re cringing right now. I know the Golden State Warriors have almost singlehandedly made Copperplate Gothic cool again, but there’s no reason to use any of these. With free Google Fonts and scores of free or cheap font websites at your disposal, there’s no need for your church to use trite, overused fonts in anything that you design or print.
- Printed and Mailed Newsletters. Speaking of which, if you’re still printing and mailing church newsletters, you’re in the minority. Email newsletters have all but replaced the printed and mailed church newsletter. They are quicker to deliver, cheaper to produce, and are often more effective in communicating information to your congregation.
- Verbal Announcements. Of the items on this list, verbal announcements are dying the slowest death. But many churches are opting for video announcements or slides in lieu of taking time out of a worship service for someone to give the announcements.
- Phone Trees. Social media, email newsletters, and texting have all but eliminated phone trees. What would possibly take hours in the past can now be accomplished in an instant through one mass text or email.
- Church Facebook Groups. When Facebook first began offering pages and groups, many churches set up groups in lieu of pages. That’s been corrected over the past few years. Facebook groups are still used, but typically it’s not the main, outward-facing presence a church has on Facebook.
- Signup Forms. Online registration and payment systems have contributed to the death of signup forms. I can remember tables of signup forms from when I was a kid. Now, my church has several online forms where I can register my kids for events, sign up for Wednesday night dinner reservations, or pay for a book to use in my small group.
These seven practices served us well over the years—with the possible exceptions of clip art and bad fonts—but are now dying. Many church members may lament the loss of these practices. However, I’m confident that church communications are better off because we’ve improved these practices and—in many instances—left them for dead.
Does your church still use any of these? Are there other church communications practices not listed here which are also dying?
Although I am all on board with new technologies for communication I also have to be sensitive to my less technologically adept flock. I don’t see paper sign ups and mailed newsletters disappearing completely for some time because many of our seasoned saints don’t do technology.
Furthermore, I know many of my younger flock who refuse to get hooked into social media so while that is a good way for many, it is not the final solution either. Much like blending different music styles we still need to use many different avenues to broadcast our message.
I totally agree. Most of our senior adults do not even own a computer, much less do social media or have a cell phone that can do more than take calls. I don’t see us getting rid of our church copier any time soon.
I understand that some churches will still need those, but the growth in usage is coming from the tech side.
We have recently stopped using printed bulletins and now include all announcements on our church app and FIVE2 announcements on the screen before the service. We still have some pushback from some who grew up with bulletins!
Have you noticed some feel like you don’t care about them because of the likely perception that you’ve made these things inaccessible to them?
I think bulletins still have a place. Just my opinion.
I agree. If for not other reason that to have something to be handed on the way in and to hold while talking to others. The nice thing about a bulletin or worship guide, too, is that you’re able to give out JUST the information you want someone to see – whereas an app or website is overkill for Sunday morning because of all the information. And don’t forget note-taking – most people are not completely auditory learners so it helps for them to write (even hand-write) it down. Oh yah – and it can double as an invitation to someone else after the service!
One communication practice that always drove me nuts, was publishing our weekly events in the local paper – church section. I had members who believed that publishing our daily/weekly schedule would be a vehicle to attract visitors. It was basically the same crap every week for every church. I tried to just publish big events, and seasonal events etc. What I learned was that the only reason everyone insisted on the paper was that our insistent members could see if we had a longer list of the same crap than the other churches. It was like a contest. Then I also realized it was our insistent members who read what other churches were doing so they could moan and whine about what we weren’t doing. I don’t believe that “non-believers” or “non-affiliated Christians” choose to visit a church based on the daily/weekly schedule of a church. They make take interest in seasonal events but nothing else. It may attract a few people a year who are not happy with their church and are looking for something else. There was a time before mass media that the church schedule in the local paper was the only means of communication to the community, but not anymore. It was a pain in the neck and so was the monotony of publishing it and the battle to keep it.
That is amazing. I would recommend Simple Church for a few of your members. Ha.
The only people who read “The Church Page” are people who are already in a church.
You seem to be in either a bad mood, or you do not like your vocation…
in either case, this is NOT the place for it!
LOL, yes, we still use printed bulletins and I, as pastor, still have people, one of whom is my wife, who want me to verbally make announcements every Sunday!
I think your reflections are focused more on the urban areas. Here in the pastures and rows of crops, many of these dying forms of communication are living a healthy and long life!
I think it will be a slow move to more technology in the rural settings.
Thanks for your thought provoking posts!
Blessings upon you and yours.
I totally agree with what you have expressed. We need to remain sensitive to where we are and to whom we are ministering.
I agree with the majority of what has been said, although there’s still a place for verbal announcements and phone trees as reinforcement or replacement for people who learn or retain information when they hear it rather than reading it.
I get the point on verbal announcements. It’s by far the slowest fading of these, and it’s not even close.
Many people don’t bother reading the announcement inserts in the bulletin. We cater to all learning styles and this aspect does affect what people read or hear. We find it more useful to have different people who are involved in outreach or music make the announcement instead of the ministers. It’s a fresh face and voice and allows auditory learners and/or impatient people to get that information right away rather than signing in, scrolling down, sorting info. Human to human information giving will never go out of style.
While technological advancements are great. We are certainly in transition at this stage. There are still way too many who are not wired (or wireless). We use everything but snail mail.
We still print what we call newsletters. These are published 3 times per year, Christmas, Easter and harvest. Newsletters are hand delivered by our elders on each occasion, and personally I find it a great vehicle for pastoral care, as the elders have an “excuse” to knock on people’s doors three times a year (at least)
Elderly members love this, most other people appreciate the care and attention paid to them by their elders. It’s a good excuse to visit people who have become estranged somehow too.
While visiting, if appropriate our elders will take the chance to read the scriptures and pray in the home. I think this is a wonderful practice, although as an elder it can be a lot of work!
The newsletter you speak of is not what I would be talking about here. I’m talking more about a weekly/monthly piece that’s just informative.
The sign up forms are the hardest for me to get rid of. It seems like a large contingent of our folks are either wary of any digital form, or don’t use them properly (requiring a phone call, thus costing the very time I was trying to save).
We started video announcements a few years ago, but have recently shortened them to about 1:30 or 2min tops. This allows us to keep the service short (we have 3 back to back) and decide what the 2-3 really important things are for that week.
Glad the video announcements are working well. Your point of focus is the main reason many churches are moving that direction.
I’ve been thinking of using Facebook Live to do announcements for the week. For example, on a Thursday afternoon I would host a Live session to have time to give info that might take time from our worship.
This would save time usually spent on editing, too. The potential to interact with members at the same time is worth considering. Also, once the video is complete, it can be shared on the FB page, website and/or email.
Not a bad idea. Let us know how it goes. Love the originality.
Our church is 17 years old, and we use a mix of all these.
We have always had an e-mail newsletter.
We tried an “e-bulletin”, where the bulletin for the Sunday service was sent out by e-mail and posted on the website. That idea lasted 3 weeks before we went back to the printed version.
We have a mix of video and verbal announcements, but the only items communicated during the worship service are items being announced for the first time and events that are occurring the following week.
We have replaced the phone tree with text trees, but we do have a couple of small groups that still communicate via phone tree.
We still have paper sign-up sheets. We have found that tracking and communication with event attendees is easier.
Having said all this, though, I would say this is what works for our church. Others, however, may do other things successfully, and I would look forward to reading about those.
There is still a lot of clip art used, it’s just better clip art. Free fonts and free graphics are all designed by artists. When you choose to use them rather than pay for them, you deny the artists due compensation.
Although I try to keep verbal announcements to a minimum. I do use them to highlight some of the great things that are happening in the church. I do keep them very short though. I once sat in a church service that took half an hour for announcements. If the pastor had not been my friend, I would have left.
We do the paper bulletins and verbal announcements/powerpoint as the verbal announcements are given hoping to reinforce what is being said through visual as well as verbal. Bulletins are a staple because it gives something for people to read through and doodle on and a place for upcoming events flyers and announcements too. I appreciate technology and embrace it to help make life easier and better. It’s OK to tweak and revise and update the bulletin with different design too it helps people to keep looking.
Thanks for the posts I appreciate the input.
Thank you Thom for your insightful points and challenging ideas in these blogs.
Yes! We love bulletins!!
Hi Dr. Rainer!
I’m hooked on bulletins! I look forward to getting one every Sunday, I can go over it for quick reminders. I kind of feel like it’s part of salvation… Lol
*Have a terrific & safe rest of the day!
So are we! That’s why I didn’t include them in the list. We love bulletins!
The problem with communication is the illusion that it happened. Seems like excusing the loss of communication practices just feeds the illusion. Sin of over communicating is better than sin of under communicating.
I was hoping “the grapevine” had made the list, but I guess that will never die. 😉
I think the slowest of these items to be replaced are verbal announcements. Video announcements can be expensive to produce, require too much lead time (what if an event is cancelled?), and run counter to the culture of a church that does not use video in the service. We have a brief picture slideshow for before and between services (much easier and cheaper to produce) and then do verbal announcements at the end. The key for us has been having control over announcements. As the senior pastor, I produce each week a one-sheet, three item maximum of announcements to be given. That keeps announcements from getting out of control.
That’s a great system, Fred. Wish more churches would do this.
I’m curious Jonathan, why is a facebook group fading away? We have a group page for all our ministries and find it a great way to get info out. I would love to know why and what the alternative is to a group page because we are really trying hard to improve our communications this year so 2017 will be our best communication year ever. thanks and God bless!
I referred to groups as the main presence for the church. Groups are still great for individual ministries.
I took a run at doing video announcements, and they were well received, but since I’m the only person in the church with the technical know-how to do it, I had to let it go…for now.
The phone tree thing in my church is interesting. We actually have an auto dial function that does all the calling. I’ve never been in a church that did this before, but in my community where only about half my congregation has Facebook or texts, it’s still valuable. I do see it going away one day, though.
ProVideoAnnouncements might be of interest to you, then. They do those for you.
We have almost seen the death of multiple inserts in our bulletins. In addition to the Connection Card we often don’t have any inserts and only occasionally just one or two. (It took a while to stop inserting a sermon outline every week!) We had to be pretty firm about limiting announcements and inserts to only those items with a fairly large target audience. Why would we announce every small group, board meeting, or weekly event? Those items need to be communicated by the leaders/group members directly.
Oh. That’s a good one. Multiple inserts are a pain.
Another trend I see going away is giving or dedicating items (pews, hymnals, furniture,etc…) in honor or memory of someone.
Agreed. But those aren’t really church communications related.
MailChimp said that an average of only 24% emails from non-profits are only opened. Not a successful form of communication to completely replace paper and voice. Anyone who assumes that sending an email has done the job is fooling themselves.
That may be the case for some, but not all. We see a much higher open rate for the emails from this site, and one of the emails I send each week for another site I manage gets twice that open rate and then some. It all depends on the people, the content, and the subject.