Out of the Past: Church Bulletins

coverA friend in a preacher Facebook group asked about church bulletins … does anyone mail them / read them anymore? All of the young voices said no, they don’t get them, mail them, nor read them if they happen to arrive. I understand that. But this is where I am old school.

I remember as a young minster sharing a couple of pages of addresses with friends like Danny Dodd. These addresses were of the best church bulletins you could get in the mail. All you had to do was write them and request them. That’s it. In a few weeks they would start arriving. As young ministers we were looking for bulletin articles that might spark sermon ideas and we found many. Back in the pre-internet era, boys and girls, this was the main way we knew about stuff going on in various churches. This is how we got ideas for outreach programs and sermon series and Sunday School studies.

We especially liked to get bulletins from well known preachers (pre-blog, pre-website, pre-historic!). There was a time I couldn’t wait for Rubel Shelly’s Ashwood Leaves to arrive. I got the Getwell Reminder from Garland Elkins (he wrote some great articles with POINTS… points = sermons!). Marvin Phillips, who decried bulletins (I once heard him say at Tulsa, ‘God deliver preachers from having to write the bulletins!!!!’) always had an encouraging word in his column Shining Like Stars. Danny Dodd was a bulletin master, putting out one of the best…whether from Pine Grove or the ‘Sky’s the Limit at Skyway Hills’. I loved Jim Hackney’s bulletin – always great class ideas and sermon ideas there. There was that gigantic ‘are you kidding how much stuff is in this thing’ blue and white bulletin from J. J. Turner (John Alan Turner’s dad) – it was like 8 or 10 pages monthly from Mission¬†Vallejo, California. There were many many more!¬†If you are getting the idea (if anyone is still reading) that I got a lot out of these…you’re right. At times I got 50-60 bulletins a week. Most from places I didn’t know. And I didn’t care about the sick list. I wanted (1) outlines and (2) program ideas and (3) clipart from the ones printed on white paper. It was another era of communication.

Now very few churches send their bulletins. I consider my bulletin a letter to the church each week. I can’t control who reads it, but I do my best to write something of interest in regard to the church life … I don’t have room for articles because of the pretty picture on the front (we buy color shells – perhaps another dying trend?). I do get some bulletins by email, but they tend not to be consistent. Some churches put theirs online, but even with a reminder it just seems like an interruption to go look at it. Email is going the way of the dodo bird – there’s too much spam and a thousand subscriptions.

I’d rather get a paper bulletin in the mail and even if I let them pile up, I’d read them. But that’s not going to happen, it will never be resurrected because nobody has time to read them anymore. There are 5,000 internet devotionals you can subscribe to, 20 million blogs, a billion church websites … and the glut of information just floods you to the point of not looking at any of it. It would be a joy to get a paper bulletin from you, let them pile up, and some Monday morning sift through them. I miss that.

We stopped mailing bulletins because postage costs were rising and we needed to cut something besides the preacher’s salary and mission efforts. I tell you what we miss by this. We miss a presence in the members’ lives sometime during the week…in their home … with a personal word from their preacher and some news they need to know. It reminds them of their church connection in a world where craziness keeps us in a state of forgetfulness and overload. It also says we care about you. Without bulletins you would not have bulletin bloopers, and everybody loves those. It’s simple – and relatively inexpensive for most – it takes time and yes it is archaic and never coming back … but now we send emails people do not read, end up texting people (what an interruption), and we gave up our mailbox space to junkmail. Do you ever wonder why companies spend millions sending out junkmail? Because in a quiet moment a lot of people will sit down and read it.

I remember when people would call me to say their bulletin did not arrive on the day they expected it. OK, enough reminiscing … get back to work, slackers! Get that email typed up, website updated, blog reposted, text resent, and tweet, FB, Tumblr it, Pin it … and whatever other way we are gasping for breath trying to communicate. Maybe we ought to quit all that, print it out and mail it to whomever we want to see it. Thanks for reading the ramblings of a guy who is getting older, having survived crossing the electronic divide!

John

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