Confessions of a Bad Pastor: No, I Don’t Read the Bulletin.

I’m going to be honest and admit that I’m a bad pastor. Now, there are many things that make me a bad pastor. This morning, I’m thinking about two main areas of focus (which are quite similar) that make me a bad pastor.

I don’t read the Sunday bulletin or the monthly newsletter. Let me be clear, I have never read the Sunday bulletin or the monthly newsletter in 23+ years of ministry. So, this isn’t a new practice – it’s a long-held pattern of behavior. It’s not some kind of rebellion. I have just never felt a desire or need to read the bulletin or newsletter.

As a result, there are some things that I miss. And, I’m okay with that. Even though I’m the pastor, I don’t feel like I need to know everything going on.

I fully recognize that this drives some people crazy…especially those who feel like they want/need to know everything that is happening at the church (regardless of whether or not they will participate).

However, I’ve never felt that the pastor needs to be the hub of all information. If people ask me about a children’s ministry event, I’m going to send them to the children’s ministry team. If they ask me about the women’s ministry, I’m going to send them to the women’s ministry leader. If they have a question about a specific project or ministry, I’m going to send them to that project or ministry leader. Not to sound pompously arrogant, but I have more important things to focus on than the details of the church calendar.

By not reading the bulletin or newsletter, there are some things that I miss and it’s honestly never bothered me.

We live in a day and age where a lot of print information is transitioning towards digital platforms. Whether it’s a website or social media platform, businesses, schools, newspapers, restaurants, schools and churches are moving more and more of their communication materials online.

Early adopters to the digital platform are now racing ahead. Rather than trying to figure out how to livestream to Facebook or YouTube, some churches are figuring out how to improve their Virtual Reality services on the MetaVerse.

Some churches have stopped using print pieces and moved to digital bulletins and electronic newsletters. While this transition has been met with resistance in many congregations, people tend to be adaptable and eventually make peace with the change.

In making this shift, churches save time and money. There is less time involved in sending out a digital newsletter as you don’t have to print, fold, address and add postage. Digital bulletins reduce paper and copier expenses – and reduce the amount of waste produced by a local congregation (seriously, the percentage of bulletins that are left behind, thrown away or placed in recycling bins following a service make one wonder why we spend the time and money printing these things).

Rather than sending out postcards, churches can send e-vites and create sharable social media posts.

Now, the argument is always made that “not everyone has email or social media.”

When a previous congregation I served made the shift to a digital newsletter (sharing it via email, Facebook and the church website), they discovered that less than 20 individuals/families did not have an email address on file. To be clear, this was a larger congregation. This represented less than 3% of the congregation). So, the church mailed a print out of the newsletter to those families and individuals. They also printed a few copies to make available at the welcome center for guests. I would guess that more than 3% of the congregation threw away/recycled their bulletins or never read their newsletter.

There are times when churches post information on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter because it is the quickest way to get information out to the largest audience. Of course, some will say that “not everyone is on Facebook”. That may be true, but Facebook pages are accessible to non-Facebook users. When churches started moving online, many utilized Facebook Live to share services. People without Facebook accounts were able to access those streams. It’s just like visiting any other website.

Many businesses and organizations only use social media to share information and important updates. How did I find out my favorite restaurant would be closed today? They posted on Instagram and Facebook…and nowhere else.

Could it be that we are catering to a vocal minority when we continue practices that are no longer efficient (or effective for that matter)? This is not limited to print or digital media, but applies to all ministries and projects. Are we doing things just because that’s what we’ve always done…or are we doing things because that will be the most effective in helping us make disciples?

“When Pew Research Center began tracking social media adoption in 2005, just 5% of American adults used at least one of these platforms. By 2011 that share had risen to half of all Americans, and today 72% (2020) of the public uses some type of social media.” (https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/social-media/)

The UnStuck Church podcast shared that today 79% of Americans use some type of social media.

“Social media usage is one of the most popular online activities and in 2021, 82 percent of the population in the United States had a social networking profile, representing a two percent increase from the 80 percent usage reach in the previous year.” (https://www.statista.com/statistics/273476/percentage-of-us-population-with-a-social-network-profile/)

Many churches continue to utilize outdated tactics for communications. Is this an attempt to quiet the protests of the 18% who are not using (or cannot use) social media? I’m not suggesting we forget the 18%. I am suggesting that we don’t use outdated practices for the whole. Still use the preferred platform for the 18%, but utilize the available technologies for the 82%.

Churches on the leading edge do a good job of communicating how information is received. They say “visit our website or Facebook page for the most up-to-date information” or “be sure to sign up for our email list” or “give us your address so we can make sure the pigeon-carrier stops by.”

The reality is, this has less to do with our ability to access information in our preferred format and more to do with our inherent resistance to change. We don’t like change. Even those of us who claim to thrive on change, we don’t like change that we aren’t comfortable with. So, rather than making changes that will help us become more effective and efficient, we keep doing the same old, same old. At best, we add new things on, but don’t stop old things.

When I was doing some consulting and coaching work, our team could usually gauge the willingness of a congregation to make necessary changes by suggesting a change to the way information is shared. If the leadership of the church shows resistance to an online newsletter, they probably were not going to be open to a change of administrative structure or worship style, time or location. Most congregations simply want consultants and coaches to tell them that “if you just keep doing what you’ve always done, but maybe paint the nursery, you’ll turn this ship around.”

I don’t have the answers. I’m sure there are pros and cons to all forms of communication.

Maybe the best way is to determine who are we trying to reach. Is this piece of communication intended for those we are already reaching? Well, use the kind of communication mode they are most likely to read. Is the pieced intended for those we are not currently reaching? Well, use the kind of communication vehicle that will most effectively reach your target audience.

Well, that’s enough about bulletins and newsletters. But, listen, if Thrasher Magazine ever moves fully digital, I will be the loudest protester! Don’t mess with my magazine!

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