Parish Bulletins with a Purpose

Is the bulletin something we just do in Catholic parishes? Or something we do with a mission, a sense of purpose, a strategy?

It’s not a stretch to say that most parish bulletins are treated as nothing more than routine maintenance for the people who are already involved with the parish.

We presume that people who read the bulletin:

  • are already meaningfully responding to the Gospel
  • have an interior desire for the sacramental life of the Church…..and more!

In this spirit of routine maintenance, we fill the front cover with:

  • lists and phone numbers of parish staff
  • unchanging photo or drawing of the church building
  • stock images providing by publishing companies (i.e. a soaring eagle and flag for the 4th of July)

On the inside we say:

  • “New members welcome” – without pitching a reason why one would want to become a member
  • “Notify rectory 6 months before scheduling a wedding date” – as if all couples have a sense of even wanting to be married in the Church

Now, don’t get me wrong…none of these tendencies are wrong, immoral, or bad in and of themselves. They’re useful pieces of information, or in the case of the soaring eagle and flag, a harmlessly dull way to fill space.

But here’s the thing—when we allow 90% or more of our bulletin to be routine maintenance for those who are committed Catholic Christians, we’re missing an opportunity to communicate with:

  • the unchurched
  • the uncatechized
  • those who are lonely
  • those who are longing for God but do not know where to turn
  • and others…

Having a routine maintenance approach betrays, in the words of Pope Paul VI, the “deepest identity” of the Church, that the Church “exists in order to evangelize.”

Now, the bulletin’s not the main effort of any parish (nor should it be), but I propose a principle that’s not time consuming and something all of us have the capacity to do: Order the content of your bulletin, from front to back, along the stages in the process of evangelization that emerge from the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Mission Activity of the Church. What does this look like?

  • Pre-evangelization…building on the basic human needs and showing how these needs include a desire for God
  • Missionary preaching or initial proclamation of the Gospel…even though it’s familiar/redundant, you never know who may be on the margins of Christian life or never chose to believe.

This means that something on your cover should explicitly speak to those who have not discovered their need for God or have not accepted the Gospel. 

Then moving on to aspects of parish life that incorporate:

  • Initial catechesis
  • Continuing catechesis

The effort is about making sure the order and orientation of our bulletin content reflects the truth that the Church exists to evangelize. Just because the bulletin is “routine administration” doesn’t mean it should be done without missionary zeal. 

Let the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ permeate and enliven everything we do—even the lowly bulletin. 

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4 thoughts on “Parish Bulletins with a Purpose

  1. […] Must-Implement Concept #5 — Streamline the Bulletin and Announcements. Almost all parish bulletins are in need of an overhaul. This goes back to excellence. You might think the bulletin is meaningless–it’s not. It communicates a clear message about the priorities in the parish. In many cases, it’s a completely missed opportunity for solid initial evangelization. […]

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  2. this is really interesting…but can you give some concrete examples of the above or point to some current newsletters that do this well? Ta

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    • I agree that an actual example of what this would look like would be helpful. I have read the article twice, and then spent some time looking at our Sunday bulletin.

      On page 1. . . To build on basic human needs. . . should we perhaps move our bulletin items about Stephen & St Vincent de Paul ministries, Birth Choice, Community Service, Softball, Young Singles to the top, prayer requests, together with a nice graphic and something short that illustrates the kerygma. Perhaps the graphic/kerygmatic proclamation would replace the picture of the parish up top.

      Then on Page 2 and part of page 3 we focus on religious education (from little kids through adults) including sacramental prep (confirmation, baptismal seminars), total youth ministry.

      Then the rest of page 3 and all of page 4 is “The rest of the story” — the weekly schedule, staff contact info, mass schedule, seasonal announcements (parish council elections, Lenten meals, Advent breakfast with Santa etc), ministers schedule, “around the archdiocese.”

      Is that what’s being contemplated here?>

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      • I also haven’t ever really seen a long-form Catholic parish bulletin that seemed purposefully built around evangelization. I think Bob’s shifts are a great example of the potential. Especially w/ putting some type of initial proclamation/kerygma on the front.

        I think the other end of the spectrum to being purposeful about the bulletin is to simply cut it down in size. Big time. A micro bulletin…something that can fit on one printed page (2 sided). While this doesn’t allow for as many stages of evangelization, it conveys purpose because it makes it obvious what the “next steps” and key things going on are…rather than having say, a ChristLife course carrying the same placement/weight as some other parish’s annual Memorial Day second-hand sale or something. It also forces real conversation with ministerial staff to learn about sacraments (in the event some are reading with a consumer mentality of, “my kid needs to be confirmed”). Nativity Church advocates for this more focused method in “Tools for Rebuilding” https://practicalevangelization.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/top-10-must-implement-concepts-from-tools-for-rebuilding-1-staff-synergy/ and here’s an example of it from a nondenominational Christian church: http://marshill.org/the-weekly-online/.

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