Sunday, April 28, 2013

Is Your Sunday Bulletin a Waste of Paper?

I can recall many examples of where I saw people pick up the Sunday bulletin at my parish, glance at a few pages for anything interesting, and quickly put it aside --- many examples.  I never really gave that a thought before this week.  The typical parish Sunday bulletin lists parish contacts, weekly masses and upcoming parish events.  These are all good things and, if you are looking for information in these areas, those seemed to be good things.  Our parish bulletin also lists inter-parish offerings of jobs, items for sale or rent, and advertising for services available from parish members.  All good things, I thought.
But more recently, I SHOULD have been questioning if this is the right format for this information.  With virtually everyone who can read now having an electronic device of some kind, why should we consider that the prime source of information on our parish is the bulletin?  When people want information today, most use a search engine to find results wherever and whenever they want.  They don’t have to (nor want to) search for some paper document to find information.  So why is that the primary use of most church bulletins?
This weekend I picked up a copy of the Our Lady of Good Counsel (Plymouth, Michigan) weekly bulletin.  (You can go to their website ( to check out their bulletin for April 28.)  The bulletin contains references to the catechism and its treatment of human sexuality.  It also has an excerpt from a book by a well known Catholic author (Fr. Cantalamessa).  And it has an article by a non-parish member, a wonderful witness of a non-Catholic family celebrating the conversion of their son to be Catholic --- it tells the story of a parish family, as it supports existing and new members.  All in all, it is a wonderful bulletin witnessing to how a single parish can participate in the New Evangelization.
In my business life I was a business analyst, and reasonably well respected.  When I discovered (or it was pointed out to me) that a competitor was doing something new, I took a three step approach.  1) I investigated whether we could do something similar, but better.  Sometimes this turned out not to be feasible, or it would cost too much money or take too much time to develop.  Then 2) I sought to develop partnerships with other companies, to share costs and reduce development time.  I negotiated many a partnership.  Or 3) If we couldn’t develop something better, than we copied our competitor’s offering.  Oh, I don’t mean we ignored patents or copyrights, but we developed something similar in content or looks.  This type of business analysis could be done regarding any parish bulletin.
Any parish could develop a bulletin format focused on the New Evangelization, seeking to teach parish members their faith in more depth.  Many parishes have excellent teachers of the faith and well-read parishioners who would love to share what they have learned.  And if that seemed to be beyond the means of a parish, perhaps they could join with local parishes to share teaching articles common to their bulletins --- or perhaps in a huge degree of cooperation and cost-efficiency, even print only one well-done bulletin, common to all the local parishes.  (This is just a smaller scale of Faith Magazine, the parish newsmagazine for the diocese of Lansing Michigan, which does an excellent job of integrating interesting articles and web-based details.)  Or your parish could just look at what some other parishes have done well (like OLGC), and copy the format.
I think the parish bulletin of today needs to be more than just a listing of information any search engine could find.  In this age of the New Evangelization, it should do more than just inform, it should teach.  We owe it to each other.   


  1. I think reaching out to and teaching parishioners and others is a weakness of most Catholic parishes. We have our classes for kids, and an RCIA program for those who want to join the church, but we do not have a regular system of adult ed in which most parishioners participate (ie Sunday School). Many parishes are afraid of making their website anything more than an on-line bulletin for fear of linking to offensive content (whether that content offends by judging that certain things are sinful or offends by not clearly saying they are)or lack of someone on staff with the expertise to design and maintain a decent website.

    As far as using the bulletin to teach, one problem there is money. If you copy my (generic author) article in your bulletin, then you are committing a copyright violation unless you get permission and (usually) pay royalties. If you have someone on staff write the content, then that is time the staff person isn't doing something else. The same is true if the parish wants to put content on its website (as opposed to linking to other folk's content).

  2. Hmmm. I'm sure you know more about law than I, RAnn, but I recall something about fair use of copyright materials which allows them to be copied in limited amount either to advertise the material (like I reference paragraphs in my blog when I review books) or as educational examples, as was done in the OLGC bulletin I referenced. I suspect Fr. Cantalamessa would not consider suing a Catholic parish for using teaching excerpts of his book, which likely will increase its sales.

    Regarding a sharing of locally-authored materials in area parishes, I suspect that most of these would not be copyrighted, any more than most sermons are not copyrighted. But it would get around the cost and time-to-produce issue we both relate to.

    My intent with this post and example was to reduce parish costs and enable parishes (and some of their talented members) to participate in the New Evangelization, something we are all called to do. In some parishes I saw nothing; in the example parish I cited, I saw innovation. Whether this way or some other, I think that needs to be encouraged. Not everyone has the time or ability to read and self-educate as much as I (or I suspect you) do.

    Re adult education: I recently read in Cardinal Wuerl's book "New Evangelization" that there is an U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults (P72). I have not read or investigated this as yet, but it might be a tool for adult education in parishes.