The Minimalization of Print Communication in Congregations

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The COVID-19 Pandemic is causing the minimalization of printing in congregations. The fear is that too many germs might be lurking on the printed page, and perhaps even a virus or two. Whether that is true or not, it is the fear.

Digital publishing has been around for more than a quarter of a century, but many congregations are slow to embrace it. Long-term habits are hard to break. The COVID-19 Pandemic is providing an opportunity to reconsider print publishing and take a deeper look at digital publishing. This may be a great shift for many congregations.

I grew up in a pastor’s home and was in the church office a lot from age six through 15. I would often help the church secretary fold or stuff with inserts the weekly newsletter and the Sunday bulletin. Then there was the stapling of the newsletters, followed by the sorting to get the newsletters in stacks according to cities and towns and later zip codes.

For the church secretary, the newsletter was generally a full day of work. Other than calling people or going to their home or work to see them, the newsletter was the only way to communicate with people between Sundays. The goal was to mail the newsletter by Wednesday with the hope it would be delivered on Friday, or Saturday. If not, the people who actually read it would complain they had not received their newsletter.

Now enter the digital age. Over the past three to four decades the number of ways to communicate with people has increased significantly. Now we have e-mail, websites, text, social media, and others. It is no longer that everyone is going to receive a printed newsletter from their church almost every week. It is not that communication has shifted to electronic newsletters, it is that people have chosen one or more ways among the many ways to communicate that they prefer to receive messages.

The job of the administrative or ministry assistant — not many are still called the church secretary — is now to figure out which of the multiple ways of communication best works for each church member. No one way works.

Now enter COVID-19. The current situation has helped more congregations turn the corner and move a majority if not all of their communication to a digital platform. At the current moment, the majority of people who worship do so online through social media, websites, or video distribution channels like YouTube or Vimeo.

As congregations return to their churches for worship, many will not have bulletins, but will have announcements on a screen or some other display method, or may have them posted on their website people can access by smartphone or use a QR code to access the announcements and even the order of worship. No children’s bulletin, activity sheets, and other handouts will be available.

Some churches are using this as an opportunity to stop regular print publications and move to multiple types of digital communication as a replacement. Also, the use of video and audio means to communicate with the congregation is increasing significantly

This calls for refocusing the efforts of support staff, retraining them in digital communication as needed, and even deciding that having people with outdated skills is a liability and they need one or more people for whom the digital learning curve would not be too steep.

This means not only the elimination of print media, but also the replacement of staff who cannot make the shift to digital. Actually, it may call for redesigning support and paraprofessional staff positions in congregations. It also adds a new position qualification to pastoral and other ministry staff.

How is this digital shift impacting your congregation?

George Bullard, BullardJournal@gmail.com, June 8, 2020

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