Inspiring Parish Bulletins – Pt. 2: Connecting with the Web

I’m following up on last week’s Inspiring Parish Bulletins post, because there is SO much more to discover about these bulletins and parishes! We’ll see that parishes with beautiful bulletins don’t just have great bulletins.

All of the bulletins featured last week were designed by persons with some combination of…

  • talent
  • skill
  • high standards
  • training
  • experience

Let’s “zoom in” our view from macro to micro.

Function AND Form

Patti Wienclaw, Coordinator of Communications for St. James in Novi, Michigan, explains the common problem with bulletins: “I know a lot of parishioners will either walk past the bulletins completely, or grab one and then never read it.”

After seven years working professionally in advertising as a graphic designer, Patti opted to put her gifts to work for the Church. “I’m a practicing and serious minded Catholic and quite honestly didn’t like the high pressure world of ad agencies.”

Sample from Patti Wienclaw's ad design portfolio
Sample from Patti Wienclaw’s ad design portfolio

Once hired for the parish, she set out to re-design the bulletin. “The parish is very active and the bulletin was FULL of great information, but wasn’t arranged the most effective way, and used a lot of 90’s clip art. I tried to arrange it in a way that was easy for parishioners to find the information they were looking for.”

With improved functional capability, Patti applied her advertising savvy to add interest to the bulletin’s appeal. “My hope was that by adding pictures and flair throughout the bulletin, it might encourage more readers. I try to incorporate scripture passages from that week’s gospel, as well as images that go along with it.”

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Patti’s professional experience had also formed her “design conscience”; the bulletin wouldn’t be her only re-design. St. James needed a cohesive visual identity. She went about making the parish website more functional and beautiful.

Says Patti: “I love being able to put my education and experience to work for the Church!”

Bulletin-JWeb1Bulletin-JWeb2

Pair Your Bulletin with a Strong Website

Each of the parishes featured in last week’s post also has an attractive, helpful website. On last week’s blog, one commenter asked how the bulletin enhances the parish website, or vice versa.

Many parishes create digital versions of their bulletin for easier browsing online, such as St. Benedict in Phoenix, Arizona. However, you may be surprised to learn that their online bulletin came first!

Tyler Bartlett, Music Coordinator of St. Benedict, is a graphic technology student at Arizona State University — making him the ‘go-to creative’ staff member. He explains the parish’s recent brand identity re-vamp: “We have a very small but very dedicated team at St. Benedict that has embraced technology in all areas of our parish office life. We redesigned our website last summer and have spent the past year moving our content there and making it a valuable resource to our parishioners.”

Let’s look at this story “Before” and “After”… (like one of those makeover shows!)

Tyler paints a picture of where St. Benedict was before the redesign:

“Communication was primarily distributed through the use of a paper bulletin, targeted email blasts (Constant Contact), announcements after liturgy, and slides shown on projectors in the Worship Space prior to mass. We had an active Facebook page and website, but they were not being utilized to their full potential.

“Following a complete redesign of our logo and website last summer, we began to examine our modes of communication and looks for ways to improve.” He makes a keen observation: All of the parish ministries would submit bulletin blurbs separately, resulting in a variety of different authors’ “voices” rather than a cohesive, unified, “parish voice”. St. Benedict remedied this with their Online Bulletin. “With the Online Bulletin, the head of any ministry — or the leader of any event — can submit a post, which then goes into an pending state until it is approved to be published. Once published, the editor of each (parish) communication mode can refer to the Online Bulletin for articles their readers may find useful.”

Tyler says one of the greatest benefits to an Online Bulletin is searchable content. “Keeping an updated PDF of our paper bulletin on our website is helpful, but locating a specific new item is cumbersome and tedious. By converting all articles into posts, all of our content is now searchable and available at our parishioners fingertips.” (Not to mention the search engine optimization boost.)

The Online Bulletin also encourages interactivity with the content; social media buttons are embedded on each article, allowing parishioners to “Like” or “Share”.

“Similarly,” Tyler notes, “the person in charge of our Facebook page can now link directly to the source of the announcement they are posting about. We have seen great turn out in announcements where action is required to be taken, such as sign ups. […] We can embed registration forms, payment modules, RSVP forms, and up-to-the minute updates into posts for our readers.”

This user-friendly approach carries into a real-life, after-Mass application: “We have even gone as far as making iPads available at designated places after Mass for folks to sign up for various things. Of course, we provide a short and descriptive link (such as stbenedict.org/rsvp) that can be accessed at home, in the car ride, or by clicking a link in our email blasts.”

Wanting a professional, single visual identity, the parish decided to re-design the paper bulletin to “reflect the style and aesthetic of our online bulletin,” says Tyler.

Fascinating, isn’t it?

Your parish may consider following a similar process: After having the website re-designed, ask a local design student to re-configure your paper bulletin in harmony with it. This will set visual parameters for your bulletin designer, upon which everyone has already agreed, so you’ll have (hopefully!) less stress and used resources during the project.

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User-Friendly Means Mobile-Friendly

When it comes to serving his flock online, Father Ryan Humphries — rector of the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Natchitoches, LA — doesn’t mess around. One-fourth of his parish website visitors view the site on a mobile device. “Of them, it’s two-thirds iOS, one-third Android. That’s really tough to design to directly,” he explains, “because the screen sizes and the browsers change device to device. So can layout — portrait or landscape.”

What’s a parish to do? Use responsive web design; cater to all screen sizes at once. “It’s easily in the top three priorities on any one page of the site,” he says.

Bulletin-MinorMobileAs he set out to re-design the website, Fr. Ryan researched his options. “There are a few companies that do hosting and use a responsive templating engine that is really beautiful. I pay $16 per month at Squarespace.com and it’s very worth it.”

How does Squarespace allow him to easily serve website visitors regardless of their screen size? “Each picture I upload is actually optimized into seven sizes that can be arbitrarily inserted as the size of the screen changes. Whenever I design a page, I drag the right side of the browser and I can watch as it gets to be laptop size, iPad size, iPad mini size and finally phone size.”

What does this have to do with the bulletin?

First, Fr. Ryan told me he believes in the power of a good first impression. Whether someone’s first interaction with the parish is via the bulletin, a personal visit, or the website, that interaction (and subsequent experiences) will inform their impression of your parish.

Second, all parish communications should serve by meeting real needs. Fr. Ryan calls this quality “Real Usability.”

“Real Usability is when someone is at a barbecue or a crawfish boil and they remember something from a sermon or the bulletin,” he says, “and they know immediately that my website is like IMDB for their parish. They know that they can get out their phone, tap two or three times and be in the right place for their content.”

How does a parish determine HOW to serve real needs with its communications pieces? Fr. Ryan advises not to keep the brainstorming within the parish office or staff. “Office staff and designers live in a bubble that the faithful at large don’t. If the content map is created in a vacuum, then big, obvious holes will start to develop.”

His tips for this process:

  • Engage your community
  • Ask questions
  • Brainstorm
  • Measure responses
  • Don’t take offense when your ideas don’t match what’s really needed

Here’s what he discovered: “My people LOVE having the recorded sermons online & podcasted. They LOVE the ebulletin (because they get it before everyone else)! They don’t really care as much about the history online, and had zero interest in the gift shop online. They don’t want an iOS app. They want the school website (SmsTigers.org) to be tightly integrated.” …etc. etc.

I’ll leave you with his conclusion — which applies to any piece of parish communication: “The magic is finding out what those real or perceived needs are, and then finding a faithful, beautiful, engaging and efficient way to meet them.”

NEXT WEEK: Look forward to some practical resources for more professional and polished parish communications, from Melissa Nault — Communications Specialist with Pax Christi parish in Eden Prarie, MN.

I’m so excited to share these stories with you. Please share your thoughts — I’d love to hear from you! – Angela

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