I receive a large number of church bulletins each week from neighboring and distant congregations. Some of these are by email, some by ‘snail mail’ (the United States Post Office for those who may not know the lingo). Occasionally I will pass along to my readers an item of interest, or a well written article that is worthy of sharing with others. I realize that a church bulletin is only an expedient means of passing information and news along to its members. There are no “rules” for what constitutes a scriptural, or even a “good” bulletin. But at the same time, a church bulletin can be a reflection of where a congregation places its emphasis. One can get a pretty good picture of where a congregation is going by what appears within the pages of its church bulletin.
Over the past 25 years I have collected a sizable number of bulletins. I often file these away because there is some interesting quote, well written article of encouragement, or reference to someone of notable or personal interest. It seems to me that fewer and fewer bulletins are being used as a teaching tool. Most of what appears in some of these bulletins has to do with person-to-person activities. Let me share just a few of the “announcements” that have appeared in some of the bulletins through the years. “Water balloon fight for Jr. and Sr. high will be held at the home of ____ this coming Friday.” “Annual ski trip planned for _____.” A few years ago I received a bulletin announcing a “Spaghetti Dinner and Auction to help our leadership training for Christ students attend the convention.” The auction was to include “arts and crafts, antiques, and specialty desserts.” Some of our brethren are falling prey to the “bake sale” mentality for raising church funds, something which is without Biblical authority, but has come into use among churches of Christ in increasing number. Another bulletin had an ad for an upcoming youth activity featuring a “juggling act” to teach spiritual truths to the audience. Among other events featured in some of these bulletins were the following (I’m quoting from the bulletins): “Divorce and remarriage seminar” (sort of like closing the gate after the cow has gotten out), “financial planning seminar,” “Cooking made easy,” “Exercise and health seminar,” “craft show,” “concert for Christ,” and “mission trip to Mexico to help repaint community houses.” One bulletin we receive each week from a local congregation consists of eight pages of “activities,” and not once in my two years at Handley have I received one of their bulletins with some kind of instructional article included. Then there are those bulletins that contain blatantly false doctrine, announcements of fellowship with some denomination and/or joint participation in a Thanksgiving or Christmas worship service; those, of course, are either rejected outright, tossed into the trash can, or sent a letter asking that my name be taken off their mailing list.
Admittedly, much of what is advertised in the local bulletin falls into the realm of expediency; in fact the bulletin itself is an expedient. Being an expedient tool for teaching and informing the congregation about church activities, the sick, shut-ins, prayer lists, et al (though I would be opposed to the “dinner and auction” to raise funds for church work), how a bulletin is used is a matter of opinion and not faith. Such is essential to good communication from the leadership of the congregation to the members. I suppose the most puzzling thing about all of this is the amount of space that is taken up with such “trivial” and unimportant events, and the relatively little amount of space given to teaching, instruction and encouragement. I have always sought to provide something to my readers that will inform, encourage, or instruct. It only makes sense to me that if a congregation is going to spend the amount of money and energy it takes to put together, print and mail a weekly bulletin to folks in distant places, that they would want to have something more to offer their readers than a long list of “church activities,” none of which pertains to some of those who receive their bulletin. A well written article, whether by the local preacher or fresh from the pen of another, makes any bulletin worth taking the time to read. There are some bulletins that it takes me less than 10 seconds to look at. Then there are those bulletins that I look forward to getting each week because I know that more than likely they will have some article that challenges my thinking, or uplifts my spirit in a time of discouragement. Solomon wrote, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Perhaps the same could be said of the written word. If what appears in the local bulletin is any indication of where the emphasis of a congregation lies then perhaps it is later than we think.