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Reinventing the parish bulletin

Old cover is the same from week to week and the new color cover can change weekly.

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Several pastors and parishioners were intrigued back on Sept. 9 to learn that The Pilot Media Group had acquired the assets of a leading parish bulletin provider and renamed it Pilot Bulletins. Many thought it unusual that a Church organization would acquire a business and wanted to know the goals of such a move.

Pope Benedict XVI has been encouraging bishops, priests and lay faithful to embrace the power of the media, particularly the new media, to communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ. Perhaps more than any other bishop in the world, Cardinal Seán O'Malley has embraced this call. He has done so personally through his weekly blog and email, and as our archbishop by encouraging CatholicTV, The Pilot, our archdiocesan media team, and our parishes to expand their efforts in evangelization through current and new communication tools.

Cardinal Seán stated in September that "bulletins are such an important tool for communication and evangelization. Parish bulletins reach more Catholics weekly than any other media vehicle in the archdiocese."

When he formed the Catholic Media Secretariat in July and appointed me to lead it, Cardinal Seán asked me to determine a way to improve the content and quality of our local parish bulletins. Like with CatholicTV, the second-largest Catholic television network in the country, and The Pilot newspaper, the nation's oldest Catholic newspaper and one of the most prestigious, Cardinal Seán is hoping our entry into producing parish bulletins will raise the bar.

"We are hopeful that Pilot Bulletins will innovate in the ways weekly bulletins share our faith, convey important news, and invite Catholics to important events. We hope to make Pilot Bulletins the best Catholic bulletin service in the country," he remarked in a news release.

Cardinal Seán wants to "reinvent the parish bulletin." Currently, about 80 percent of the parishes in the archdiocese and most of the parishes in New England have bulletins that look about the same way that they did 30-40 years ago. They are typically four-page booklets, with a standard cover that looks the same each week and only two pages for information on parish events and messages from the pastor. These bulletins have limited ability to take rich graphics, photos and longer columns. Typically they are printed in black-and-white or in just one color. Some pastors have stated that parishioners often neglect to pick up these bulletins because they look the same from week to week and have limited information. As a communication tool, these bulletins often fail to communicate that the parish is vibrant and has a lot of great things happening.

Pilot Bulletins, formerly ParishComm, has a much more impactful look. It features color covers that can change weekly at the direction of the parish. Most of these covers involve great photos or art that depict the themes of each Sunday Gospel, which pastors or parish staff choose to suit the parish's preferences. Because the covers are in color and new each week, parishes that shift to this new format report that bulletin readership increases significantly. With the increased readership, parish events often see growth in attendance, which builds our Catholic community.

These bulletins are much larger than the old four-page format and range from 8 to 16 page booklets, depending on the amount of advertisements sold. Parishes can use the extra pages to share larger columns from the pastor, promote parish events, share photos from recent gatherings, include messages from Pope Benedict, Cardinal Seán, popular Catholic columnists and sections for children, and much more. The 50 parishes that currently utilize Pilot Bulletins are very creative in using this space to fit their needs and preferences. Pilot Bulletins will be increasing the content choices for parishes and making it easier for bulletin editors for cut-and-paste information about archdiocesan and other Catholic events that parishioners may want to attend.

Pilot Bulletins are free to parishes because they are sponsored by the advertisers who may be parishioners themselves, or other professionals who want to help a particular parish have a quality communication tool. Many parishes also receive a share of the advertising revenue to fund other ministries.

We invite you to look at some of the bulletins Pilot Bulletins print for parishes that have embraced this new color, large booklet style bulletin. Five examples of our bulletins can be found on the following parish websites: www.StCeciliaBoston.org, www.SaintAgnes.net, www.StJohnsPeabody.com, www.StMonicaMethuen.org, and www.NewburyportCatholic.org.

We hope that all parishes will choose a modern bulletin format for their parishioners, whether they utilize Pilot Bulletins or another provider that adopts similar technology. Additionally, we encourage parishioners to consider the sponsors of their bulletin when they choose a new service provider -- it's their sponsorship that keeps the bulletin free for the parishes. For more information on the new Pilot Bulletins product, please visit www.PilotBulletins.net. We ask the prayers of Pilot readers for the success of this new endeavor.

Scot Landry is Secretary for Catholic Media of the Archdiocese of Boston.

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