Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 18, 1952
NUMBER 20, PAGE 3,9b

Bitten By The Bulletin Bug

Roy J. Hearn. Crossville, Tennessee

Unless a congregation now has a weekly "church bulletin" it is somewhat out of style. For some time this writer has wondered about its value. The exact number of congregations, or the number that print a bulletin, is not known; but let us consider the following:

Suppose that just one thousand churches print a weekly bulletin. Let us say the average cost of printing supplies for each congregation per week is $4.00, or a total of $4,000.00 a week just for printing. Suppose there is an average of three hundred a week distributed, per congregation, or a total of 800,000 copies weekly. Many congregations use the mails for distribution. Some have third-class permits; some don't. Postage would average about one cent, or $3,000.00 a week. This makes a total of $7,000 spent weekly for bulletins by 1,000 congregations. For a year this reaches the astounding sum of $364,000. Suppose 2,000 congregations publish bulletins — nearly three fourths of a million dollars annually expended for bulletins.

What could be done with this amount? $750,000 would support a nation-wide radio program for nearly two years. Each year it would build thirty meeting houses at $25,000 each. The amount would support over two hundred preachers each year at a salary of $3,600. It would care for 1,200 orphans at $600 each. The amount spent on weekly bulletins would put a good religious weekly into 250,000 homes, or a good monthly into 750,000 homes, thereby putting the gospel into the hearts of more hundreds of thousands.

Contents of bulletins are generally nothing of necessity that could not be announced from the pulpits: Records of attendance and contributions, names of the sick, news and notes, etc. Some always give instructive articles, others, never. Some contain a program of Lord's day services, and are handed out at beginning of services. This idea is borrowed from the sectarians. I would not argue that within itself makes it wrong, though I abominate anything that smacks of sectarianism; but often they are read during the singing, rattled during the prayer, and left to clutter up floors and book racks, marring the appearance of the building.

Many bulletins contain little else than announcements and society news; e.g.: "The 'bird' visited the home of Mr. and Mrs. A, leaving little Elcybiades; weight eight pounds; all is well." "Sisters B and C spent Wednesday in Nobleness." "Brother and Sister D had relatives visit them over the weekend." "A pink and blue shower was had for Sister E last week. Mesdames F and G were hostesses." "Brother and Sister So-and-So stopped by the preacher's house last week and left a jug of pickled pig's feet." As far as this writer can see nothing of this kind expedites the preaching of the gospel or edifies the church.

This writer does not deny that some good may be accomplished through bulletins; but it is little that cannot be done without them, especially in view of their cost. Neither does he oppose them as a crank. He merely ponders the matter and wonders if they please the Lord. When Jesus fed the multitudes the fragments of loaves and fishes were gathered; nothing was wasted. Is the Lord pleased with the great amount of waste that goes into bulletins, with so much spent and so little in return? It would be a liberal allowance to say that fifty percent of them are read by the membership.

Sometimes the preacher is called upon to do all the work: to assemble materials, cut stencils, mimeograph and staple, etc. This is a whole days work for one man, and is a nerve-shattering job. But in some places it must be done to please the "better" members and to tease others into activity. We seem to be getting away from the fact that the gospel is God's power to save and edify the church, and instead are turning to quips and cartoons. It has almost come to the point that the average preacher is so burdened with "office work" that he has little time for ministry of the word, and lack of preparation is obvious when he goes to the pulpit. In the Teacher's Annual Lesson Commentary, 1950, page 45, Roy H. Hunter offers this timely comment:

"Evidently prayer had a greater place in the church then (apostolic times, R.H.J.) than it has now. In their preaching, they spoke for God to the people. This may also suggest private devotions that they may be properly prepared for the duty of preaching. Some preachers have allowed themselves to be so weighted down with material matters, such as visiting the membership, printing bulletins, etc., that they have little time for reading, meditation, and prayer. For this reason their sermons have more husk than kernel. A preacher who spends less than three or four hours daily in study of God's word will not serve his congregation a very rich diet on Sunday."

This writer is not opposed to any scriptural effort or method of preaching the gospel, and do the will of God; but in most cases of his experience the bulletins of many churches contain nothing that would teach and edify. If we add to the figures in the first part of this article the initial cost of equipment, and how little used properly, our doubts as to acceptance by the Lord may be increased. We used to hear a good bit about "shaking" people into the church. Wonder if too many are not now being "cartooned" and "laughed" in without having counted the cost, or considered the seriousness of becoming a Christian and living the Christian life.

This writer is not opposed to a paper that teaches the word of God, mimeographed or otherwise, but is questioning the wasted space in most mimeographed church papers. The church in Crossville, Tennessee, where this scribe works, is using money formerly used in a bulletin in printing a twelve page religious paper. Four thousand copies are sent out monthly, mostly in this county without charge. The paper contains instructive articles to saint and sinner. A number have been baptized as result of reading it. More interest is being manifested in this county in mission meetings than ever before. The yoke of denominationalism is being broken, and people are being led to the truth, and to study for themselves. Churches in the county cooperate in the effort. If anybody wants to know how, I shall be glad to tell them. We believe the effort is worth the money, and that not too long off will be a great harvest of souls as result. The writer begins a meeting tonight (August 18) in a section where the gospel has never been preached. A man who reads the paper requested the meeting, and offered to furnish ground and lights for the tent. Others have likewise been convinced. Twenty years of printing a bulletin would not have done one-tenth the good already accomplished in two years with a real gospel paper.

Anyway, the writer is not attempting to be highly critical; he is just wondering if the Lord approves of such vast expenditures with so little returns.