Two churches share bulletins & website

Collaborative communications creates efficiency
and builds confidence for two small churches

by Dave Seifert

Worship bulletins, websites, newsletters and formation classes are all important ways that churches communicate with members and prospective members. And they all consume limited resources. Two Rhode Island congregations — Church of the Ascension in Wakefield and the Chapel of St. John the Divine in Saunderstown — are maximizing those limited resources through innovative collaborations.

Here are five things to know about what’s going on at Ascension and St. John’s.

  1. Two churches, one bulletin — almost. When a church administrator works three hours a week and also serves as bookkeeper, it’s difficult to find time to produce a weekly worship bulletin.

With that in mind, Rev. Rob Travis, head pastor for the two congregations, asked Ascension’s volunteer administrator, Arlene Arnold, if she and other volunteers might be able to produce a joint bulletin. The answer was “yes,” and in the first phase, the bulletin included everything except hymns, which are not the same at both churches. Instead, readers were prompted to “check the hymn boards.”

“That worked OK, but there was still a desire to see the hymn numbers in the bulletin,” Travis noted, “so I asked about producing slightly different versions that included hymns.”

Arnold agreed, and says “it’s a little more work, but not that big a deal.”

She created a template for the churches to have what’s essentially a shared bulletin for their primary Sunday services, differing only in the hymn listings and announcement sheets produced separately by each congregation. Over time, the content has been modified to add mission statements and vestry rosters on the back cover.

A big change? Maybe, but Arnold said change can be beneficial: “I think change is good,” she said. “It keeps people aware.”

  1. Well-organized process. The bulletins are produced at Ascension. Arnold develops the templates and coordinates printing. Other volunteers fold and stuff, then put the bulletins for St. John’s in a large plastic bag and pin that bag outside near the church mailbox. A St. John’s member who works in Wakefield picks up the bag for delivery to Saunderstown.
  2. New shared website. The churches have also collaborated on an innovative new shared website. Travis asked two leaders who had been working on the sites to design the single new site. Ascension parishioner Paul Jordan from Ascension donated time to design the site and paid the initial fees for registering it.

“It’s still work in progress,” Travis noted, “but it has worked out well and given us a place to post everything we want to.” That includes text of sermons preached by Travis and part-time assisting priest the Rev. Noel Bailey.

  1. Increased confidence through collaboration. Travis said the collaborations have “helped us work together and built a sense of confidence that we can do projects together and that there are benefits to sharing some of the workload.

“Whenever you’re a small church and working with another, you have to be creative,” he added. “And any church can benefit from the knowledge that you don’t need to be afraid of trying new things.”

  1. One good idea leads to another … and another. The shared bulletin is actually just the most recent good idea. The original change was creating a shared e-newsletter, developed in response to requests from Ascension parishioners to bring back a former print newsletter. Instead, they created the shared e-news, which saves money, Travis said, and allows an efficient way to share key information.

Most recently, the two churches collaborated during a post-Easter class on the resurrection. St. John’s hosted the class with one exception. Leaders decided to hold the final session at Ascension — because it would occur on Ascension Day.

Do you know of other “good ideas” happening at Rhode Island Episcopal churches? Other churches might pick up those ideas and apply them. Send your “good idea stories” to


Silent Auction Fundraiser

Silent Auction Fundraiser

One of the easiest ways to raise money for your church is to hold a silent auction, and now is the time to ask merchants for a donation to yours.

Finding Donors

Most businesses set aside a specific amount to give in response to requests like this and they give them out on a first come, first served basis. If you ask in August, you may be out of luck, so ask in the first quarter of the year…..preferably February or March (they often haven’t done their inventory and closed the prior year’s books until the end of January).

When you ask, have a specific fundraising purpose you and your parishioners can describe to potential donors. Ask your parishioners to think of goods or services they can donate, or places beyond your local community that might be willing to support this effort.

Donations that Make Great Auction Items

It isn’t unusual for parishioners to donate a time-share unit they don’t plan to use this year, or for them to ask the ski resort they frequent to offer free ski lift tickets. Also, think beyond the usual food baskets, toys, artwork and dinners. A swim club might offer a free family membership (which was THE most popular item at one church), a museum might offer free admission, and a roller rink might offer free skating for an evening. Approach any business your church uses as a vendor and ask parishioners to tell you their favorite stores, events and organizations so you can ask them for a donation.

Define a Course of Action

Business people want to make a difference in their community, but they also need to earn a living. Some may ask you “What is in it for us?” Tell them you will give them credit at your event, and then make sure you do so. Put their name in a booklet you hand out and/or on the paper next to the donated item — you can even put out a business card or small flyer about their business. Send them the usual thank you letter with the IRS tax deduction statement when they donate. And then remember to send them another letter after the auction, thanking them for their donation and telling them how much you raised at the event and what you will do with it. In other words, tell them how their contribution will help make a difference in your cause and their business.

If you set up form letters for your requests and thank you letters, you can easily solicit many vendors. Some will require you to use your shoe leather and personally request it, but some will respond to a letter. You can always follow up with those who didn’t reply to the request letter.

Hosting the Event

There are many people outside the church who want to make a difference and will support a cause by attending your event even if they couldn’t donate an item, so promote your cause widely outside the church. Then, at your event give attendees a way to make a difference regularly and they will begin to identify with your church — some will begin to see it as “my church” even if they don’t attend worship. If they feel belonging in this way it more likely that they will turn to you at other times in their lives, or even just start coming to your church!

At the auction, have a set opening and closing time. Be sure you collect names, emails and phone numbers so you can follow up with winners who left early (and so you have that information and can invite them to your next event!). Prepare some interesting food (appetizers and desserts are good) and music, then arrange your silent auction items on tables around the room and let people browse. If you have really good food and music, you can even charge a modest cover charge ($5/person) which increases the income. And don’t forget to have your parishioners circulating, getting to know people and inviting them to church.

If you have a beautiful church building, you can even have the organist playing (or set up some quiet recorded church music), light lots of candles and offer people a chance to tour the church. You’d be surprised by how many people will take you up on that — and, again, it gives you an opportunity to connect your church with people in a way that makes it easier for them to turn to you when they are seeking God.

This (and every fundraiser) can have some, or ideally all, of these goals:

1) raise money, 2) build relationships with people, 3) invite people to church, 4) provide an opportunity to serve and 5) be a fun/joyful/rewarding experience for participants.


By The Rev. Linda L. Grenz, Canon to the Ordinary