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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.