Real Life, etc. but NOT Real Pictures?

I have been asked a few times an interesting question about our stationary at church, specifically the Sunday bulletin. Since I have found myself typing the answer a few times it seemed fitting to make it a blog post for better reference. So here’s the question (paraphrased from an actual Facebook asking it):

“I was wondering why the Sunday bulletin often has photos of people that are not from the church. The packet says welcome TO DEL REY, REAL LIFE, REAL PEOPLE, REAL FAITH, but the people on the packet are fake, lol. Who do we talk to about these packets? I know I am not the most artistic, but maybe someone at our church has the skills to make some templates with photos of the REAL people of Del Rey. Is there anything we can do?”

Below I will offer nine reasons for why the bulletin shells are the way they are and we like it that way (at least for right now). Like most things at DRC you will find that we put a lot of thought into what we do and the bulletins are no exception. Before giving you the reasons, let me offer a quick preliminary thought about being real and our church tagline: Real Life, Real People, Real Faith. This tagline and even the catchphrase “being real” for us—in this context—is in reference to the reality of the gospel and our walk before God as real persons, not our church’s stationary. We are completely free before God to use stock photos and still be real. Arguably there might be a fake way to use stock photos, like say if the pictures looked nothing like us (like an evangelical biker gang—that would be a crazy bulletin!) and we were trying to be something we aren’t (because we’re not a biker church, though maybe one day…. or not…). With that said, let’s get into the aforementioned nine reasons why and how we keep it real with the stock photos.

1. STEWARDSHIP: We stand before God trying best steward our resources. We buy from a distributor who prints these covers for thousands of churches; hence the collective cost is driven down tremendously and saves us a grip of money. THIS IS BEING REAL - we are not rich, and that's the reality. We have done the costs analysis on it and the price savings are substantial. ‘We keeps it real and we keeps the dough!’

2. PARTNERSHIP: Related to number 1, by partnering with other local churches who use this distributor we are able to work together for the common good of fellowship and partnership in ministry. This is a way of being REAL since we are members of the universal church in reality and not every face in the universal church attends our church, so having faces of people we don’t know reinforces a global theology—these actually are real people in the Church to which we belong, which is the body of Christ.

3. DOING IT ALREADY: We do the real picture thing in the entry way on the book shelf. We have photos of people, sort of like a living room style, on the shelves. The fact that we don’t do it on the bulletins, doesn’t mean it never happens. We do have pictures of real people around the place when we gather on Sundays.

4. SECURITY: We thought that putting people’s faces on the bulletin could potentially create a security issue. For example, we put a picture of Shannon Tracy on there and she starts getting stalkers because she a single and awesome Christian woman. (This reason was not a deal breaker, but we place a level of security to the bulletin, for example, community groups don’t have addresses listed since the bulletin goes out to everyone and we want people’s home addresses to be save. Security is an issue. Heck, I have been assaulted in my home by a congregant and have received death threats at church, so it does happen and we want to keep people safe from weirdos).

5. CREATIVITY: We like to change the bulletin frequently with themes and seasons. The distributor we use has hundreds of bulletin shells to choose from. We could not do this on our own, because of costs (see point 1). To have an affordable cost we would have to print thousands of the same print, which would mean we couldn’t have creative flexibility each week.

6. PRACTICALITY: When it is possible we do use personal photos, like in the entry way on bulletin boards, on the web in some places, and our church stationary (specifically our envelopes and letterheads that have actual pictures of DRC people). Here’s the practicality of it: our personalized stationary now has people who don’t attend DRC anymore because they moved, or walked away from God or even died. We are letting this current batch run out and we’ll have to do another, but it is weird signing letters with our brother Andrew who died. Practically it is easier using stock photography because then we don’t face the awkwardness of having dead people on stationary and removing them posthumously is just too emotional and well, it is just a hard thing. Even in the entryway we currently have a picture of loved Barney and eventually we have to take down those pictures and it is just a heavy thing.

7. FAVORITISM/IDOLATRY: This is not a super concern, but it is something we thought about. We live in a narcissistic age where people like to see themselves. By plastering people’s faces on the bulletin, could we be playing a hand in that? (I don’t think so, but it is possible. This is something that happens with the pictures mentioned in number 3 and that doesn’t stop us, but it is still a concern). Added, we could hurt people who wrestle with feeling like they don’t belong and have that feeling “Gee, why aren’t I good enough to make the bulletin?” Granted, we can’t not do things because some people may be hurt, but it seemed like the stock photos was an easier way around this, since they are a bunch of strangers anyway.

8. COMMON PRACTICE: We see that lots of companies use stock photos, so it was not somehow being unreal, given that this is a common practice in our culture. Most companies advertising themselves use stock photos; it’s how people really do this sort of medium and it is all over our community. For example, the people on the flyers and posters at my gym are not members of my gym. Point being, this is what people in our culture do, so we didn't think it was a "unreal" thing.

9. BIGGER FISH: As far as priorities in the office go, we have bigger and weightier things right now and since the current system and partnership with this distributor is working great we don't want hiccups right now. It works for our volunteers who spend hours every week on it and we would rather use our volunteer energy elsewhere. Maybe one day God will provide a way for us to use local graphics like pictures of the DRC building, Los Angeles shots, maybe some DRC people shots carefully done, BUT right now it is just one more moving thing on a limited budget with too few volunteers.

There are a few more reasons why we like the stock bulletin shells we use, but hopefully you can see we have reasons for it that are good. Above all, the content of the bulletin is what matters to us and we hope people (especially visitors) will use it to connect with the church and experience the reality of the gospel of God. We truly want to be real people in real life with a real faith in a real God.