Church-Hacker #13: Programmatic Change

This week’s geektastic Church-Hacker was submitted by Starfoxy:

For awhile my husband was in charge of the program for our ward. I got bored one day and ran some calculations on how much the program was costing the ward yearly. For our ward it was costing about $240. With that I talked my husband into using a two-sided half-page format by ditching the cover image and most of the blank space on the back. (What really sold him on it was that using that format he could use the paper cutter in the library instead of sitting and folding nearly 100 programs in half).

The cost savings, efficiency and enviro-friendly aspects of it made me all warm and fuzzy. But, what we really needed, I thought, was to ditch printed programs altogether.

So here’s my super-awesome serious hack idea: Use a QR code instead of printed programs. Just print out one code for each entry into the chapel, people scan them as they come in and pull up a PDF (or website or whatever) of the program on their phones. Maybe print out a couple regular programs for the technologically inept, or the hold-outs that every ward has.

The only real concerns I could think of would be not to put phone numbers on the program if it’s going to be live on the internet, and who would provide the webspace for the program. But still, church program on your phone? Awesome.

We could do so much with QR codes. In a super-organized ward, I could see a weekly QR code unlocking a BaseCamp environment with the meeting program, the speakers’ notes or extra materials, and supplemental stuff from RS/PH/SS lessons (when I teach Gospel Doctrine I am always writing links on the chalkboard…a QR code would be awesome).

It’s probably a futuristic pipe dream, but hey, you could save some money on printed programs!


Got your own Church-Hacker idea? Submit it! (The church-hacking guidelines are here.) See all entries in this series here.


  1. Commonsense things like being efficient with the paper program space are a great idea.

    The issue with technology fixes is that is assumes that everyone has a smartphone etc. and it can quickly turn into a digital and socioeconomic divide. I think many wards struggle with this. When 80% of families have the internet, computers and smart phones the 20% that don’t already tend to be among groups that are at risk of social marginalization in these wards. I think it is easy for those of us with technology and resources to forget or be desensitized to how alienating and stigmatizing it can be for those without, even though we don’t mean it to be. In this sense it begs the question about whether the ward should be organized/geared toward the social majority or the “least of these”.

    Besides what am I going to make paper airplanes with if they take away the paper programs!

  2. Or you could go retro and use a chalkboard instead. It would probably take less time for the person who has to set up QR code, or whatever that is. I have an iPhone and I have no idea what you’re talking about.


  3. You could just eliminate the paper program altogether. That’s what my ward does, and it works just fine.

  4. I’d go for it. But only if the app allows me to rate each speaker.

    We could go the evangelical route and project the agenda behind the pulpit with PowerPoint.

  5. #3 – Agreed! Do we really need a program? I mean, the announcements section is always repeated verbally by the Bishopric, the hymn numbers are showing on the hymn-board, and I don’t need to know the order or who is going to speak; I’m captive in the chapel for and hour and 10 minutes, they can have whoever speak, in whatever order they want.

    So I say just do away with the programs, since I get a ward calendar (with birthdays!), announcements and missionary addresses every fast sunday with the envelopes.

    I like the idea of some electronic means if someone really cares, but agree wih rah#1 that it is just not quite ubiquitous enough.

  6. Peter LLC says:

    the technologically inept, or the hold-outs that every ward has.

    Or, in other words, about 80% of the ward.

    Here’s a better idea that has everyone covered: a single printed program on the bulletin board in the foyer. Those that have eyes to see will take note, those that don’t will ignore it like they have been all along.

  7. We went to the half-sheet printed both sides when I was in a position to do something about it 10 years ago; it stll jars me when I go to a ward that prints programs on those sheets with an art-print reproduction on the front cover — I don’t know how they afford that!

    I’m one of those dinosaurs who won’t have a smart phone to read QR codes (is that the square thing with random blocks in it?). That said, we rarely have new announcements in the bulletin. I like them for missionary addresses and taking notes for future blogging ideas…

  8. I don’t always appreciate the picture on the front of those folding programs. Near the 4th of July in our ward this year, the program showed a picture of Benjamin Franklin shedding a few tears over the constitution. This Canadian shuddered just a bit.

  9. Not yet practical, and would create more problems than it would solve. At least now the technological stuff that many people love is available for opting in without shutting out the people whose only access to the information is through lower tech paper books and verbal announcements and posted paper calendars/ward lists. Something that pointedly and visibly excludes those without smart phones would cause a great deal of harm.

    Weekly programs are so low tech and old school and unnecessary, though, that they should be scrapped even if nothing techno takes its place.

  10. The function that programs fill is not plain. The information printed on them is not needed; the program is going to unfold all the same without knowing before the conducting person announces them just what the closing hymn will be and who the second speaker is. It seems to provide a social signal about the official nature of the meeting. Here’s an official program you can take home to remember that you were here this day and a record of who participated, just like your niece’s high school graduation.

  11. Our ward used to order those program covers which I lobbied to ditch for the cost savings. So right now we just have programs printed on white paper, except for “special” occasions like Easter or Christmas

  12. We can’t get rid of the programs. That would eliminate someone’s calling.

  13. Thomas Parkin says:

    Best to keep everything as it is. God is a hard man, reaping where he hasn’t sown, for instance. You really don’t know what is going to piss him off. Best leave everything as is.

  14. Maybe print out a couple regular programs for the technologically inept, or the hold-outs that every ward has.
    Interestingly enough, even though I submitted the idea, I am one of the technological hold outs in my ward. My husband has no cell phone, and my cell phone is a do-nothing prepaid phones. This sort of thing wouldn’t work at all in my current ward, but I have been in wards where *everyone* had a smart phone- and I think this could work really well in places like that.

  15. I still think programs are a good idea–our bishopric doesn’t give the announcements at the beginning of sacrament meeting, and nobody bothers to update the ward calendar in We haven’t had a printed ward calendar since my wife was released about three years ago. If you aren’t one of the “favored few,” there is no way to find out what is going on, and when. I’d even settle for the blackboard suggestion. The reason nobody comes to ward activities is that they don’t tell anyone when they are or when. And then they are surprised.

  16. I guess if you are an ‘old salt’ of Mormon wards, you don’t need programs.
    But, if you were new or a visitor, it might make you feel more welcome.

  17. Sounds great. That’s what we did with our elders quorum newsletter. The Church has some pretty severe restrictions against third-party Church web sites, though. You’d also still have to make hard copies for those without access to QR reader. (A lot of people—myself included—don’t have smart phones, and while I *could* pull out my iPad to scan a QR code, it would be kind of annoying to have to do so.)

    Another problem I see is that that eliminates a calling for someone who needs it. For example, we’d be hard pressed to find another calling as appropriate for the 80ish-year-old new convert who cheerfully passes out our Sacrament Meeting programs every week.

    Neat idea, though! :-)

  18. We can’t get rid of the programs. That would eliminate someone’s calling.

    Unless they are eliminating the executive secretary position…

    I was the last dedicated bulletin specialist in our ward, 14 years ago. We went to the half-sheet program back then and it was awesome. We had an exec secretary trying to email the program the night before, and that was nice, but it didn’t really reduce the paper usage — people still wanted a piece of paper, no matter how technically astute they might be. How else are you playing tic-tac-toe with the kiddos?

  19. #13 Thomas Parkin FTW. :)

    Likewise, I feel content that if God wanted the Church to do away with paper/printed programs, He would tell the prophet. Because the prophet has not spoken on this, I know that God sanctions the status quo. Printed programs MUST be inspired.

  20. I’m all for the half sheet, double sided. But I think that we’re not ready for the QR code program yet. But soon. The number of people with an iPad or other device rather than a quad is growing week by week in my ward.

  21. Sam Brunson says:

    In the last year since our ward was formed, we’ve never had a printed program. I haven’t heard any complaints—the ward keeps the calendar pretty well updated, has a Facebook page, has email lists, and makes announcements of everything in Sacrament meeting and again during the priesthood and Relief Society.

  22. I take back my recommendation to dispense with paper programs, after realizing how often I use mine as a fan. Unless we’re going to go all the way back to the ’60s when businesses (usually funeral homes) distributed folding cardboard fans, I’m going to need my paper program.

  23. Environmentally friendly! Hahahahaha! I recently brought up with the SP that we seem to generate a lot of paper waste in the clerks’ offices and that the city where the stake center is located has a recycling program. The response: crickets. Actually, it was louder than that, cicadas I think.

    In defense of the printed program, what else would my kids spit their gum into during sacrament meeting?

  24. We use a quarter-sheet, two-sided. It’s a little small to use for a fan, but we don’t have any kids to play tic-tac-toe with. We never make announcements in Sacrament meeting, since we’re confident that nobody every remembers them, but I’m beginning to think that nobody every reads the announcements either.

  25. My aunt was (is?) in charge of the Sacrament Meeting programs in her ward. She had an older lady come up to her at church and beg her to stop putting pictures of Jesus on the front of the programs because she was psychologically incapable of throwing Jesus away at the end of the week and the Sacrament Meeting programs were piling up in her house. So while I, like many others, have no smart phone and agree that printed versions should still be available for the time being, that’s one more reason to offer an optional digitized program: save the Jesus hoarders from themselves (or make the ward motto “Blessed are the recyclers”….) The sister in charge of programs for my singles’ ward sends out an email the Thursday before that includes the program in Word and PDF formats, which is really nice, but until recently I didn’t have home internet access and so relied on the printed program to remember ward goings on.

  26. Chris Gordon says:

    I think there will always be a lot of value in having a printed “order of service” (we have to use a euphemism in our stake, though most people do it tongue-in-cheek, because apparently it’s not really a “bulletin” nor is it a “program.”) available, but I don’t think it needs to have its current form.

    Maybe the missionaries (ward or full-time) can have a few handy to give to newcomers, visitors, or others who might not have a ward leadership roster handy or might be interested in some swag to take home or a list of upcoming events.

    Until we can be sure that being that tech-dependent won’t alienate too many folks, I do really like the idea of a printed bulletin outside the door to sacrament meeting.

    On some level, I agree that we should content ourselves with trusting that those who care to know what’s going on can and will find plenty of ways to know what’s going on, and those who don’t care won’t care no matter how many ways we try to keep them in the loop. At the same time, I guess I can’t kill leadership for trying to leave no stone unturned in trying to get people to activities, prepared for lessons, and writing the missionaries.

  27. Manhattan 8th (YSA ward) does something a little like this with a ward blog. The program and some past programs appear on the blog along with the text of recent talks and announcements. An excellent way for a mobile congregation to keep up with things. I can see where it would benefit many wards as well. I glanced over a few of the talks and they were remarkable. Even the high council speaker wasn’t bad. (grin) I see this as a great resource for people. Moreover it relates to my upcoming series of posts on conference prep. (ht: self.)

  28. Almost every ward I’ve ever been in has a member who NEEDS to be the person called to hand out the program. We have the programs so people can have that calling. We need them.

  29. To Chris’s point about nomenclature, I bet if we started calling them “agendas,” everyone would be more willing to ditch them.

  30. “In a super-organized ward…” I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you mean. I have never seen those words together before.

  31. Chris Gordon says:

    @Kyle M (29), if they start being called agendas, they will not only be ditched but will never be conceived.

    @ Kent (30), yes, tell me more of this “super-organized ward” of which you speak….

  32. I echo #1 on missing paper airplanes. But I love this idea. Hopefully I never get the calling though and have to teach grandma about QR codes. Croiky.

  33. Chris and Kent, how about this:

    Fire the ward program director, and call a ward collaboration specialist to run a BaseCamp environment for the ward. He/she will gather notes and supplementary materials from the teachers and speakers before sunday, and post them to BaseCamp for the ward members to use on Sunday or the following week.

    Just an idea. Maybe a future church-hacker post if I think it through a little more and you guys don’t reject it outright.

  34. #12, Ha! In our case, that would be my wife. I’m pretty sure she’d be sad for about a half a second.

    As long as we’re talking about changing institutionalized yet pointless things, would anyone really notice if we knocked 10 minutes off each meeting? a 2 1/2 hour block would be oh-so-nice.

  35. Hey, I am not technically inept, just poor. : )

  36. Whether it’s on paper, on smart phones, or announced from the pulpit, the real problem with notices about upcoming events is that they aren’t written well. They always seem to be missing detail. When I moved to Salt Lake I used to marvel that the ward had such an active Fellowshipping Committee, because they seemed to meet every week or two. Didn’t know what they did, but the bishop continually announced meetings of the Fellowshipping Committee immediately after the block meeting. I’d been there a year or more before I figured out that people new to the ward were supposed to go to that meeting and introduce themselves to ward leaders. But they never *said* that, so I didn’t know I was supposed to go.

    In my current ward, the announcements in both SM and RS bulletins are practically useless because they don’t provide essential details. “Humanitarian project Thursday night at the Smiths” and “The book club will discuss August’s selection this week at the Joneses'” doesn’t let you know who’s involved, or when or where to go. Especially in a newly organized ward like this one, where people from the other half of the ward don’t know the Smith and Jones couples, attention to the basic who-what-where-when-why-and-how questions is essential — smart phone announcements that omit those details are as much a waste as paper ever was.

  37. Left Field says:

    I don’t even know what a smart phone or a QR code are, so perhaps you’ll need to wait for my generation to die off before this idea really takes off.

    I agree with Ardis regarding the inadequacy of many church announcements. Just trying to find someone who can say who’s supposed to go to a “priesthood leadership meeting” can be a challenge. Counselors? Secretaries? Who knows? Somehow deacons quorum presidents are usually excluded even if they say they want quorum presidencies and Aaronic priesthood leaders.

    However, I must say that we have better programs than the Catholics. Every year I attend the Baccalaureate Mass at the Catholic university where I teach. The program is completely useless if you want to know what’s happening now and what will happen next. It does tell you who’s giving the homily and who composed the music, but the order of the service remains a mystery. Events are not necessarily listed in the order they occur and some apparently important components of the mass are not included at all, leaving Protestants and the rest of us scratching our heads and puzzling over the significance of what’s happening. I’m told that Catholics all know exactly what happens in the mass, so the program just serves to identify the people involved.

  38. Ardis, your comment was equal in wisdom and hilarity. I know exactly what you are talking about and, unfortunately, have been guilty of typing these type of announcements. (Hangs head in shame. Kinda.)

  39. The only concern I have with this is for new members, investigators, and new people in the ward. I have been a member for only a little bit over a year, and I have been in 3 different wards/branches. So everytime I go there I learn names from the pamphlet. By who speaks and the bishopric names and numbers that are available on there. I went to a ward for two or three weeks before my records were transferred and no one talked to me really. When they say names on the stand they don’t announce the bishop or who they are that is making the announcements, and if you don’t know people sometimes it’s hard to catch the names of the people who are speaking as they’re announced. So although I love going green and saving money I’m not sure what to do with people like me who come to a lot of new wards between school and home and new members and investigators. Half page is definitely better than a whole page.

  40. I create the program for our Ward, and I think its still useful. I print it in full color at my own expense, so it doesn’t impact the Ward budget. I have a lot of fun being creative with the cover art – I try to tie the images in with the topics the speakers have for that day, and with the music. I can give details in the announcements that aren’t practical to announce over the pulpit (like phone numbers, web addresses, maps to an event, etc.). And I try to include a relevant scripture or quote from a GA that might be appropriate for someone to ponder over during the sacrament.

    People in the Ward tell me all the time how much they appreciate the program, and some have even commented that they save many of them for the cover art. If nothing else, it gives your kids a piece of paper to draw on when they bet bored! :)

  41. I too am not technologically inept, just poor! And considering the dozen or so families who have lost their homes in our ward over the past few years, I am guessing many are struggling financially enough to make this idea unfeasible at this point in time. Plus, I am not sure it is a good idea to have adults bringing cell phones when the YM and YW are discouraged from doing so.

    Our ward bulletin is well written and packed with good information. And on fast Sundays they have to use legal sized paper for the bulletin to make sure everything fits on there.

  42. Umm … I’m from Sweden, I have not once during my intire life seen a printed program (or digital for that matter) for a regular church meeeting. I’ve lived in the UK for 5 years as well and haven’t seen them there either. Is this really something common “over there”. Seems utterly unnecessary

  43. Romney Huntsman 2012 says:

    QR codes are a bad idea. It complicates something that is simple. In 1998 we talked about using the Internet to keep track of how much power was left in all the lightbulbs in the house. but we’re not doing it today because it’s too complicated.

  44. I very much appreciate a printed program. I can read the names of the participants, including the choirister and organist. For those new to the ward, it is useful to have the names of the bishopric listed. For young people in the ward, it is a way to learn the names of the leaders and participants by seeing them in print. It also lists the activities for that week and who to contact when necessary. Some people may not read it, or take it home, but then when they miss a scheduled meeting, they have only themselves to blame. Sometimes they have printed a program for Stake Conference, which is very useful to have the name of the speaker in print.

  45. Jenny in NC says:

    Whatever we do, I think the simpler the bulletin, the better. In a previous ward of mine, the bulletin person decided to really magnify her calling. The bulletin was a 6-page, stapled almost-magazine, full of cross word puzzles and spotlights on new members. Everyone was too busy working the crossword puzzle to listen to the speakers.

  46. It’s not like we listen to them anyway…

  47. Here’s my humble opinion. I don’t like the looks of the 1/2 page bulletins. Therefore I don’t care how many trees it saves. Next, not everyone has a phone that will scan and not everyone feels the need to have a huge bill to obtain internet on their smart phone. Scanning and reading would give those geeks the ‘excuse’ to have them out and using them when they should be put away. How about 3 hours away from technology – wow what a concept!!! There are people that do read them and use them to refer to. Our bishopric does NOT read or go over all the announcements in the bulletin – that would be a waste of our time. This generation is too dependent on technology.

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