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Updating Your Church Directory: Tips on When and How

December 5, 2021 jill Blog
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Everyone knows the importance of keeping a church directory and roster up to date. But the big question that remains is: How often should you update a directory?

The answer is…well, it depends! Here are a few key tips to ensure that your church’s directory remains current.

Schedule at least a yearly update to the directory roster. 

Choose a month every year to update and reprint the church directory roster. You may want to consider September or October, when church attendance tends to be higher, but the holidays aren’t yet in full swing. Or schedule a regular update to the directory after the election or naming of new deacons, church elders or committee members.

After deciding when to publish the new directory, work backward. Begin announcing the update about a month in advance. Place blurbs in the church newsletter, weekly bulletins, and church emails so people know a new directory is coming soon. Ask members to alert you of any changes. Or, to make the process even easier, display or distribute slips of paper so members can quickly confirm or update their information.

A church directory roster should include:

  • Cover page with the church name, plus the edition’s month and year
  • Church contact information (address, office phone, office hours, website, email)
  • Clergy names and contact information
  • Church staff names, roles and contact information
  • Lay leaders’ names, roles and contact information
  • Church members’ information

Other items to consider including in a church directory:

  • Church covenant, mission statement or beliefs
  • Church deacons and elders
  • Committees and members
  • Program leaders and teachers

If your church is growing rapidly or is in a military or college town where members come and go frequently, you may want to consider roster updates twice a year.

Schedule an update to the church photo directory every 3 to 5 years.

Church members of all ages treasure and rely on pictorial directories. For newer members, these photos are especially helpful to put names to faces. (Maybe you sit near the same family every week but are too embarrassed to ask for their names — again!) Photo directories also help build a sense of community and pride within the congregation.

However, coordinating photo shoots and paying for a photo directory is an expensive, time-consuming task. As a result, your church may not want to update its photo directory every single year.

Many churches update the directory roster yearly but update the actual photos about every 3 to 5 years. Talk to church leadership about which route they prefer. Some churches like to hire a professional photographer and enjoy the option of purchasing photo packages. Other churches may not enjoy the traditional photo directory approach and may gather pictures from members instead, without hiring an outside photographer.

No matter what direction your church decides to take, you should still make it a priority to update directory photos every couple of years.

Consider reaching out more frequently to young adults and families.

Young adults and young families tend to experience the most amount of change, including their contact information. That’s why it’s important to prioritize reaching out to these congregants more often. (Otherwise, your church may be two or three changes behind!)

Young adults and young families also tend to be busy, which means they may be less likely to contact the church office about a change. You may want to reach out to these members directly, but politely, to confirm that their listed information is correct.

Many young adults may relocate yearly, especially if they are attending college or interning or changing jobs. They’re also inclined to change phone numbers and email addresses more frequently than older congregants.

Another thing to consider: Many young people start getting married and having kids. This means yet more new addresses, name changes (especially for brides), and possibly new email addresses and phone numbers as well. As young families grow with the addition of new members, they often move to housing that better suits their needs.

Changes in contact information also can (not surprisingly) make it difficult to contact people to update their directory information! Consider printing out a half-sheet of paper and asking congregants to quickly review it before or after an event or worship service. Provide a basket or drop box so you can collect the forms and update the directory listings.

Consider privacy and security when updating a church directory.

The church directory is an important, powerful tool for keeping members connected. But if a directory is posted online, scammers might use the data to take advantage of people who are willing to give or share. Churches also must follow any governmental privacy guidelines.

Keep these areas in mind to protect people’s privacy and security:

Never include birthday or wedding anniversary years.

Many people use these memorable dates as passwords. For security purposes, leave years out of the church directory.

Don’t include children’s information without parental consent.

Be sure parents always “opt-in” to allow their children’s names and information in the church directory. This is especially important if you live in a state with strict child-privacy laws. Many parents will probably gladly add their children, but you don’t want to upset anyone and make them ask for information to be removed. Those conversations are difficult for both the parent(s) and staff member or volunteer.

Never post the directory to the church website unless it’s behind a secure password.

Posting a PDF or a copy of a church directory may sound like an easy, convenient way for members to access information. But in fact, it’s a huge security risk. If you want to post the directory, make sure it’s secured behind a member login. Or secure the PDF with a strong password that’s tough to break.

Be extra considerate of public officials and military members. 

For safety purposes, speak directly to church members in public or military service to confirm it’s okay to publish their information. After data becomes public, it’s hard to pull it back. So take this important step before printing the directory.

Online church directories keep members updated all year long.

The church market now has access to many online church directory programs. That means updating the directory is something you can do consistently. These programs let you update all the information, including adding photos yourself so you have complete control over managing and publishing the directory.

One of the biggest benefits is typically the mobile apps that allow members to always have a church directory handy. After all, most people typically keep a mobile device nearby.

Look for a program that lets members submit changes to the admin via a website or mobile app. Another plus is when the program’s admin can request updates electronically.

Advertise your church directory.

No matter when you decide to update the directory, be sure to advertise, advertise, advertise! Let people know, via various avenues, that you are publishing an update. That ensures the greatest number of members are aware and take part in the process.

You may feel like a broken record, but one email will reach only about 10% of church members. Of those, maybe only 2% will remember to act.

After publishing the updated church directory, also communicate how to obtain a new copy or where to go to access it via mobile apps or online.

This information is provided courtesy of Instant Church Directory, a small team of dedicated folks working to build a simple tool for connecting church members. Visit www.InstantChurchDirectory.com  to learn more about this online church directory solution.

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