the math of your church bulletin

Signs you’ve been too long in Africa: your jaw drops when a church usher hands you a thick, stapled church bulletin.

I can’t recall the number of times I lost countless hours hunting down a functional photocopier in my small African village; I usually resorted to paper-less activities, or I hand-wrote as many notices and activities as possible.  This made me hyper-aware of how much paper gets wasted unconsciously in the rest of the world.

It also made me pretty uncomfortable with churches – those worship houses of the stewards of God’s creation – that waste paper.  Throughout the service this past Sunday, I was weighing the cost of the think booklet in my hands.

Here’s my math:

At Staples, the giant box of 5000 sheets of multi-purpose printing paper is $49.99.  That’s one cent per sheet of paper, assuming your church decides to use the not-awesome multi-purpose paper.  (The big fat church program I’ve got?  Definitely one step above Staples’ multi-purpose.  HOWEVER.)

My church bulletin this past week used seven sheets of double-sided letter-sized paper.

Seven.

Let’s say that this service had 500 programs printed; that’s not an over-optimistic guess.  If anything, it might fall short of the real number.  The service was in a huge, packed-out auditorium, everyone had a program, and the ushers had armloads of extra programs to hand around.

500 programs multiplied by seven sheets per program is 3500 sheets.  Let’s call that $35 dollars in paper for bulletins at this one service, without regard for ink or copier costs.

If this church wanted to reduce paper use, I think they could easily shoot for two double-sided sheets: one for the service, and one for announcements.

(I know: you love the wide margins and aesthetically pleasing formatting.  Less paper space won’t be as pretty.  But just hear me out on this, okay?)

So now we’re still at 500 programs, but with only two sheets of paper per program we’ll need just 1000 sheets of paper for this service’s programs.  That’s ten dollars – a savings of $25 dollars on paper alone for the programs used at this service.

Over the course of one year – 52 Sunday morning services – that’s $1300.

Since this family of churches has three locations with a total of eight services between them, we can stretch our math a little further.  I’m going to assume that each service uses the same amount of paper; some of them may print fewer programs, but some may need more.

Eight services times our magical savings of $1300 per service per year on reduced program paper is a whopping total of $10 400.

I’m not going to beat this too hard, because I think the numbers speak for themselves.  But let’s stop to think about what that $10 400 can do:

  • If we can feed low-income friends in our neighbourhood a nutritious meal at $3 per plate (I’ve often survived on a lower budget), that’s more than 3400 meals.
  • If we’re into job creation, we could employ someone in the community at $10 an hour (that’s more than minimum wage, although not quite the local living wage) for 20 hours per week.
  • World Vision still does that ever-popular child sponsorship thing.  The program isn’t perfect, but let’s say we’re going to sponsor children at $35 per month, or $420 per year.  Our $10 400 could give 24 children access education, clean water, and nutritious food for an entire year.

So maybe let’s rethink the service bulletin layout, shall we?

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