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Liven up your church directory in print and online

SUMMARY: Make the church directory an indispensible ministry tool for everyone to use. A church directory helps clergy and other leaders to stay connected with the congregation.

A directory serves multiple purposes and should be a regular fixture of your congregation. Don’t be overwhelmed if you don’t have one—or if you have one that needs improving. It’s manageable—and a great way to connect your congregation year-round.

Continue to list the essentials (names, address and phone numbers), but imagine all the other possible information that could make your directory more helpful to members and staff.

A photo directory is one of the best opportunities to connect members, especially in larger churches where it’s impossible to know everyone. To new as well as current members, directories offer a way to associate faces with names and to act as a source for contact information. Who hasn’t forgotten a name, but knows the face is familiar? Here’s the chance to review the picture of someone you have met at church—and make the connection.

Helping your congregation build relationships means your directory goes beyond the simple. It needs to help everyone relate to each other. Consider including these options (and always give your members the chance to “opt out” of the options):

Link to social media. 
Ask for e-mail addresses and Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter handle. These links offer less-intimidating ways for the congregation to interact. Most people will be pleased to have more friends, business connections and followers who share their religious perspective. Don’t forget to include the church’s social media handles in the front of the directory.

One tip: Including e-mails on your website can bring “spiders” that troll the Internet for listed e-mail addresses. So instead of using “@,” write “at” and the spiders will never detect them.

Ask favorites. 
Ask members to pick one or two questions from a list such as favorite sports team, hobby, book, band and TV show. When people find others with the same interest, the relationships flourish.

Ask about the family.
Include the entire family. Identify the children by name and age. Inquire about games the family likes to play together or the ideal vacation. Consider giving teens personal entries.

Talk church involvement.
You want your congregation to be involved. Include that involvement in the directory. Identify ministries or church activities in which a member is involved and what positions he or she holds in the church.

Include how they can help.
Ask members to include services and skills they would be willing to share with members, the church and its ministries or the entire community. This can be a valuable resource when someone is looking for a volunteer to help with an activity.

Include the church.
Don’t limit the directory to information about your members. Remember the church itself—include details about the ministries and activities. Add photos of youth projects, groundbreakings, Christmas programs and special worship services.

Go without photos in print.
Photo directories can be labor intensive if done frequently. Some smaller churches publish them every five years because of time and effort needed; however, this time span can be detrimental because new members don’t have a chance to join the showcase for up to five years. Publish a non-photo directory every year, supplemented by a photo directory every three to five years. That way, new members feel welcome and connected much earlier.

Go digital.
An online directory solves two concerns. Members can visit a website for the church’s online directory to view photos of members, the latest contacts and other biographical information. Online directories also are less expensive, and you can update them easily. Limit access to members only by requiring logins and passwords and use SSL encryption. Allow members to opt in and out of the digital version.

If login/password is too complicated, simply ask members to “opt into” a public directory posted on the website. Members can find benefits of the public postings. They may get business referrals or simply appreciate their church involvement highlighted. A public directory also can enhance your church’s search-engine optimization rankings. Read Is Google the future of evangelism? for more ideas on how to link SEO with the online church directory.

Online directories also can make it easier for members to change personal information and add photos. Here are a few companies that offer directory software and related programs; each includes a free trial: Online Church Directory, ABC Fast Directory, Roll Call Church Software and Instant Church Directory.

More benefits. 
New church staff will especially appreciate an enhanced directory. The pastor will become familiar with new names and faces and see the activities and programs that make up the ministry.

Get started.
Work with a volunteer committee whose mission is to create or enhance your directory. If you hire a company to create a photo directory (they usually do not charge but sell the photos to the families to cover directory costs), assign a liaison from the committee to work with the company. Consider doing it yourself. Buy software, hire a photo studio (or a skilled photographer in your congregation willing to donate services) and design the pages to send to your printer and/or post online. An important consideration in choosing any service provider or program is to find one that allows you to create both print and digital versions.