Removal of online bulletins

Dear BPCWA worshipper, As you may have read in the announcement today, we have removed the online bulletins from our church’s website. At the same time, we have added new pages online to make our pastorals more easily accessible and so that they can still be read by all. As we saw from our recent Annual Congregational Meeting query and for our recent study on BPCWA’s history, we learnt how important bulletins are. Over the years, I have noticed that many churches have stopped putting their bulletins online. Why did we remove the online bulletins? In this pastoral, we will see why this change was necessary, what was done, and what we can expect moving forward.

Why do we have bulletins? Church bulletins are predominantly meant for our worshippers. Primarily, the need for bulletins stems from the need to aid the worshipper through the worship service by printing out the hymns and Scripture references used. Secondarily, and importantly, the bulletin serves as a communication channel to our worshippers. On the cover page, the contact details of our session members are listed. “Announcements” and the section on “Appointments for today and the week” serve to remind and encourage worshippers to keep their schedule free so that they can join the various events planned. “Thanksgiving and Prayer items” are for our worshippers to keep the church in prayer through the week. Then, there is also other relatively sensitive internal information. For example, the details on our “Last week’s attendances and offerings” are intended to give our own worshippers visibility of collections, designated love gifts, and in recent years, the gap in our building fund collection. Previously, all this information was available to the general public’s eyes as well.

Why were online bulletins removed? Over the past years, our bulletins have been put online on our website and hence accessible to the public as well. However, this is not the case for many other churches in recent years, if not for the majority of churches. Since the bulletin is fundamentally intended for worshippers, worshippers who attend our services in church would already have access to our bulletins and would have little to no need to access the online copy. While we will continue to print the hard copy bulletin, there are several reasons why we have decided not to put our bulletins online. 1) Sensitive internal information readily available to the public. Church attendances and collections that are meant for internal information were accessed by curious outsiders. In my conversations with several worshippers on different occasions over the past months, I realised that non-worshippers had made mention to them about the trends and amount of our financial collections each week, and how many people come to BPCWA. Some were believed to even be reviewing our bulletins regularly to keep themselves updated on what was happening here, tracking our finances, though they were not worshippers. That rang alarm bells in my mind, because if there were people that would go online to track our collections, there could or would likely be more than what had come to our attention. It became more obvious to me why many churches have been removing their online bulletins in recent years. Our greatest concern, however, is that this information is openly accessible to criminals with ill intents over time. This would expose us to unnecessary risks and problems when we keep such information publicly and readily accessible as it can be a temptation to crime as they may assume that the collections are kept on-site. Shops are not unaware of such risks, as they put signs such as “no money is kept here overnight” on highly visible signage at their entrances.  2) Spate of fictitious emails. Over the past year or more, several emails have attempted to impersonate Session members. These have signed off as me, using email addresses that are almost identical on our bulletins with the intention to give the impression that they were from the church pastor. Despite reporting these cases, fraudsters instead change the email address and send emails with different content, asking recipients to reply to them or click on a link. Worshippers who reply to these seemingly valid emails will have their email boxes compromised. These emails were sent either to Session members or members who may have had their email addresses published online. The only conclusion is that these fraudsters are sieving through our online information on our bulletins and pulling out contacts for their nefarious purposes. While to my knowledge no one has been duped by these emails, it is not wise to continue to allow crooks to freely access our contacts by making them readily accessible to them.

What we have done. 1) Removed all online bulletins. While you may notice that the archive of past bulletins that used to be accessible at the bottom of our web page are no longer there, it does not mean that we no longer have an archive of our past bulletins. Having realised the importance of bulletins to our church documentation and history tracking, the church still keeps a copy of all our bulletins. However, this is now done offline. All historical bulletins have been archived, and we will continue to do so for future bulletins. 2) Pastorals accessible online on our website. Since pastorals are often general exhortations or general communication, the archive of our pastorals can now be accessed from our main website. Once you click on the word “pastorals”, it will bring you to a new pastorals page. On the right of the pastoral pages, you will see “Recent posts”. This contains quick links of the titles to the more current pastorals. Lower down on the right, you will see “Archives”. Down this section, you will see the months – June 2021, May 2021 . . . etc. Clicking on the months will bring you to the page with the snapshot of that month’s pastorals.

How this impacts you. 1) Most of us will not be affected. For the large majority of us, we are at church every week and receive the hard copy bulletin which is what we use for reading the pastoral, announcements, prayers, and general information and communication. Those who made a designated offering can still check that it has been received by referencing the numbers reported under offerings. Our building fund collections as well as a view of the gap will also continue to be reflected in the section. 2) Familiarise yourself with the pastoral web pages. I do hope that you will take some time to go through the web pages and familiarise yourself with how to easily access and read the pastorals, especially when you are unable to come to church that week. The setup of the new pastoral pages is intended to enable you to be able to read this easily. 3) Use our online calendar for the schedule of our church activities. As always, our online calendar will continue to be updated to reflect the time and type of meetings we have planned for that week. Additional information about that meeting will be reflected on the bulletin and announced after each worship service. 4) What if you were unable to come to church due to illnesses for example? For those watching via livestream, these are also available on the livestream video for that week.     

I hope that this pastoral helps to explain why we have removed the online bulletins. With the increased electronic crimes and online frauds, we need to be prudent and adopt what many other churches have also found necessary over time. So, though it may be a change to us now, it is already a norm for the majority of churches. To our regular worshippers, this change is probably insignificant as you will not receive any less information than you currently do. As is intended, for the protection of the church, we want to retain some information (particularly financials) privy and away from the “curious” or nefarious. 

Yours in our Lord’s service,