When creating your next church photo directory, a question you may have is should your church continue with a traditional printed photo directory or make the switch to an online church directory program.
Here are some basic pros and cons along with other benefits of each to help you decide which is right for you and your church or organization.
+ Pros of a Traditional Printed Directory
Your printed directory becomes a great keepsake, as well as a reference tool.
You may think a printed directory is a thing of the past, but there is something special about holding a printed directory in your hands. The excitement and buzz throughout the church when the photo directories come in, as each member begins to carefully turn through the pages taking in the entire church family, is hard to replace. Older generations hold these directories close. They are pulled out repeatedly to discover a member’s name or to show to visitors when a church member has done something they’re proud of—or to just look back with fond memories of a church’s history and mission.
Printed directory companies.
You might be surprised to see this as a pro, but when you bring in the professionals, you know it’s sure to be a great-looking directory. They have all the equipment to be sure your photos look great and are unified, something that is hard to do on your own. They can create your directory with limited volunteer support. But they also come with some headaches of their own and are becoming harder to find at an affordable price (see cons below).
More than just a roster.
Printed photo directories become more than just a contact book. They become a great way to showcase your church community through photos of trips, family nights, Easter egg hunts, missionary families, and more! Much like a school yearbook, these photo directories share not just families— they share a whole community. You can also sell advertising or sponsor spaces within your printed directory to recoup some of the cost of the directory itself.
– Cons of a Traditional Printed Directory
As soon as you finally receive your directory from a company or print one yourself, it seems to be immediately outdated. John Smith changed his cell phone and the Jones family moved to a new house. With a printed photo directory, you must either print addendums to update members or just wait until next year when it’s time to update your photo directory again.
Finding a trusted photo directory company.
It the past, many churches have used Olan Mills Church or Lifetouch for managing their church photo directory media. Although neither company was anyone’s favorite to deal with, they always supplied professional-looking photos and did the trick. However, since 2022 both companies no longer provide church directory services, therefore, the church may find itself on the hunt to find a new photo directory company.
Pushy photo salespeople with photo directory companies.
If you choose to use a photo directory company to help create your directory, they make the most money when your church members purchase photo sets. This can result in uncomfortable, high-pressure sales pitches that often guilt members into purchasing photos they may not want (or can afford). Families may try to avoid getting their photo taken altogether just so they do not have to deal with the salesperson.
Printing can be pricey (and time-consuming).
Printing several copies of a printed directory – whether you’re printing them yourself or using a reputable printer – can get pricey, especially for large directories and the cost of paper continues to rise. It’s hard to sort through the many online printing companies, local printing companies, and their complicated printing structures to feel good about getting the best quality printing for the lowest price. If you choose to print the directory yourself in the church office, we all know the struggles of paper jams, out-of-ink warnings, and the time it takes to get everything printed, sorted, and put together.
+ Pros of an Online Directory
Always up to date.
When using an online directory, it’s updated everywhere as soon as you make the updates in the directory. You don’t have to create addendums or deal with your church directory being constantly outdated. Members can trust when they access your church directory information online, they are receiving the latest and most up-to-date information available. Plus, many of the online tools are straightforward to use.
On your member’s mobile devices.
An online directory is accessible anywhere, at any time. So even when church members are on the go, they can access the information via their mobile phones, tablets, or laptop computers. Clicking to call, text or email directly from a device is a feature many members desperately want. They expect to be able to reach out to another member with just a few clicks.
You have full control.
With an online directory, you are in the driver’s seat. You choose the photos and information, as well as when to grant or remove member access to the directory. This gives you more flexibility to make the directory personalized based on your church’s needs, including what content to display like staff, groups, or activities—or just the family data. Since the data is online, you won’t have to re-collect and re-enter members’ information year after year.
– Cons of an Online Directory
Online technology can be frustrating for some members.
To provide a safe and secure online directory experience, it is highly recommended to password protect your directory. This can lead to phone calls or emails from people who forget their passwords or are unable to get into the directory. Just be prepared to have a little patience with members during the learning curve of using an online directory program or directory app on their mobile device.
Yearly membership fees.
Unlike a printed directory company, there are typically yearly fees associated with an online company hosting your information. Some can get pricey very quickly, especially if they charge per church family. The best directory programs are those with one-rate, no-tier pricing. Usually, paying for the year in advance will also save you some money, just be sure you’re still able to cancel at any time to receive a refund if your church discontinues the service.
Even though creating the directory may be simple, getting volunteers to take members’ photos or getting photos sent to you can be challenging. Unless you are fortunate enough to have a photographer within your church community willing to take all the photos, sometimes the quality can be less than ideal. Look for online directory programs that allow members to upload their own photos. This helps save you the time and effort of collecting them yourself.
Overcoming the Cons of an Online Church Directory with Instant Church Directory.
Offer members the best of both worlds.
Give your members both a printed AND online directory option with Instant Church Directory.
Instant Church Directory allows you to supply a church directory for those who want a printed directory and an online directory. And since the program uses the same data, you won’t have to manage or enter in member information twice to make that possible. You can see an example here!
Solving missing photos.
With Instant Church Directory, there are several ways to solve the missing photos issue. The first is the ability to request individuals directly to upload a photo to their member profile. They can click on the link, take a selfie, and send a photo request for your approval within minutes. Church staff can also use this link to submit photos they snap of members on their phones as members come in and out of church services.
If your church decides to hire a local photographer or hire a member within the church to manage taking family photos for your church, Instant Church Directory’s editor features will allow you to grant the photographer access to upload photos directly to your directory.
Evaluate overall cost.
As mentioned above, the cost of printing continues to get more expensive every year with rising paper costs. In many cases, we found the average cost of printing a directory for 100 members to be $900! So, while you’ll pay a yearly fee to maintain data online, you’ll have several years of membership costs before you’ll hit that one-time print cost. Even if you consider printing a few paper copies for those members who need a printed version, you’ll find the overall cost to be lower.
Engage your younger members to help.
Sometimes getting older members (or those who don’t enjoy technology) onto an online member directory can feel daunting. But we have provided great ideas for involving your younger members to give the staff a hand in this process (you can read the tips here). You might be surprised how the shift to an online directory brings many of your congregation closer together!
Share via PDF allows for a printed directory “feel”.
Having a PDF option for your directory allows you to generate a printed directory without having to print one (unless you so choose). One church provided each church family with a thumb drive that contained a high-resolution PDF of the entire church directory and their family photos. It was cheaper for them to distribute the directory in that fashion than to print it! Plus, this allowed members to then print the directory if they wanted or keep a file of it on their computer.
Some churches decide to host their PDF directory on their website for their members to access when it’s convenient for them. This is a great idea, though we do highly recommend this personal data be behind an organizational password (read more about privacy here).
If you still wish to print your directory, perhaps every 2 or 5 years for your church library, Blurb.com. Blurb.com is a great company that can take the high-resolution PDF provided and turn it into a beautiful book or magazine. For spiral bound or just printed, Staples.com and VistaPrint.com are also great tried-and-true printing companies that run discounts or sales often.
Why not start your 30-Day FREE trial TODAY? You’ll have 30 Days FREE to test out both the online and printed directory. It’s so easy, you can create a sample directory in minutes that you can even present to your church or committee tomorrow!
Start your Free trial here.