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Photo directories encourage personal connection

Church leaders, congregants and visitors benefit from portrait programs.

By Bethanie Hestermann

In the age of social networking, face-to-face connections are more important than ever to America’s churches. One way congregations seek to preserve personal relationships among members is through the creation or maintenance of a photo directory.

A directory — whether print or online — allows congregants to link names and faces, creating a sense of fellowship and inclusion. Dana Blackwood, part of the leadership team at Church of the Apostles, Atlanta, GA, believes directories serve both a functional and a deeper purpose. “Family and community are paramount in a church. If all we wanted was a social venue, we could join a country club. But church is much more than that, and a directory helps sustain member-to-member relations.”

Directories are a sort of yellow pages for church families, making it easier to form and maintain associations. Richard Restiano, vice president of Olan Mills, compares church directories to family photo albums and school yearbooks. He says they create a one-of-a-kind opportunity to capture the memories of an entire church body, as well as document the growth of families over time.

A leader’s resource

Beyond the benefits for your congregation, photo directories are practical and useful resources for church leadership. As a pastor or leader of a large church, remembering names, faces and familial ties is a daunting task.

“As both a leader and a member of a megachurch, I’m not always good with remembering the faces and names,” says Blackwood. “It’s nice to have a resource to jog my memory.”

Karen Walters with Lifetouch Portraits says a church directory can also be a powerful tool for attracting new members. Offering an online directory of members makes a visitor feel more connected to the other people in the congregation. The church no longer feels like a nameless, faceless mass of strangers.

The portrait program can be used as a fundraiser, a way to bring inactive members back to the church, or simply a church-wide family event to bring congregants together. Walters advises that in her experience, members really want their portraits taken every three years, not five years as with the traditional directory cycle.

Directory basics

Lifetouch says more and more churches are turning to online directories, since they are easy to keep up to date. Printed directories are not being phased out, however, since many congregations view the product as a treasured keepsake.

When choosing a vendor, be sure the photographers are willing to be flexible with scheduling. The aim is to be a helpful service, not a stressful ordeal. Also make sure to check out online capabilities; many top companies offer free access to an Internet directory to complement the print service.

Reputation is important, says Restiano. He urges pastors to read testimonials and give due diligence to the decision before committing members to the experience.

Vendors such as Olan Mills also offer many other services to churches such as personalized ministry tools, postcard campaigns and bulletin shells. Building a consistent image and message will only serve to reinforce your identity as a church, and welcome others into the fold.

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