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Thu, 19 Oct 2023

Non-profit Groups and the Usage of Tablets

Non-profit groups, especially churches, have been printing paper bulletins with the weekly service order, notes, and news since office photocopy machines became available in the early 1960s. (Before that, there was the mimeograph.) These days, however, there are new ways to disseminate program notes: via email as a pdf, a QR code smartphone download, or on a tablet. A member of the group could bring his or her own tablet to the program, or the non-profit group or church could provide them for weekly usage to the community members.

In November of 2022, my church congregation announced that it would be providing its members with tablets to use during the main service, in addition to the QR code smartphone pdf download and the paper bulletins. (The QR code is available all over the church when members walk in.) The tablet program started in January 2023 and 30 tablets were purchased. The pdf of the bulletin, which is used for the paper bulletin, the download, and the tablet looks like this:

This photo shows the congregation's paper bulletin and the tablet bulletin side-by-side.

My congregation is a large, urban mainline Protestant church in downtown Cincinnati. There are members of all ages and climes, some who have more inclination to use electronic devices than others. The tablet is in use at the most-attended service at 10 am on Sundays. The congregation has a dedicated communications team that produces all of our materials both in print and in electronic form.

The tablets that were purchased are Pritom Android M10 tablets with 2 gigabytes of RAM (currently listed on Amazon for $59.95 each). Subsplash is the platform we use. Cases for each tablet were also purchased for $15.95 each. That is a total of $2278.00. A secure cabinet that is wheeled from locked staff offices to the foyer was purchased as well. The staffers in the Communications department (who are paid) were already producing the pdf bulletin and other materials for both print and electronic usage.

The tablets have been available for almost eleven months now. Although there are a handful of parishioners who use the tablets each week, the vast majority of parishioners use the paper bulletin while a few still use QR codes on their smartphones, which began during the 2020 Covid pandemic for remote livestream viewing.

The head usher instructs her team, which arrives a half-hour early, to power up all of the tablets for parishioners to use when they come in. (Even though only a half-dozen are taken, all are powered up.) After the service, all of the tablets are powered down, properly enclosed in the cases, re-shelved in the cabinet, and then the cabinet is wheeled back to the staff offices and locked up.

The tablets have a few advantages over the paper bulletin. Brightness can be adjusted in dim light, and the text can be easily enlarged. Inserts do not fly out at the most inopportune time and there is no page-flipping. Another important advantage is that the Giving platform is embedded into the pdf on the tablet, which is a much larger device than a smartphone. There is also a notes feature:

<Parishioners can still type notes in the PDF on the tablet.

Unlike the paper bulletin, however, any notes typed into the pdf will be staying at the church on the tablet, only until it is powered off. Printed bulletins are usually recycled, but can be taken home if desired.

The tablet also has some disadvantages, at least in how my parish uses it: the tablet is only to be used indoors, and will not be taken outside for garden services. Parishioners will still be switching back and forth between the tablet and the hymnal, as it has been with the printed bulletin. There is not enough volunteer staff available for other services besides the 10 am Sunday service.

The Richards, Fowkes & Co. pipe organ was installed in 2020.

Choristers, who sit in the seats in front of the pipe organ, must have the printed bulletin, as the tablet does not work well with the black folders in which we carry all of our music.

The church vestry members began working on the Tablet program in mid-early 2022 and had it ready for January 2023. The head usher has been disappointed by the lack of tablet use, but those who use it really like it. Although I have no responsibility or input in procurement, I have always been following the updates on the QR codes and tablet programs.

With the 10 am service concluded, it is time for the parishioners to head downstairs to the undercroft (a.k.a. church basement) for brunch. Would Moses have used Android tablets for the Ten Commandments? A stylus instead of a chisel? Who would he chose as his programmer? Those are interesting questions to ponder while queuing in line for eggs and biscuits and coffee, awaiting the next installment of Old and New Testament trivia.

Sunday brunch in the undercroft in Mid October 2023.

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