Say Cheese!

By Fr. John Shimchick

Creating A Parish Photo Directory

Have you ever forgotten the name of a parishioner in your church? Or realized that you do not even know the names of many parishioners and especially their children? Did you ever wish you had something to give new members which would help them get acquainted with your community? One way of solving these problems is the creation of a parish photo directory. Basically, it is a scaled-down version of a high school or college yearbook. It includes individual pictures of all families or single members of the church with additional pages allotted for pictures of parish activities. Our parish recently completed such a project and I am happy to say that it is remarkably inexpensive (in fact, there is no direct cost to the church), does not require any prior or professional experience and can be done by almost any size parish. Finally, both the process and the final results of creating a parish directory can have many benefits that one would never have initially intended.

A company that produces photo directories is, first of all, a traveling photo studio. Each family/person who agrees to be photographed will receive a free picture (usually 8” x 10”) that is chosen by them from a number of proofs. They will also receive a free copy of the completed directory. Though no one is obligated to buy anything else, the company knows that there will be people who will want more copies. It is through these sales that the directory is financed. The company offers a number of package deals which are generally competitive with other photographic studios. This usually works out well for both sides because families are always in need of new pictures of themselves and others have often not had a “professional” picture taken for years. In our case, one member died soon after the photo session and the directory picture proved to be the best picture taken in a long time.


The procedure I will describe is that of the company we used - United Church Directories. There is a basic similarity in organization and product among the various companies, but there are also a number of significant differences. Each of the companies seems to do some things better or worse than the others. It is a matter of deciding which features one feels are most important and then going with that company. At the end of this article I will discuss some of these differences - most of which I learned after our directory was complete.

Upon contact with the company, the local representative will call and make available information and sample of the company’s work. At the initial organizational meeting a presentation of the whole project will be made. In addition to the pastor, a number of coordinators are needed: advertising, telephone (which organizes the scheduling of photo sessions) and layout. A contract underlining the terms of agreement will be signed and a date will be set for when the pictures will be taken.

The company has clearly and systematically worked out every aspect of the process. A timetable is established for announcing the project and a variety of publicity materials art given (large posters and bulletin inserts). Reminder cards are also available which can and, in fact, should - as we learned - be mailed out to re-confirm the appointment date and time.


When the day for the photo sessions comes, several hosts and hostesses are needed to coordinate the arrival of people, getting the correct spelling of names and addresses, provide refreshments and keep general order (note who has or has not come and guide people in and out). The photo sessions themselves were very special times for they brought people - all nicely dressed - together in a good and joyful way.

The photography is done at the church. The photographer brings the necessary equipment and all that is needed is a room large enough to become the “studio.” He is prepared to take different kinds of poses in addition to the formal type needed for the directory. For example, special family pictures or individuals (especially children) are possible. He will also take any activity pictures which might be desired for other pages in the book. These could include: the outside or inside of the church, the pastor, church council, choir, etc.

Approximately 2-5 weeks after the photo session, each family/person will receive a note from the company letting them know that the proofs are ready to be viewed and giving a date when this will be done again at the church. At this time sales representatives from the company will return with the proofs, show them to each family/person, let them choose which pose will appear in the directory (this is the picture of which they will receive the free 8” x 10” copy) and see if any other pictures are desired. This, of course, is the financial aspect from the company’s point of view. Though the representatives have an interest in encouraging the sales of pictures, I did not hear of any real complaints about them being overbearing or pushy.

People who were unable to attend their assigned session have the possibility of being photographed at other churches in the area who are having directories done by the same company. The local representative can help with this. The proofing session is done at the same church where the pictures were taken, but they will appear in the original church’s directory. We had a number of people who needed to do this and there was no problem at all. Those who were even unable to attend these sessions can submit their own pictures. However, they will appear in black and white.


In addition to the family proofs, the activity page proofs will arrive in the mail about the same time. It is at this point that the layout coordinator and whoever will work with him/her will go to work. In our case, the layout coordinator was assisted by me and the other two coordinators.

There are a number of pre-set layout designs which are found in a special workbook. Any pictures taken by the company’s photographer can be enlarged or reduced at no extra charge. Any others would include a small fee per picture. This process of finding activity pictures within the community can be quite interesting because it allows people to dig through their own archives and share some precious moments of the past One important note, however, is that pictures included in the directory will not be returned so it is important to have copies.

Another feature of the directory is a roster of members’ addresses and telephone numbers. This is something which needs to be typed out in a special format which is clearly presented in the layout manual.

In about 4-6 weeks after the above material has been sent back and received by the company, a proof book will be mailed to the church. Any correction, changes or additions to the text or with pictures can be made for the last time. We had only a few changes in text to make, but we did replace one activity picture and had no difficulties.

About 8 weeks later the completed directory will be sent to the church. The company usually includes a 20% additional overrun (if 100 pictures were taken, then 120 directories would be printed). Additional copies of the directory can be ordered at the time the proof is sent back for a nominal fee ($2-3 a copy).

A parish directory can be developed in some creative ways. It can be a project that is tied in to the anniversary of a church. Additional activity pages can be purchased ($75.00 for color and $30.00 for black and white) and used as memorials or include text with the parish’s history. The directory can be used as a fund raising project and advertising can be sold.


In preparation for this article I compared three church directory companies: UNITED CHURCH DIRECTORIES, PCA, & OLAN MILLS (which is a separate division of the photographic studios). Each of these companies has had experience working with Orthodox churches. Some significant features which deserve comparison are the following:

SIZE - PCA and OLAN MILLS are 8” x 10”, while UNITED is 8 1/2” x 11” which results in a slightly larger family/person picture.

TURN-AROUND - This is measured from when the activity pages are first submitted (TIME to the time of the completed directory)

UNITED and PCA are about 5 months (13-15 weeks), while OLAN MILLS promises 9 weeks.

BINDING UNITED offers only a “saddle stitch” (which is like a magazine), PCA has a plastic core and OLAN MILLS has both plastic core and something they call “perfect binding” (which is like a telephone book). OLAN MILLS also offers hard-back binding for an additional price of $2.25 or free if over 300 families are photographed.

DESIGN UNITED has a pre-set variety of layouts. PCA allows the parish to design the layout as it wishes but cannot do collages. OLAN MILLS allows for free design and collages.

A thought about collages: Some of the sample directories I looked at had collages which were composed of too many pictures and the result was a mess. The company leaves this layout to the church and does not straighten out pictures which have been cut unevenly. Collages need to be considered carefully.

ADDITIONAL UNITED and PCA charge small fees ($2-3) for postage on the free COSTS directory pictures and a $3.00 fee for submitted member pictures. OLAN MILLS claims to have NO additional charges. They all charge for additional directories.

SPECIALS UNITED has specials when parishes are photographed during January and February. OLAN MILLS has a special which runs between December and January (with a minimum of 75 families to be photographed). PCA has specials going on throughout the year.

It should be noted, however, that this is a competitive business and at the first sound of “comparative shopping,” as I recently discovered, the representatives are willing to make some deals.

MINIMUM UNITED requires 37 (less than that and the families will receive a NUMBER OF “Church Family Composite” which is a large poster size collage of FAMILIES parishioner pictures. OLAN MILLS needs 40 and PCA requires 75.

A photo directory can be used in many different ways but ultimately its purpose is to help develop parish life. We discovered that work on our directory brought excitement and unified the community in a sense of anticipation. With its completion came a feeling of accomplishment. For those reasons alone it has served its goal.

P.O. Box 23456
4325 Amnicola Hwy.
Chattanooga, TN 37422
(800) 845-1157

815 Matthews-Mint Hill Rd.
Matthews, NC 28105
(800) 438-8868

7916 Millsboro Rd.
Box 507
Galion, OH 44833
(800) 521-4611

Fr. John Shimchick is the Pastor of Church of the Holy Cross, Medford, NJ and is a member of the Department of Lay Ministries.