7 Reasons Your Church is Emailing Wrong

Published in Insight  Fall 2015
By Mark MacDonald

Churches have a lot going on. Ministries and programs flood our calendars, not to mention sermon series and vision castings. Our leaders want everyone to hear everything. Except more and more, people are spending less and less time paying attention. 

How on earth do we effectively communicate to our congregations? If they do not know they will not come and be engaged with the good content we are generating. The key to good communications is finding people where they are, with a message they want, and delivered so they will pay attention to it.

Like a good communicator knows, we need to stop talking before our audience stops listening. 
I remember the first time I got an email account. I wondered why anyone would email me when they could pick up the phone and call me. Then I realized the time savings. People could ask a well-presented question and I could think about the answer before returning the email. 

Later, marketers figured out that they could interrupt an email stream with an advertisement or promotion. It worked—so extremely well, that SPAM has taken over most of our email inboxes. There are over 200 billion emails sent every day. It is overwhelming! In fact, the average business email account receives 88 emails/day with 12 of them considered spam (Radicati). That is 13.6% of email that we toss out!

Therefore people have become skeptical of the email deluge and most make some attempt at filtering out all the SPAM (read: unimportant promotions). The sad truth? The Church is another promoter producing email campaigns like all the other marketers. If people do not see you as interesting and essential they will dump you into the folder of emails marked for eliminating.

Email is an effective form of communications only if people open and engage with your messages. The church, however,  seems to be doing something wrong since the open rate of religious emails fall below one third. That means more than two-thirds of people receiving our emails do not find them worthy of opening. 

Let us start doing email right! Here are seven reasons why your email is broken and how to change it:

1. Email is not dying. It is shifting. People still check it but are skeptical.
If you talk to young people they will tell you that email is not an essential part of their lives. For everyone else, however, it is continuing to grow steadily with no end in sight. Pew Research recently found that 61% of Americans consider email “very important,” and that number has not changed in 13 years. Yes, the kids aren’t using it… yet; but once they get into the business world, this will change. 

We are all getting a TON of email so we are having to determine quickly which to look at and which deserve the trash. A marketing email tends to meet the demise of the delete button. Do whatever you can to create email that does not look like marketing. Send it from a person rather than an organization, make the subject line personally informative (not deceptive) for a reason that someone would want to open it, and NEVER break the trust of someone who actually does open it. Deliver something ESSENTIAL and they will continue to open your emails.

2. Build your list and segment it. Think direct mail. 
Direct mail is expensive! It requires design, printing, and postage, and the return is typically terrible! On average (with a warm list) you will probably get less than 1% action rate. Email is seen as the solution — it is FREE! But that is why it is abused. The cost involved must be the time it takes to construct something that is actually opened. 

3. Subject lines matter (see sidebar).
The more you can personalize (so your emails do not feel like SPAM) your message to a small group of people, the more you can engage with them. Instead of having a huge list that needs to know everything; think about sending 2 or 3 separate emails to separate lists. For example, send out a Senior Adults’ email with Senior Adult content. Have a young parents’ email that talks about nursery and opportunities for fellowship. See how they become more interesting (and needed) to the end user? 

Yes, it takes more time to assemble and segment your list, but is the “cost” not worth it? Or you can leave your email list unsegmented and reach very few. It does not make sense!

4. Know it is only a portion of your digital hub of communications.
Many churches we talk with think that by emailing their congregation, they are doing a great job at communications. Email should never be the main church communications tool. It needs to be an integrated part of your communications hub. This digital hub includes email, along with your website, social media, and perhaps text messaging campaigns. Everything links to your responsive website content. 

People do not want all the details in the email until they actually get interested in the activity. Then you should direct them to your website. This continuously reinforces that your website is the place to find out what is happening in your church. No bulletin needed. No email needed. ANY time someone wants church information; they can jump over to the website quickly. Your digital communication hub simply reminds people why they need to visit the website.

5. Create a rhythm and maintain it. 
Your email campaign needs to be sent regularly. Do not start a weekly email campaign and randomly drop one or two. If you are creating ESSENTIAL content, people will anticipate receiving your emails and start to rely on them. Want the secret to knowing when to send email so more people will open them? It does not exist. Many churches feel successful when sending emails on Thursday afternoons. Others find Wednesday or Thursday mornings a better time. What is it for you? Watch your analytics for the open rate and try different times. Remember though, that time is not the only determination in the open rate. Your subject line is huge, too. Start the ongoing research project today; it is the only way to know!
Envision an average person on your list. Develop content for them.

Personalization is key to engaging with email. Think about your list and create a persona for the average person on it. What are they needing? Having problems with? Dreaming of? Think about how your email will solve their problems or give a path to their dreams. If you connect that way with your subject line, they will probably open it. Then deliver in the email body the content that you promised.

6. Build your Church brand and be less concerned about your secondary brands.
Your email campaign could become a promoter of many sub-brands (ministries). Do not let it happen. Honor the time of the recipient by simplifying everything into one brand. Your church. Promote the overall benefits of your master brand and let people discover the sub-brands when they arrive. What is your main church brand? It has been said itiss the “emotional aftertaste” once people experience you. We like to believe that it is what you are known for. If you do not control it, someone else will.

Start controlling your brand concept. Including keywords, colors, design, etc. If you are not, you do not have an effective brand. Start by purchasing a brand foundation with a professional branding company who understands churches and congregations. Then develop emails that reinforce everything they should know about you.

7. Edit. Decide the purpose of every email. 
Create email content like every word costs a thousand dollars. Remove every word or concept not needed. People do not have time to scan through your materials to glean something worthy of their attention. Give just the ESSENTIAL facts. Then link to more material that is on your responsive website. 

Most people think an email is getting too long when it exceeds 50 words. Stop writing when most people stop reading. If you must go over that word count make it very scan-able. People are attracted to headlines, bullet points, and bolded subheads. Eliminate almost everything else and never have a long wordy paragraph. Most people skip those long paragraphs!
Consider what the purpose is of every email — is it to inform? Signup? Discover? Engage?  Share? Then make sure there is a call to action for that purpose. It can be as simple as a link, or as complex as a form or survey.

Let us start doing this right, church! Let us lead the industry with open rates. We truly should have the best news of any email. Let us use email to encourage our congregations and engage them with the love, grace, and mercy of Jesus Christ. Oh, and make sure you are CANSPAM compliant. Google search for the regulated rules of sending mass emails; it could save you from paying up to a $16,000 fine!

Mark MacDonald is a blogger, speaker, and strategist for BeKnownForSomething.com. He empowers churches to become known for something relevant through their services, ministries, websites, and social media. Follow him in social media: markmac1023