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Building and maintaining a relationship with virtual worshipers through email, part 1

Photo by Matilda Wormwood from Pexels
Photo by Matilda Wormwood from Pexels

Historically, the church has relied on discipleship and interpersonal evangelism supported by in-person worship. Everything changed with COVID-19. As the pandemic closed public gatherings, social media and streaming may have expanded your connections in sharing the gospel with new virtual worshipers.

Where do you go from here? How do you form lasting relationships with new people you've met only through a screen? Strengthen ties with members who may opt (or need) to worship virtually even when buildings reopen?


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Email to the rescue

While some claim its day has passed, email is considered the best channel for organizations to maintain and nurture relationships. It’s one of the few channels that puts recipients in full control: whether they opt-in (or out), preview a message, open or click links within. As messages become more fleeting and passive (due, in part, to the infinite scrolling of social media timelines or feeds as well as websites), the inbox stands apart as it requires direct interaction. Moreover, it’s effective: During the pandemic lockdown, email engagement (especially opens) climbed above 20 percent, according to a new study.

Grow your email ministry

Increasing your number of contacts is how you begin. Every email address gained must be earned. There are no shortcuts.

In your online worship, do you invite people to stay connected with the church in an opening and closing slide or in the chat box? In these instances, leaders may link only to social media accounts. Don’t forget to include your linked email address! After all, the easiest way to build an email list is to ask people to connect by email.

To fast track growth, leaders may be tempted by shortcuts that seem legitimate. For example, list brokers offer email addresses for rent or exchange. Beware, though, as these lists are often outdated or of dubious origin. Messages sent to rented contacts often bounce in bulk, prompting internet service providers to flag senders as potential spammers. Restoring an email reputation may involve contracting with a costly service. Bottom line: Don’t buy, trade, share or rent email lists. Instead, use the following tips to organically grow and communicate with your people.

Understand who you want to reach

The first commandment of communications is to know your audience. Make a list of the different groups of people your church seeks to reach and what’s needed to inspire them further into their faith journey through your ministries.


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Spring clean your lists

You’ve likely collected email addresses from recently acquired e-giving apps, past outreach events, years of visitor/member attendance cards, activities and groups that meet in the church. (If not, begin now.)

Separate your email audience by age groups, activities, whether they are new or long-term members, virtual-only visitors or whatever is appropriate for your email strategy.

Clean your lists to remove disengaged people (those who haven’t opened your emails in months), members who have passed away, bounces and people who have requested to unsubscribe. (Please do that. It’s the law.) Maintaining list hygiene is important to improve your email reputation score.

Customize your messages

While the gospel is the most important message you provide, the church can and should engage through other meaningful, relevant and even entertaining content shared by email. Build an editorial calendar that focuses on topics timed to audience needs. For example, produce a short video, article or infographic about how to prepare a child for their first Sunday school class, and share it with parents of age-appropriate children.

Now that the “who” and “what” are defined, the next step is the meatier “how.” In the upcoming second part of this article, learn how to encourage contacts (especially new ones) to share their email addresses through a guided three-step process. Discover how to customize your email messaging to answer their needs.

Don’t wait! Get ready for greater engagement by implementing the tips covered in part one:

  1. Be attentive to list management tasks — routinely merging, updating, tidying and segmenting new and long-term contacts
  2. Consider what will motivate these groups of people to connect beyond virtual services
  3. Identify how you can inspire and deepen your relationship through a customized and purposeful email ministry

Email is highly effective in connecting with and nurturing your virtual and in-person community — especially now. Take the time now to adapt and build a stronger more relevant email strategy to meet today’s challenges.


Eric Seiberling

Eric Seiberling is part of a husband-wife duo working to help the church embody "1 > 99" at He leverages his 20+ years of marketing and consulting experience to help churches "baptize" and use secular techniques to be more effective at reaching the lost, the least and the last for Jesus Christ.


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