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Drastically increase your email audience

Every church wants to grow, and most churches today are taking advantage of the Internet to reach new people. Opt-ins are a popular feature that businesses use to gather new names for their databases, send emails and connect with people. Churches can do the same.

Any time you are given the choice to provide personal information in return for receiving a product (free email newsletter, daily text devotional, a book by mail, a small gift, etc.), you are “opting-in.” For example, you opt-in to receive an email newsletter by providing your name and email address. The email newsletter is then sent to you until you notify the sender that you want to opt-out. It’s an easy way to gain new contacts. However, you should keep a few things in mind:

  • Privacy is important. Asking for too much information may turn people away from your site. Keep it simple. Requesting a first name and an email address is a simple way to open communication.
  • Consider providing a free gift. The more valuable the gift, the more information the user will likely give. If you want names and email addresses, an email newsletter is great. If you want names, addresses and phone numbers, you may want to offer a free book or another small gift.
  • Design opt-in experiences for mobile devices. Learn how churches use text messaging for good. If your church subscribes to a texting service, you can ask users to text an email address to sign up for weekly newsletters, or have them text an opt-in to receive other communications. For example, you could advertise in your weekly bulletin, “Text SIGNUP to 12345 to receive a daily devotional text.”
  • Be transparent. Make sure visitors know what they are agreeing to receive and that they are giving their information voluntarily. Also, make it clear that your church will not sell their inform7ation to any other companies or organizations, and don’t.
  • Be considerate. Don’t over-communicate. If someone signs up for a free monthly newsletter, don’t send them weekly church email announcements as well. Only send the items that they agreed to receive.

The type

Consider the type of opt-in that you want to use. In addition to the more mundane options, you may want to use a pop-up window, which is a more aggressive type of opt-in, whereby the user is not allowed to continue to a certain part of the website until they close out of the window or until requested information is provided. Because this type of design interrupts the user’s experience on the site, it is considered somewhat controversial. However, it does generate new contacts. Check into the less abrasive versions. Icegram and SumoMe are both free to try and integrate with Wordpress and many other website platforms. They offer several more non-obtrusive and user-friendly applications.

The placement

If no one sees your opt-in invitations, they won’t do anyone any good. Provide an easy opt-in opportunity on the homepage of your website near the top of the page, to the right of your church name and logo. Make it clear with large text or a graphic visual that states “Receive a FREE newsletter” or “Sign up for a daily email devotional.” Include a link that directs the visitor to the appropriate online form. And make sure that your forms are phone friendly since most people will respond via their mobile devices.

Include several opt-in opportunities throughout your site. For instance, you can ask visitors to provide their names and email addresses before downloading an online sermon.

Also, make sure to include an opt-in or sign-up call-to-action on your church Facebook page as well as on other social media.

You may want to consider using pay-per-click advertising to maximize your budget. Facebook ads are one great way to do this. Some services, such as Google AdWords, will automatically allow the email newsletter signup form within the ad. Since your words are limited with this form of advertising, you will need to be to-the-point with an offer that visitors cannot refuse. Make the opt-in form mandatory for all offers.

The audience

Once your opt-ins are in place, you need to draw attention to them. Simply waiting for visitors to happen upon your website or Facebook pages won’t draw results very quickly. Here are several ways to bring the audience to you.

  • Include opt-in information in printed materials. Place the Web address or email address on your church letterhead, in your weekly bulletin, at the bottom of the ad you purchase in the local newspaper and in any promotional materials you distribute.
  • Seek out bloggers who may be willing to write about an aspect of your ministry, or offer to write a guest blog for them. Even if you don’t have someone willing to write exclusively about your ministry, you may be able to get a mention in a more inclusive article. Always include links to your site or a way people can opt-in to “receive more information.”
  • Search online locations where potential visitors may already go to read other articles, tips and insights. Research how you can get involved with those sites. Often, you will find a place to leave comments about articles. If so, make an appropriate and relevant comment that includes an aspect of your ministry. Include a link back to the opt-in page on your website.
  • Make the most of events. Traditionally, churches have collected contacts at various social events via pen and paper. Equip your volunteers with iPads and tablets with opt-in applications to streamline this process. Volunteers can offer free emails or newsletters or simply request information about prospects as they mingle and converse.
  • Post church activities, such as vacation Bible school, on Internet community calendars. Include a place where readers are directed to a page that offers an opt-in option to register for the event, receive more information or simply receive reminders about the event.

Email newsletters, websites and social media offer wonderful ways to attract new prospects. Use opt-ins to maximize the effectiveness of these resources in aiding your church to gain a new audience.

Tricia Brown

Tricia Brown has been a freelance writer and editor for more than twenty years, ghost-writing and editing for individuals as well as for health, education, and religious organizations. She enjoys reading, writing, and public speaking commitments in which she teaches and encourages other women.