When you mention email as part of the communications mix for churches, you may hear “No one uses email any more.”
Frankly, email’s death has been greatly exaggerated as it moves deep into middle age. (Trivia: The first email was sent in 1971.) According to a Direct Marketing Association 2017 report, “99% of consumers check their email daily.” It’s often the second thing (after checking for text messages) that people do when they wake up in the morning. The average person checks email up to 15 times a day.
With mobile phones and messaging apps, the use of email has changed in people’s lives. The screen size is much smaller and people’s attention span has shortened. Churches should adapt their email strategy to meet today’s challenges.
Keys to successfully adapt your e-strategy
- Keep email relevant by managing your lists. Sort your email list into affinity groups: members, member families with youth or young children, Sunday school teachers, etc. Send relevant information only to a specific group of contacts. Global privacy laws mean that you must be careful in managing your list. New regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), in many ways, are similar to the strict GDPR. Read more about how to manage privacy data.
- Use a responsive template. More than 60% of email is read on mobile devices, according to an Adresta study conducted in November 2018. A responsive template (found in email management tools) makes the email adapt its appearance to the recipient’s screen size and screen orientation — from portrait or landscape on mobile, tablet or desktop. Maintain template consistency so that people quickly recognize emails coming from you.
- Make it personal. Beyond sorting your list, personalizing email subject lines can increase open rates by 50% and lead to 58% higher click-to-open rates, according to Yes Lifecycle Marketing. You can personalize emails by name, interests, birthdays or anniversaries.
- Write strong subject lines. We tend to scan subject lines and delete emails that seem irrelevant or (frankly) boring. Optimize subject lines to entice people to open and read your email; otherwise, they won’t act on what your sharing.
- Plan shorter, bite-sized emails. You only have three to five seconds to connect with email recipients. (Fun but sad science: A goldfish just may have a longer attention span than humans.) You need to capture the attention of subscribers and create excitement for your call to action. Focus and hone your email to reflect only the critical information. Keep emails between 75 to 100 words long and make every word count.
- Tell a story. People are more responsive to a meaningful story about an event than a “who-what-when-where” invitation. Consider, for example, the power of the campaign “I Am Second,” which drew an audience through stories about how lives were transformed by Jesus Christ. Follow the same model for your event invitations or promotions. A more compelling invitation for your church’s marriage retreat would lead with a story or quote from a couple who attended previously explaining how the retreat impacted their marriage. Be creative and experiment.
- Use automation to save time. Build a series of pre-written, pre-scheduled emails sent based on a “trigger” (something someone does). Consider thanking first-time guests, and draft a short series of nurturing emails to help them connect.
- Frequency and irrelevancy are the new spam. Too many irrelevant emails coming too often results in 67% of your opt outs. Limit the number of emails you send, and target relevant content by audience.
- Send and test samples before clicking “send.” Email clients (Comcast, Gmail, Outlook) display emails differently. Heavy visuals (animated gifs, videos that play in the email window, etc.) work inconsistently. To make sure your email is seen as you intended, send tests to multiple email accounts you set up. (Paid services like Litmus and Email on Acid offer test convenience without you setting up multiple email accounts.) Be sure to click-test all links before you send to your entire list.
- Test, test and test again. A/B testing splits your list and tests the effectiveness of two versions of your email — helping you better understand your audience and what makes them take action. Vary one email element at a time (design, subject line, message), and measure the response. You may be surprised! What’s clear or what works for you may not necessarily be the same for your recipients. Two rules to remember: Never assume, and you are not your audience.
Better connect your community for Christ
Successful use of email requires attention to detail and a knowledge of the needs of your list contacts. By keeping track of open and click-through statistics paired with occasional surveying of members to share their thoughts, you’ll be able to get your message across to others in the way that they’ll best receive and act upon it. Check out additional email guidance about upgrading your email strategy.
— Eric Seiberling is part of a husband-wife duo working to help the church embody "1 > 99" at brokensheep.com. 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.