Recent MyCom articles have addressed how email newsletters continue to be a popular communication tool. These newsletters help drive interest in and awareness of services, products and events offered by churches and businesses.
A key part of a successful email newsletter strategy involves collecting new email addresses.
While you should ask guests to share their email addresses with you on visitor cards and registration forms, you have another option. Your church building’s Wi-Fi provides an opportunity to collect email information.
To collect email addresses via your Wi-Fi, you will have to set up a captive portal.
Understanding a captive portal
If you’ve ever tried to use the Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop, you’ve probably seen a pop-up screen appear when you attempt to log on. It most likely thanks you for visiting and asks for your email address to gain Wi-Fi access.
That page is the result of a captive portal. It stops the web browser from passing through to the internet until the user reads some piece of information (a welcome page) and provides some sort of key (an email address).
Using what you have already
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Many Wi-Fi routers (especially business-grade models) offer captive portal capabilities. To set things up, you’ll need to log into your router and find the captive portal settings.
Unfortunately, every router seemingly has this in a different place and operates with slight differences. You may need to search online for your router’s brand name to find the instructions regarding its captive portal. If you need more help, perhaps you can enlist the aid of a computer guru if there is one in the congregation.
While this method can make it difficult to get the email addresses out of the system, the good news is that this process requires no additional cost.
Paying for attractiveness and ease of use
Many companies specialize in creating and maintaining captive portals. These portals can be beautiful and integrate easily with your existing email systems, but they will cost more.
For instance, Beambox sells a piece of hardware that you can plug into your network to set up an attractive captive portal.
If you are using an email marketing tool such as Constant Contact, captive portal providers such as MyWiFi are a good option.
This route will get you an engaging captive portal plus automatic email storage, eliminating the need to manually copy and paste email addresses into a personal contact list.
Don’t forget the hospitality
A captive portal is often the first interaction between your church and the person accessing your Wi-Fi. An ugly, cold portal is like a poorly maintained entrance to your church building. It is worth taking time to make your portal as welcoming as possible while keeping words to a minimum.
Before you launch a portal, you’ll need to create two pieces of content.
- Welcome page text: In a few words, you want to express welcome, your church name and general hospitality. Under your church’s logo, add something like “Welcome! We are happy to share our Wi-Fi and we hope you know how much God loves you.”
- Success message: This appears after someone fills out a form and clicks submit. Keep this short, but take the opportunity to tell people where to find more information. For example, your success text might read: “Success! Stop by our welcome desk if you have any questions or would like a pastor to pray with you.”
A little bit of intentionality can make a huge difference in your first impression. Don’t forget that every point of contact with people is an opportunity for hospitality!
One last note, also, never forget to be 100% transparent with those who do sign up for using your WIFI, letting them know that they might be receiving additional communication from your organization because of signing up is a possibility.
Jeremy Steele is the associate pastor at Los Altos UMC in Los Altos, California, as well as a writer and speaker. You can find a list of all his books, articles and resources for churches, including his most recent book All the Best Questions, at his website: JeremyWords.com.