‘New’ media? Most of you reading this will have been Facebooking for at least four years, Tweeting for two, and emailing for the past fifteen. Most of it isn’t exactly ‘New’, but there are enormous benefits which - if harnessed properly - could help you get to know your church congregation better.
I don’t want to go over the obvious, but sometimes it’s good to recap the basics. When something has been around for a while – like email – we can get into bad habits. I want to give you ten top tips for email which, if at least two or three are things you hadn’t yet considered, will be a minor victory and hopefully help your ministry.
Before we start, I want you to stop thinking about your congregation as a muted mass, but as people just like you. People who want to be amused, informed and cared about. So consider first: what do they want to read about? And is email best for them? Don’t overlook the phone call, text or house visit in your rush to send out a group email.
top ten tips
one // be prayerful... Once sent, whatever you write can exist in someone’s inbox for years and in cyberspace forever. Take the time to seek God and ask what this person or group of people may need to read today.
two // timely, timely, catchy monkey... If you want throngs of people to come to your Christian Singles New Year Barn Dance Extravanganza, don’t email about it with a week’s notice. They’ll either be busy already or be too embarrassed to admit they’re free at such short notice. Give ample time for people to respond and then consider a reminder message 48 hours or so before the event. Decide on a frequency of sends and try to stick to it – then people will expect to hear from you on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis. Other things, such as urgent prayer requests, can of course be more ad hoc.
three // make it relevant... You might have three quarters of your congregation on your email database (lucky you!) but that doesn’t mean that everybody needs to know about everything. Consider grouping your list by age group, interests, donors, parents, volunteers, new Christians - you get the picture. Ask for newcomers’ email addresses on ‘get connected / welcome to our church’ handouts, then mail them within a week to introduce the church’s broad spectrum of activities. Consider setting up ‘preference’ options (so people can choose to be on the ‘Prayer List’ but not the ‘Young Mums’ list), and sending out surveys (e.g. SurveyMonkey) to find out more about what is and isn’t liked in your church calendar.
four // what’s in a name? If you can have dynamic content and address your email recipients by name, then do so. We all like to feel known, feel special. Just make sure they haven’t signed up with initials rather than full names – ‘Dear N’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. It’s also important to consider here the name of your email address – make it memorable, and visible around the building.
five // let your subject line do the talking... We are all busy. If you want your email to jump out then you need to make your subject line do half the work. It needs to be interesting but informative. So, for that Barn Dance, rather than ‘Barn Dance coming up’ which neither thrills nor informs, you could put ‘Dust your cowboy boots off & swing by St Peters on June 6th!’. This way you’ve made it fun, personal and have given the all-important date.
six // keep it simple, stupid... Your emails can be short, as long as they’re sweet.
seven // people like pretty... Be wary of font size, style and spacing. Making things easy to read and not an offence on the senses will help you retain those addresses. Send out reams and reams in font size 8 and you’ll soon be made to feel the full force of the dissatisfaction through your unsubscribe rate. Pictures are good but can clog up inboxes so just beware.
eight // let it be a dialogue... This one is easy to understand but harder to implement. Make time to respond to whatever responses you receive. Email is not a one-way communication and certainly shouldn’t be in a church context. If you don’t respond, you may find that they won’t either.
nine // rsvp... If you need responses to your emails – volunteer sign-ups or prayer requests – make sure the ‘call to action’ is clear. Consider a simple web form on your site which you can link to from the email, or simply ask – in bold underlined writing and with a time frame – for specific replies.
ten // insert your idea here... I don’t profess to know it all.
If you have any tips to share as our number ten – then do please get in touch! And a holy thought to finish; the epistles were the emails of their day, keeping the early Church involved, energised, informed, and on track with God. Saint Paul put thought in, so we shouldn’t be sloppy. Give email the time it deserves.