Skip Navigation

How to be a better email communicator

By Gavin Richardson

Email has slowly become the primary communication channel for many churches. However, how effectively do churches use email? Are we guilty of assuming that people are receiving and reading our messages and acting appropriately – without evidence? It is important to create emails that people open and read.

Here are some good practices to follow when creating the next email campaign for your church.

Start small.

This is a great concept to apply when choosing designs that adapt to mobile platforms. What does your email look like on smartphones? Does it pass the squint test? Avoid designing your email using a flashy template that looks great on a website but not on mobile. Smaller templates with bigger fonts and plenty of whitespace look the best on mobile devices.

Before sending, use a service such as Litmus to preview how your emails will look on different devices and then make the necessary adjustments to optimize for the largest audience.

Tell recipients what you want them to do.

Emails must have a clear call to action (CTA):

  • This important message needs your response.
  • Share this via social media.
  • Vote on these new ministry ideas.
  • Sign up now.

Make a secondary CTA.

If your email simply provides information, consider adding a secondary CTA. For example, if the message announces a cancellation, you might ask recipients to sign up for a new event or to post alternative plans on your social media channels.

One or two CTAs are better than three.

Each email should have one main message and sometimes a secondary CTA. Promote other CTAs elsewhere. If you must break this rule, think minimal. Use smaller font sizes and softer colors for other information, so the primary message grabs the reader’s attention.

Tell them why.

If you want recipients to download a PDF newsletter, give them a good reason to do so. Here are a few ideas.

  • Download this month’s newsletter to see photos of the mission trip.
  • Check out this month’s newsletter and read the article about our own (person from the church).
  • Complete the registration form for the last Parents’ Night Out before Christmas. It is in this month’s newsletter.
  • Find a detailed list of summer education and mission opportunities in this month’s newsletter.
  • Read about the new monastic retreat led by Pastor (name) in this week’s news download.

Do not be subtle.

If you need people to sign up for an event, include an obvious “button” or text link that draws attention. Many times images are blocked by default or by user preference, so it’s always good to include a text link above or below the linked image.

Place your CTA near the proverbial “fold.”

Content areas at the very top do not always have the most engagement. In fact there’s new data that proves the opposite. View this heat-map of where we spend time reading on the web from Time magazine. People know by now that the “meat” is a little farther down, so they skip over content at the very top. Keep important information and links near the top and to the left. Information on the right may be hidden from mobile users who have to scroll over.

To make a simple heat-map, print-out one of your e-newsletters. Then write the click-through rate next to each link. Your email service provider should provide these click-through rates.

Design for skimmers.

A desktop user may read more email content. However, mobile users will likely skim the message. Since mobile use continues to increase, be sure to keep content simple and clear. Use bold headlines and bulleted lists to engage the skimmers.

Associate the email look with the campaign.

Create email templates that fit the message. The youth announcements should not be on the same template or have the same look as an email used for the children’s ministry. Create several themes and use a different template for each campaign.

Tell recipients where to sign up.

Often emails from the church come from the office housing “the list” of church members. This makes it hard for those outside the congregation to learn what the church is doing. Use an email service provider, such as MailChimp, that makes it easy for people to sign up for your messages. MailChimp lets nonprofits send up to 12,000 emails a month free.

Use images with impact.

Poor stock photography can be just as bad as clip art if you don't have time to search for something fresh and interesting. Many stock images are seen repeatedly and some are a little too stereotypical. Commission some talented volunteers to photograph or create unique, original images. If you need an image now, CreationSwap offers free and low-cost options that we like.

Get back into the primary folder.

Last year, Gmail rolled out its own filter system. Emails now show up in “primary,” “social” or “promotions” folders. Other email clients will likely follow suit. Let everyone know that church emails may be buried in the “promotions” folder. Instruct them to drag the email to the primary folder, so they do not miss important updates. Be sure to include these instructions on your website and blog and in printed newsletters.

Break the rules, but test results.

These guidelines should be called “better practices” because marketing rules are not always the "best." You must test to learn what is "best" for your specific message and audience. There are times when you can break certain rules. For example; your newsletter subject line may be so provocative that you put the subject line's content at the bottom of the newsletter. People will scroll to the bottom to find the interesting news, and in the process, view all other stories as well. This could boost engagement across the board! But you won't know until you do an A/B test and find out.

Follow and test these “better practices” so your emails do not get unsubscribed from or ignored. If new visitors unsubscribe, you may lose all contact with them. Take the extra time to design effective emails and share your strategies in the comment section below.