November 2010
Technology and Evangelism

The Email Creation Story

In the beginning when the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, a wind from the Internet swept over the land and the Internet said, “Let us communicate using words that are recorded and delivered to one another electronically.” The Internet also said, “I will call this Electronic Mail and it is good.” Then the Internet said, “Now, let these messages be addressed to swarms of living creatures; include pictures, maps, and links.” The Internet called this HTML Email Marketing and it was good. The Internet blessed HTML Email saying, “Be fruitful and multiply.” And it did. “I will create a church volunteer; and let him/her have dominion over all the Email of the earth.” But the volunteer needed a plan.

If you’ve never launched an email marketing campaign it can feel as if you are standing over a formless void. It will take planning and practice to hone your skills as you take charge of this new communication vehicle, but it’s worth the trouble.Hopefully the thoughts shared in this article will help you develop confidence in using this tool.

Email Marketing Works
According to Pew Internet and American Life Project data from April, 2009, 90% of Internet users in the U.S. have gone online and used email. The same source suggests that 57% do this as part of a typical day. What does this mean? Potentially, over 50% of the people you want to reach use email as a communications tool. If you’re not using email with your congregation then you’re making communications harder for yourself and your community.

Email saves money. In my experience, the average cost of an email marketing service is about $15.00 a month for 500 recipients and unlimited emails. Compare that to a first class stamp or even a friendly bulk mail rate and the numbers look pretty good. It also allows you to speak directly to your target audience. The people involved in your email marketing should request it by signing up on your website, responding to a feedback card, or by your own solicitation. Remember they want to hear what you have to say. Email communications is a streamlined approach that can lead to direct participation in services and events. Most importantly, it offers meaningful feedback. Many email marketing services, such as Constant Contact, measure the open rate of both your emails and the links included in your emails. This means you can easily see how many people have viewed your email and which messages are most engaging for them.

Recommendations for Successful Email Content
Knowing the specifics about how people use your email means you can adapt over time and make each mailing more effective than the one before. To get good feedback, people need to use it and they will use what is relevant and easy. Here are some guidelines that our
parish has found effective in our own email marketing:

1. Highlight important points with bold or italicized words (most of us skim emails instead of reading them).
2. Write simply. (Brevity is a virtue.)
3. Brand your emails with consistent color schemes and letterheads (professional email should look like it’s coming from an institution, not your nephew).
4. Link lengthy articles and announcements to your website which should also be branded to match your emails.
5. Provide a resource to other information via links (such as to your diocese, the Episcopal Church Center’s website, maps, etc.).
6. Include photos (real church photos if you can - clip art isn’t as meaningful).

(For examples, refer to the corresponding numbers on the following graphic.)

Recommendations for Successful Email Lists
7. If you are not using an email marketing service that manages your lists for you,
address emails to yourself and then BCC the rest of the recipients to avoid making personal information available to everyone on your list.
8. Collect people, not just their email addresses; get their postal addresses and first and last names. This makes follow up communications and announcements easier and more personal.
9. Make unsubscribe requests effective immediately. If someone opts out of your service, respect their decision.
10. Keep email relevant to the recipient by targeting messages to lists sorted by interests, for example, special services, musical events, the “everything” list, etc.
11. Never add people to your list who did not request the service. Take the time to build relationships on trust and respect and only add names when permission is granted by
the recipient.

Using email as an arm of professional communication in our churches is critical to staying relevant to the fellowship we foster and our communities at large. Yes, it’s unavoidable that many congregations will need to use both traditional and electronic communication while that last 43% of us start walking the path to obsessive emailchecking. The point is that you’re doing it and your skills will grow as the need grows.

And the Internet said, “A volunteer shall leave his/her pencil and his/her paper
and cling to a new community of other volunteers learning to market their emails. And it will be good.”

Amy Simons is Communications Coordinator at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Saginaw, Michigan. St. John’s received a 2009 All Star Award from Constant Contact, Inc., a leading provider of email marketing for small business and non-profits. This award was based on frequency of campaigns, open rates, bounce rates, and click through rates. Learn more about communications at St. John’s by visiting their website at

This article is part of the November 2010 Vestry Papers issue on Technology and Evangelism