The Double Edged Sword of Email Lists

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I joined a church just after graduating from college a few years ago and suddenly started receiving emails from a number of people all at the same time. I wondered what was going on and then realized my email was published in the directory.

Without giving consent I was immediately subscribed to the church “weekly update”, prayer chain, and social justice club list. This was not much of an issue at first until people started to send updates multiple times a day. Six emails a week was not uncommon and more groups started using the list the church sent out since you could see most email addresses. The list was free for the taking.

The FCC has rules for commercial emails that may be helpful as a guideline for churches.  Check out http://www.business.ftc.gov/documents/bus61-can-spam-act-compliance-guide-business. First, you must OPT-IN to the list giving explicit permission you would like to join the email list. Second, you as a sender must provide an address describing where you reside in this world. Third, you must provide an UNSUBSCRIBE option for people to easily be removed from the group.

Email experts have identified a fourth area that tends to help retain subscribers, group preferences. Preferences allow you to add different frequency groups and other special interest lists to your master group. For instance, our church now has a weekly update email with announcements for everyone, a bulletin group for those unable to make it to services, a monthly update that is more like a newsletter, and a prayer list that gives immediate prayer requests. This allows people to change their frequency and connection based on their involvement and interest. This helps increase engagement and makes for less work in the church office.

So how do you set this up? There are a number of mass email providers that offer free services. My favorite is www.mailchimp.com.  They have a great library of guides on how to use their product. Check out http://mailchimp.com/resources/guides/mailchimp-for-churches.  This guide is specifically for church congregations. Once you have set up your list you can publish a link to sign up in your bulletin, in new member materials, or your website.

Our church ended up having a very large list of emails that needed to be sorted through and in the first few weeks a lot of people removed themselves from our list. This was needed as most did not want to be on all the lists but did not have the opportunity to ask to be removed. We are now strategizing about how to grow the list and keep people engaged throughout the week.

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We are migrating over to Faith Websites which has a feature like this. I wonder if people have advice on how to use it well.