For many churches, email is still an effective method to communicate information to members, regular attendees, and guests. Communications directors, church secretaries, pastors, and volunteers put some serious effort into the content of emails that go out monthly, weekly, or even more often.
But how many people are reading them?
Sometimes no one knows that answer. Many churches are still using old methods to send emails, sometimes cutting and pasting lists into to: or bcc: fields and hitting send. There is no way to tell if anyone opened those emails and assuming they did will likely give you a false impression of their effectiveness. So, my first recommendation is to switch to an email service like MailChimp or Constant Contact. You can read more about the benefits of those services here.
One of the benefits I write about in the above link is the real-time analytics provided by these services. In plain terms, these services tell you who opened your email (open rate) and when. If you include links in your email to content on your website (which I hope you do) they will even tell you how many people clicked on each link (click-through rate).
Not looking at email analytics is much like bowling without seeing how many pins you knocked down. It’s not a whole lot of fun, and you are never going to get better.
Once you get a picture of how many people are reading and clicking, it is time to start adjusting to improve your open rate and click-through rate. If your analytics show you that 100% of the people on your list are opening your email and they are clicking on every last link, please, by all means, keep doing what you are doing. You are an email marketing superstar. Please put me on your list so I can see what you are doing.
For the rest of us, those open rates and click-through rates are surprisingly low. According to MailChimp, the average open rate in the religion category is 23% with an average click-through rate of 2.8%. Think about that. That email that you toiled over might be opened by only 23% of the people on your list. If your list has 100 people on it, that is only 23 people. If your list has 1000, that is only 230. And, at that click-through rage, your 100 person list would only return 2.8 click-throughs to your website.
So, how do we improve?
I am on the list for a bunch of church emails. I like to keep up with what churches are doing, and I am always looking for story ideas for our website and weekly email. The most typical email subject line is something like one of these:
- This Week at YourChurch UMC
- YourChurch UMC Weekly Update
- This week’s eNewsletter from YourChurch UMC
- YourChurch News and Events
There is nothing wrong with these subject lines. However, they assume that people are going to open them because the church sent them. It is as though we expect people to be expectantly waiting for the latest from their church. And, some people are. I can tell you how many people are based on your open rate.
Never underestimate the power of the subject line. The whole point of the subject line is to get people to open your email. That is true whether you are writing to a co-worker about something you need or if you are sending an important email to your whole church.
What do you think would happen if your email subject line looked more like one of these?
- You have to see this picture of Pastor Bob.
- This weekend, something incredible is going to happen.
- If you only open one email this week, it should be this one.
Now, there is a whole industry built around “click-bait.” That is the practices of promising big with a title and then not delivering. So, deliver!
Want some more insight and advice for subject lines? Check out one of these articles:
In many email clients, the first line of an email is displayed in the preview. In services like MailChimp and Constant Contact, you can control what this says. This is another chance to catch the reader’s attention. So, just like with the subject line, write something that might cause the reader to open the email.
The day and time you send your email will make a huge difference in your open rate. The best time and day to send your email is…
We all wish there were a magic answer to that. The answer depends on your audience. Logically, we can figure out some times that aren’t great. I rarely see any email opened on Friday afternoon. An email sent early Monday morning will likely be buried in other messages from the weekend.
Finding the best time takes a little guesswork and experimentation. This is where those analytics come in handy. If you are already on an email service, look at the reports and see when the largest number of people are opening your email. That is a good place to start. Then, try some different times and days and look at the open rate. Pick the one that works best and stick with it for a while.
These are just some of the ways to improve your open rate. There are still more things to consider like your content, frequency, and even the sender name. If you want to know more, here is another great resource:
What is working or not working for your church? I would love to hear about it in the comments.