Parish email: “white noise” or engagement tool?

Posted on August 01, 2017

Email to maximize engagement.

Ever scroll through an email and realize halfway through your eyes have glazed over? Are you famous for the “quick scan” in between more pressing tasks? Do you ever delete email without opening it, even from a favorite organization, because the subject line seems irrelevant, rambling, or simply unclear?

If you’re like me, you answered: yes, Yes, and YES!

Email communications can be a vital point of contact with your parishioners, visitors, and interested community members. How do you make sure your emails stand out? More importantly, how do you make the leap from email “communications” to personal connection and invitation for engagement?

Clear, concise and to the point… starting with the subject line.

Let’s begin with what may be the last thing you write: a brief but descriptive subject line to immediately alert your readers about the contents of your message. For example: “Reserve Your Spot! Men’s Prayer Breakfast August 1,” “How can you support our teens? Ministry Details Inside,” or “How is God speaking to you? Fall Bible Study Kick Off.” Your subject line sets reader’s expectations and makes it easier for them to gauge whether they’re able to quickly take action, flag the message for follow up later, or hit the delete button.

Once you’ve decided upon the subject line, the contents of the email should now be clearly focused. In other words, as tempting as it may be to include an update on the playground’s construction, or the need for volunteers for ‘x’ event, they simply aren’t relevant to an email promoting the Men’s Prayer Breakfast and may distract from your intended message.

Call to action: remove the barriers; create urgency.

Are you asking your readers to take an action of some kind? Whether it be signing up, taking a survey, or coordinating schedules, it’s critical to make that next step clear and provide a direct, simple path to that action.

Let’s take the Men’s Prayer Breakfast, for example. You’ve got your reader’s attention with a short but impactful description highlighting the amazing speaker, fellowship, and delicious food that await attendees. If you’re expecting people to navigate on their own to the correct place on the parish website, you may already have lost some of your audience.

Don’t be the parish that inadvertently creates those cracks through which an interested parishioner can slip. Your emails should include signup buttons and direct links to web forms, registration pages, and information pages. Clearly communicate any follow up instructions and timelines, if relevant, to create a sense of urgency (i.e., registration closes August 25 – sign up today!) and prevent confusion.

The power of images

We all recognize the incredible potential of images to tell a story or even motivate change. Consider your current communications. How can you leverage the power of images to create a personal connection, emphasize a point, or mobilize your readers to take action?

A few areas of possible impact could be bereavement announcements, parishioner stories, and news updates, but it doesn’t have to stop there! Trying to raise funds for a special trip or much needed cause? Include one or two images that demonstrate the need or scope of the project you’re undertaking and help make the connection between your reader’s support and real life impact.

Image case study

Let’s examine the choice of image for this blog article. The first thing you may notice is there are no faces. Email means communicating through words, layout and images. All three elements must work in unison for maximum effectiveness.

Also note the variety of devices pictured: smart phone, laptop, tablet, and notepad. An important reminder that messages should be formatted for easy reading across all platforms (ie. factoring in screen responsiveness, email length, image size, etc.). The notepad brings to mind that not all of your audience is reachable by email; do you have alternate means of reaching them?

The image was chosen intentionally to add value and draw out important points that might otherwise be missed. So next time you’re tempted to reach for the clip art, or wondering how to communicate about a particular topic, think about how an image or short video might help you tell your story and help connect your readers with the mission and life of the Church.

Email, an aid for evangelization.

Your parish emails are an important part of your evangelization toolkit. Tap their mighty potential to support engagement in the ministries and events that connect people with Christ. If you haven’t already, check out last year’s article Where Are You @ With Email for practical tips on getting your parish set up with church-branded email addresses. Let us know what email communication practices are working in your parish!

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