If you haven't considered using an email newsletter to stay connected with the folks at your church, maybe this should be one of your '06 resolutions!
It's a great way to get in front of your folks more than just Sunday (or whenever your services are). Here are some ideas and tips to help those who are thinking about this new avenue of communication and those who already are (a link to the resources mentioned is located at the end of this article):
1. When our church started our newsletter, we asked folks if they wanted to stop getting the snail mailed newsletter. Most did, and it's saved us a boatload on printing and postage.
2. There are many approaches to the content and timing of the newsletter:
It could be a simple note from the pastor (devotional or otherwise), and may include links to new/interesting things on your own site or other sites. In this case, you could get away with doing this once or twice a month.
If your site is constantly changing, the newsletter could be all about featuring the new/changed items on the site. This could be weekly or even a little more often, depending on the amount of activity.
Our church realized the basic fact that not everybody goes to church every week. (Duh.) That means they're seeing the bulletin announcements on an irregular basis. Since we finish the bulletin on Friday, the secretary simply copies all the announcements from the bulletin and puts them in the email newsletter. At the beginning, she features things happening that weekend and any other timely announcements, and then lists everything else. Yeah, this makes for a long newsletter, but most people scan newsletters anyway (almost no one reads every word). So folks scan the newsletter to find new announcements (punctuated by "NEW!" before it) and other items of interest. Now everyone will see the announcements whether they go to church or not AND a lot of people read them before going to church so they're not distracted from worshipping during the service.
3. There are a ton of options on how to send an email newsletter:
If you have less than 100 or so addresses, use can just use the BCC line in your email program. That's a bit primitive, but it can work.
Check with the company that hosts your church's website. Many of them have free newsletter tools you can use.
There are free services out there that offer email newsletter tools. Two are Topica and Yahoo Groups. Of course, these services are free because they include ads in your newsletter that, of course, you have no control over. I've heard of gambling ads in church newsletters as a result, but I think the larger, legitimate companies like these are pretty careful about the content of the ads.
I really recommend that, at some point, your church invest in a good newsletter service. These services offer many tools to help you, like better success in delivery of your newsletter (how to not get caught by spam filters), how many people click on which links, etc. The cost is usually based on how many addresses you send it to and how often. And it can be pretty inexpensive (under $50 a month). Two services that I've heard are very good are Blue Hornet (located here in San Diego) and Constant Contact.
4. How do you get email addresses? Here are some ideas:
DO NOT send your email newsletter to someone unless you get their explicit permission! If you send it without permission, you are considered an unethical spammer (not a great reputation for a church). Although a one-time email asking if people want to sign up is acceptable - and tell them it is a one-time mailing.
Many of these services listed above have ways to subscribe to your list on the web. So link to it on your website, preferably on every page.
Include an email address line on your typical visitor sheet used in your worship service. And add a check box with text like this: Sign me up for the church email newsletter.
Before you launch your email newsletter, start announcing it at church and put a special card on the seats for a few Sundays. Ask for their name and email address (leave the option for them to give multiple addresses, since some folks may want it to go to their business and personal addresses). And put that same check box mentioned in the previous point. Also this may be the place to ask if they want to opt-out of the snail mail newsletter.
Hopefully this is enough to get you going. I think you'll be surprised at the great response you'll get from your parishioners.
If you have any ideas or tips, please email them to me and we may just have a part 2 for this article. Thanks!
moreHelp: Check out relevant links from this article and a sample of the newsletter from Mike's church.
This article was originally published December 2005.
Mike Atkinson is the president/founder of uneekNet(helping your organization succeed on the Internet), and runs Mikey's Funnies, a daily clean humor email list.