A Case Study for Using Email Effectively

A Case Study for Using Email Effectively

March 18, 2015 by

No matter what you might hear otherwise, I’m here to tell you that email is not dead.

The Most Effective Communication Tool

No communication tool is as engaging as email.

Elmbrook Church is an age-diverse congregation, with a weekly attendance of about 5,000. I selectively use each tool in my communication toolbox to reach this audience—from a brand-new church app, to our website, to print brochures, to Facebook and Twitter. But no communication tool is as engaging as email.

We have a email list of over 21,500 names. We send about 25 to 30 emails each month to several opt-in special interest groups, everything from “parents of preschoolers,” “women” and “biweekly event emails” to “top serving needs.”

Our overall average open rate is 42.5%, compared to the industry average of 31% for nonprofit religious organizations (per Constant Contact).

Our church is very much about providing next steps on a person’s spiritual walk. So in each email, we always include links that point people back to our website for more information and resources. We also include links to that ministry’s social media channels.

[Note: While our email strategy is effective, it takes a disproportionate amount of my time and is not truly sustainable. My goal in 2015 is to either find a writing volunteer or dramatically cut the number of emails we send. Or both.]

Recently, we experimented with email in a creative way. I thought I’d share our experience.

The Idea: An Online Class

What if we offered an online class via email?

Our marriage ministry director came to me with an idea. After hearing complaints that couples “just don’t have time” to devote to the weekly on-campus classes and events available to them, she thought, what if we offered an online class via email?

Couples could take it on their own time, and in the comfort, privacy and convenience of their own home. I thought it was a cool idea and jumped on board. Thus, the Intentional Marriage Experience was born.

The class was promoted in January as a spring semester class offering and was also promoted during our January “Family Reboot” sermon series as a next step for couples. We also gave it exposure on bulletin ads, lobby slides and the website.

By the time the first week kicked off, we had more than 1,200 names on our email list ready to participate.

How It Works

The Intentional Marriage Experience (IME) is an 8-week class. Each Sunday couples receive an email containing teachings, links to online videos and audios, downloadable discussion guides, as well as “homework” activities for them to complete during the week.

The following Friday, participants receive an email containing a survey link asking how the week went. Everyone who responds to the survey goes into a drawing for a chance to receive a gift certificate they can use on a future “date night.”

To keep a human element in the process, in every email there is contact info to get connected to a marriage mentor or the ministry director if they have questions or need more direct coaching.

The email archive is posted each week on the website so newcomers can catch up on past weeks. You can read more about the program and see the last several weeks of emails here: www.elmbrook.org/intentional.

Some Early Results

“It’s a really innovative, medium-to-low-maintenance idea that has potential for a really high benefit!”
  • Number of opt-in participants: currently 1,170
  • Average open rate for weekly emails: 62%
  • Prayer requests: 207
  • Requests to connect with marriage mentors: 21

More importantly, the personal feedback has been very positive. Here are a few comments from the first few weeks of surveys:

  • “I like this e-mail course! It’s a really innovative, medium-to-low-maintenance idea that has potential for a really high benefit!”
  • “The assignment provided us a structured opportunity to talk about our marriage. It was a great springboard for a conversation we have been needing to have but had not had the time to.”
  • “We have a healthy marriage and love working on it. This online class is a good tool to be involved in making more progress on a solid foundation. Thank you!”
  • “We love the discussion topics—this program is awesome! :)”
  • “My husband has Alzheimer’s and it has been difficult to communicate with him at times. We are having a great time with this study. It has brought us laughter, two to three hours of conversations and enjoyment to know each other at a different level. What a wonderful program.”

What’s next?

Autoresponders: One of the cool things about using a third party email provider (we use Constant Contact, but there are lots of others, such as MailChimp, Aweber, Emma, InfusionSoft, etc.) is that emails can be set up as a series of autoresponders.

In other words, once someone opts in, you can set up a series of emails to go out to them automatically at specific intervals. Our church has tons of original curriculum and class content. I’d love to see it made more accessible; on-demand classes via email might be one way to do that. We’ll start by using the IME materials and see if people respond.

Personalization: I’m also experimenting with the personalization capabilities of our email provider to send out emails with unique URLs.

For this year’s membership drive, I sent out an email to all our members which enabled them to renew their membership with just one click. Easy peasy.

I’d love to hear innovative ways your church is using email. Share your ideas below!

Post By:

Karen Shay-Kubiak

Karen Shay-Kubiak is director of communications for Elmbrook Church, a single-campus megachurch located in Southeast Wisconsin. She is also a closet tech geek who loves things like Evernote, online forms, project management systems and anything else that promises to help her squeeze more out of a day's 24 hours.
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2 Responses to “A Case Study for Using Email Effectively”

  • Josh Levitt
    March 19, 2015

    Great use of email for the e-course, Karen. Setting the course up on an autoresponder is awesome to keep the maintenance very low. I personally use MailChimp and RSS feeds to automate a lot of the email work. Check out CC for something similar (especially if you’re pushing out content that’s on your website).

    Your open rates are amazing, too. To what do you attribute this success?

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  • Eric Dye
    July 31, 2015

    I love the idea of an email course! :D

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