Email is one of the most effective and direct ways to reach your parishioners, keeping them updated on parish news, upcoming events, and other relevant information. Communicating by email offers another touchpoint to reach and engage parishioners beyond the pews: in their inbox where they’re likely less distracted and can take action.
If you don’t have an email engagement plan for your parish, or would like to optimize your current plan, here are some tactics to help build your email subscriber base.
Establish a central database for email management
Before you ramp up your email engagement efforts, make sure that you have a process and database in place to store, organize, and manage your email contacts. The best option is to use a customer relationship management (CRM) tool like HubSpot and MailChimp — both have free service options. These tools will ensure that all parishioner data is secure and organized for easy access and use. They also make email creation and distribution easy with simple, customizable email templates and automation features.
Categorize and segment parishioner emails
Whatever tools you use to capture emails, make sure that you create relevant tags or categories to segment and sort your lists. This means collecting additional information to build more complete and descriptive profiles of parishioners to send them relevant information. For example, you can tag signups based on attended events, Bible study participation, family members, parish school enrollment, etc. It also helps you gain a better understanding of parishioner interests and activities to serve them best.
Make email subscription a prominent call to action on your website
Many prospective parishioners will use Google or other search engines to find your parish — maybe they’re new to the area and looking for a home parish, they’re exploring Catholicism and interested in RCIA, they’re looking for a parish school or religious education program, etc. When they arrive at your website, it should be easy for them to find a way to learn more and get in touch through email.
In addition to contact information for your parish staff and pastor, it should be very clear how a potential or current parishioner can sign up for emails. An email subscription call to action should be visible on every website page, at least as part of your main navigation, your Contact page, and the website footer/sitemap. If your website functionality allows, you can create an email subscription pop-up when people visit your homepage. The more places it appears, the better!
Collect emails during the parishioner signup process
To avoid tracking people down after they are already active in your parish, collect their email as soon as they register as parishioners. Require that they submit their email, as well as other contact information, as part of the parish membership process. Ideally, the membership signup process will take place on your website (see the St. Aloysius website for an example), making it easy to integrate with your email database and avoiding unnecessary administrative work.
Offer an incentive for email signups
If possible, offer an intriguing incentive to encourage parishioners to sign up for emails. Choose an offer that makes sense for your parish’s budget and initiatives. For example, each signup can count as an entry into a raffle for a chance to win a religious item blessed by your pastor, a relic, an Amazon gift card, or another appealing incentive.
Email engagement is essential to support your parish community, ensuring that parishioners have the information they need at their fingertips. Your email database is incredibly valuable, so it’s worth the investment of time, budget, and effort to build and maintain your lists.
Develop an email subscription landing page
A landing page is a website page that does not appear in the main navigation of your website. It’s a separate page that can be used for campaigns, events, or other temporary or one-off initiatives. An email subscription landing page will make it easier for people to sign up on social media or through print materials (see the Unleash the Gospel landing page for an example).
Some people who are following you and engaging with your content may still not be in your parish email database. Share this page monthly on your social media accounts to capture new followers. Use relevant social media features to drive signups like the call to action button on your Facebook page, which you can customize to link to your email subscription landing page.
Whenever you create a flyer, poster, or other print asset to promote a parish initiative, be sure to include the email subscription landing page URL. Similarly, reserve a prominent place in your weekly bulletin to encourage people to sign up.
Require email submission for event registrations and programs
Take advantage of your parish events and programs to gather email addresses. For every event and program, require that participants provide their emails as part of the signup and attendance process — whether it’s done online or in person. When parishioners bring family or friends to events, it will also give you a chance to expand your parishioner base.
If your parish has an accompanying school, collaborate with the principal to merge your email lists; the principal can send an email inviting school parents to subscribe to your parish newsletters. Many of the school parents likely already attend your parish, but may not be registered yet.
Place calls to action around your church property
Use the physical locations at your parish as offline opportunities to gather emails to support your online efforts. Offline efforts help you reach current or prospective parishioners who might not be active online. A volunteer could host a table at the church exit or social hall for people to sign up using a tablet or laptop after Sunday Mass or at other onsite events. You can place posters, flyers, or postcards around the church building with the email subscription landing page URL to encourage people to visit the page to sign up.
Run social media ads for email signups
If you have a budget to spend on advertising, you can leverage social media ad units such as Facebook’s Lead Ad to collect emails. In addition to capturing interested people through your website, this will increase your exposure to those browsing on social media. You can create custom audiences based on a user’s zip code, interests, age, relationships, and more to make sure you are targeting the right people.