What happens after someone visits your congregation?
At my church, the visitors sign a guest book and a day or two later, they receive a letter in the mail from the pastor—which is an excellent practice. It’s personal, especially in this detached, electronic world. In fact, it has repeatedly led to visitors wanting to meet with him and eventually join the congregation. Several people have mentioned how important that letter has been. People like to be acknowledged and the personal touch makes a huge difference.
But more can be done to help someone get to know the congregation.
Email Is a Powerful Tool
Many churches send welcome emails and add people to their congregational email lists. This is good, too, and if you send the email out on Monday, visitors also know you’re on top of things.
But in a highly automated society, people get kind of cynical about emails that are distant, non-specific, or feel like a formulaic letter. Sometimes that automatic email showing up in our inbox makes us feel exactly the opposite of special—more like a cog in the machine.
But even worse than that is when visitors don’t get their presence acknowledged at all. So how do we use email to establish a real relationship with our visitors?
Know Who You Are Writing To
As we talked about a couple of months ago when we discussed why your church should have a blog, knowing who you are writing to is crucial.
Wait a minute. We’re talking about visitors. . . . By default, we don’t know who we are writing to!
We’re going to create an ideal visitor or a visitor avatar.
Think about your typical visitor. Picture that person in your mind:
- Give that person a name.
- Is that person male or female?
- Did they come alone or with others? Friend? Spouse? Romantic interest? Parents? Kids? (Grown kids? Young kids?)
- What kind of car did they come in?
- Do they live close by or farther away?
Build on the list until the person you are thinking about seems like a real person.
A Welcome Series Is Better Than Just One Email
A welcome series is a chain of emails that have a common purpose. The emails are automated—programmed to go out automatically over a set period of time. In a welcome series, every email has the purpose of building the budding relationship you have with your visitor.
- Email 1: Send on Monday morning. Welcome, so happy you joined us!
- Email 2: Send on Tuesday morning. About our congregation.
- Email 3: Send on Friday morning. Meet some of our family.
- Email 4: Send on the next Tuesday morning. A primer on our worship style or information about special groups and activities.
- Email 5: Send on the next Friday morning. What can we do for you?
Putting something like this together requires an email service like Mailchimp (free for those with an email list under 2,000 people), ConvertKit, Aweber, or Constant Contact. A lot of churches use these for their email newsletters or announcements.
An email service allows you put together a campaign—another name for a series—and then choose exactly when your visitors get each email in the series.
We’ll use Mailchimp as an example since a lot of churches use it.
How to Create a Welcome Series for Visitors
- In Mailchimp, create a special list for visitors.
- When you create your welcome series, click on “Create a Campaign” and then create several emails. As part of the setup on the campaign, Mailchimp will ask you when to send each email you create, relative to when the one before it sends out.
- Each Monday morning, open up Mailchimp and enter the contact information for the weekend’s visitors. After that, the series should take care of itself and visitors will receive your emails over the next two weeks.
Won’t All These Emails Annoy Visitors and Make Them Go Away Forever?
Actually, no, not if the visitor is interested in learning about your church. There is so much to take in on a first visit that a welcome series is a wonderful way to call attention to things visitors won’t notice the first time. Some visitors might unsubscribe. That’s okay. It means they weren’t interested, not that they were annoyed by the emails.
Telling visitors what’s coming also lessens any possible annoyance. Go ahead and let them know what to expect.
If I were writing a welcome series for a church, the first email would look something like this:
Subject: We were hoping someone special would show up, and there you were!
Hi ___________ [you can have Mailchimp put in their first name],
Wow. It was so great to meet you yesterday. The opportunity to hear about Christ’s love for us and receive His forgiveness is precious. We’re glad you were here with us.
You’ll be receiving a letter in the mail from Pastor [name], but we wanted to check in with you to see if you had any questions or thoughts you wanted to share. If you do, feel free to reply to this email, or email Pastor [name] at [email address], or give us a call at [phone number].
Because we want to get to know each other a little better, over the next two weeks, we’re going to send you four more emails (two this week, two next week) to let you know a little bit more about us here at [church name]. If you’re looking for a faithful, friendly, and compassionate congregation, we’re here for you, and we think you’ll find these emails helpful. If you don’t want to receive them, feel free to unsubscribe below.
Tomorrow, we’ll tell you more about who we are and what we believe, teach, and confess, so keep an eye out for that.
We hope to see you again. Have a great week.
[Name], Office Manager
Along with your brothers and sisters in Christ here at [church name]
People Don’t Go to Church for the Features
Keep your emails focused on your visitors by emphasizing the benefits of the church, not the features. Features are things the church has to offer; the benefits are the gifts those features give. So emphasize the benefits, support with the features.
Knowing which is which can be hard. The textbook example is a hammer. Do you buy a hammer because you like hammers or do you buy a hammer because you want to hang a picture? The hung picture is the benefit. The hammer is how you get it.
How do you know which is which? If you can ask “so what?” at the end and give an answer, then it’s a feature. For example:
We have an integrated sound system that works with the newest hearing aids. So what? So people can hear what’s going on in church and be comforted with the Gospel.
If your child is upset, we have a room where you can take them and still hear the service. So what? So you can comfort your child and not feel like you are missing anything. So what? So you can hear the Gospel and be comforted.
We have a great military outreach. So what? We are active in the community. So what? We want to share God’s love with those who need it. So what? We want to give God’s love to people in our community.
Take the benefits and back them up with the features.
Benefit: Find comfort in the Gospel
- Feature: Scripture-focused worship
- Feature: Sermons that preach Christ crucified
- Feature: Weekly Communion
Benefit: Grow deeper in Christ
- Feature: Weekly Bible study opportunities
- Feature: Catechism classes
- Feature: Opportunities to show God’s love to our community
Benefit: Know that you are home
- Feature: Friendly, loving people who like each other—and you, too
- Feature: We make accommodations for special needs—let us know how we can help you
- Feature: The Word of God is taught in truth and the Sacraments are administered rightly
Some Other Things to Keep in Mind
- If possible, send your emails from an email address with your church’s name. It’s more professional and spam filters tag them less. Get an email address that has your church’s name after the “@” symbol. There are many ways to do that. Some web hosts offer it with your website (CTS offers an email service like this), and other services like Google Suite will do it for you (and Google Suite will do it for free if you apply for their nonprofit program).
- Don’t use a name in the email address unless it’s the pastor’s. Your visitor might not recognize the name and may dismiss it as spam. Use something like "office@," "pastor@," or "hello@."
- The emails should be simple, informative, and conversational. Follow the rules in my post about how to write for the screen. You’ll want to make the emails easy to visually process.
- Each email has one purpose—don’t try to accomplish several things with one email. It’s okay for different emails to be different lengths. Also, let each part of the email have its role. Let the subject line encourage the visitor to open it. Let the opening sentences and headers encourage the visitor to keep reading. Let the ending tell the visitor what to do next.
- Put a call to action in each email—something the visitor is supposed to do, even if it is just “keep an eye out for the next email where we’ll talk about ___.” Keep the visitor engaged.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions and invite a reply. Will the visitor reply? Who knows? But this lets your visitor know that you are interested.
It’s All about Contact
There are many times when a visitor comes to our church and I don’t even have a chance to go over and say hi before he or she is gone. Luckily, several people make a point to help people feel welcome—yet there are always things we don’t get the opportunity to share. A welcome email series can provide that introduction that we don’t have time to give on Sunday morning. It’s also an opportunity to engage our visitors by asking questions and giving details for them to think about.
Learn more about automation with our free ebook Social Media Automation.