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Church Email Marketing By the Numbers

A few weeks ago, we started an email marketing experiment with several churches to see about building an email list that they could reach out to a regular basis.

The theory was that if we could get people on a list that have voluntarily given us contact information, then we could gradually engage them to eventually set up a study.

Or have them visit services.

Or hand deliver a free Bible to their house.

Or….something.

The process may be “experimental,” but the process itself is as old as time. First, you have to have an interested party; then, once they’ve warmed up to you, you ask them to move on the information you’ve presented them.

It’s literally Marketing 101.

Actually, scratch that — it’s Evangelism 101.

I’m indebted to these congregations that raised their hand and trusted us with this process. If this works, we’ll have a replicable model that we can translate to every church (theoretically).

If that happens, it’s game on.

Three Email Marketing Metrics to Focus On

During this process, we’re providing constant updates to our churches. Leads, contact info, automation sequence progress, etc.

But honestly, there’s a lot of info. The last thing we want to do is overload anyone with information that can discourage someone, so for this experiment, we’re focusing on three key metrics.

Open Rate

Open rate is a standard metric that determines one thing: the strength of a subject line.

The average person receives over 120 emails every single day. It’s simply not possible for any one person to read every single one of them.

Moreover, many people have spam filters set up to sort through the ones they never wanted to read. 

(Like the ones from retailers that they only subscribed to to get a coupon. It’s ok. We all do it.)

In addition to filters, most email services (gmail, hotmail, yahoo, zoho) have native filters that will automatically send an email to spam if it detects spammy content.

This can be especially problematic for marketers. Even if you have zero intention of selling someone something in an email, innocently using a word like “free” can send that email straight to spam.

Forever.

Bye bye subscriber.

It’s not something to be paranoid about necessarily, but it is something to keep in mind.

Open rate is a good metric then to establish a baseline for who’s generally interested in your emails. Is your subject line engaging? Is your subtext interesting? Are people interested in what you have to say?

The average open rate for faith-based institutions hovers around 46% — higher than most other organizations. That’s what we’ll be shooting for in this experiment.

Click Rate

The next thing we’re concerned with is the click rate. Like it sounds, this number tells us how many people took the added step of not only opening your email, but clicking through any links that you had inside.

Most emails have several links placed in the actual email: blogs, main website, social media channels, and unsubscribe links, among others.

Across industries, click through rate is notoriously lower than the open rate. For faith-based institutions (like churches), that number is 2.5%.

At first glance, that number is discouraging. What it’s telling you is that for every 100 people who receive your email, on average only 46 people will open it and (roughly) 3 people will click through to read your information.

When you factor in the percentage of people that are taking action on whatever the next step is, that number drops even further.

This is part of what makes evangelism a numbers game. Like the parable of the Dragnet, churches need to cast their net wide. The personal invitation one-to-one model works on an individual basis, but if churches want to reach their community, they have to cast a huge net.

I cannot overstate this point enough. Evangelism is a numbers game. Tell as many people as possible. Tell everyone. Tell someone.

That’s why we talk about list building as a cumulative effort. If you’re only building your email list for a few months, 2.5% doesn’t seem like a lot. 

But if you go at it for a few years, that number goes up dramatically. 2.5% of 1000, for example, is 25 people. 2.5% of 10,000 people is 250.

And 2.5% of 100,000 people? 2500. 

You’ll pay a higher monthly fee to maintain a list that large, but if you have proper list cleaning hygiene, that click rate will go up. A higher click rate makes the monthly fee worth it, especially when you consider that a percentage of that number will most likely show up at your services or take you up on that offer of a personal Bible study.

In short, don’t give up on your list building because the numbers seem small at the outset. Over time, you’ll start to see some real, definitive results. I promise.

Unsubscribe Rate

The last number that you’ll need to pay attention to is your unsubscribe rate. As the name states, this is the percentage of people that will jump off your mailing list on any given campaign.

If I’m being honest, I don’t really care that much about unsubscribe rate. I know I probably should, but there are lots of reasons why someone would decide to stop receiving your emails.

Maybe they get too many emails and want to clean out their inbox.

Maybe they only jumped on it to receive a freebie. 

Maybe they find your take on Sabbath laws annoying (hey, it happened to Jesus).

Either way, the key is to not take it personally. If you do, it’s only a small step to you giving up completely because you think the world hates you.

On nearly every list I’ve ever built, the subscribe, open, and click through rates vastly outpace the unsubscribe rate anyways. 

With my Bible blog project, for example, the open rate is between 2-3%, and the unsubscribe rate is closer to 0.15%. I’m gaining — and retaining — a LOT more people than are leaving, and that’s what matters.

Conventional wisdom actually encourages online marketers to make it easy for people to unsubscribe from your list. 

Why? Because the last thing you want people to do is mark your email as spam.

A high spam rate is the #1 way to get your campaign blacklisted for good. It’s not something you should be worried about (unless you’re legitimately harassing your list subs, that is), but it is something to be aware of.

Make the unsubscribe link easy to find on your emails, and 99% of online marketers won’t ever run into this list.

And as for the unsubscribe rate? If you notice it start to increase gradually over time, use it as an opportunity to do some investigation as to why people might be leaving. Jiggle the frequency, change the format, find better content — whatever you need to do to keep people engaged.

Get Your List Started!

The numbers are important, but the most important thing with list-building is to simply get started. Since you can expect it to take a while before your list hits critical mass, you should get the ball rolling today in order to get the impact you want as soon as possible.

In time, you’ll wonder how you ever evangelized effectively online without it.

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