Using Email Auto-Responders To Turn Church Shoppers Into Members

I ran across a Church Marketing Sucks post by Amanda Gagnon entitled How to Use E-mail to Bring Back New Visitors.

Amanda writes:

The trick is creating something called a follow up series: a set of auto-delivered e-mails sent to new subscribers, designed to get visitors comfortable with your church. Follow ups are easy to create if you use an e-mail marketing service that provides pre-designed e-mail templates. You can just drop your content in and specify how many days you’d like to go by between messages.

Then every new visitor will receive all the details you’d like to share about your church. That is, after you get their e-mail addresses.

She then goes on to explain a few key strategies for collecting emails from first time visitors, what you might include in a series of auto-responders, and how to ask subscribers if they’d like to continue receiving emails once the series is over.

Benefits of an email auto-responder system

There are a lot of benefits to setting up an email auto-responder system for your church:

  1. It’s a “set-it-and-forget-it” mule that keeps on working for you.
  2. Almost everyone uses email so it’s an important medium to utilize in your overall church communications arsenal.
  3. Do this well and the visitor sees your commitment to excellence.
  4. Church shoppers need to land somewhere and you are sharing vital information that will help them connect.
  5. Services such as MailChimp and AWeber make this a user-friendly and easy process regardless of your computer proficiency.
  6. The church shopper has provided their email address willingly (through a contact form) and are wanting to receive info.

A few reminders about the limitations of email auto-responders

Reminder #1 This should not be your only plan for follow up!

Reminder #2 An email isn’t a relationship. As Matt says in the comments, “What I’m looking for when visiting a church is a personal connection that goes beyond information.”

Reminder #3 The email will actually backfire if it isn’t done well. I personally use MailChimp for my disciple making newsletter. The author of the article, I believe, works for AWeber. Both are top of the line choices. Find a good program and work on the design and content before you hit “send”.

Go on over and read the rest of Amanda’s thoughts about church email auto-responders.

Are there other benefits to email auto-responders? Have you seen a church that did this well? What are some concerns you might have about such a plan?

Nathan is the pastor of City Life Church in Ridgewood, NY. He and his family are committed to making and multiplying disciples in the most diverse county in the US. Read more about Nathan here. Visit the City Life Church website here.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Sam Williams

    This is – beyond a doubt – the worst idea for a first time visitor. Could this be any more impersonal? Did you actually say it was a “set-it-and-forget-it” mule? This is the problem with the church today. Cold and impersonal. I would never go back to a church that sent me something like this.

    • Sam, you’ve got a strong reaction against the words I used to convey a great tool. I appreciate your comment but could you elaborate on the problem you perceive with this kind of system? As I said in my post, an email auto-responder shouldn’t be the only follow-up from a church. The point of the original article is that a first time guest a) came through the door of your church b) took the time to fill out your card and c) checked that they’d like to receive email updates. They are “church shopping” and need to know more about your church. Once they check that box, this person is clearly asking for more information.

      I’m not suggesting, in any way, that a church should spam it’s guests or let an email take the place of a warm response (see “A few reminders”). If you took offense to my wording and imagery of a mule (meaning dependable and hard-working) then what would you suggest I use to describe this email system?

      Please let me know if you’ve got further ideas about ways we can share information about our church with our guests. I’d love to hear your ideas. Please share them in a constructive way that, to be quite honest, isn’t so “cold and impersonal”.


  • adam

    i think it depends on the church type and size as to if this will work or not. for example, if i was interested in a larger church, say park street for you fellow bostonians, receiving a more impersonal, informational type of email with church contact information for more personal questions is a good idea considering the number of visitors per week. if, however, i were to visit a church plant on the small side, say less than 100 in service, the auto-email thanking me for visiting would seem way too impersonal and push me away because i would be expecting a more personal touch from a church of that type and size. so, i think there are factors to consider before adopting and/or dismissing this approach.

    • That’s a great point Adam.

      I definitely think this is the kind of thing that needs to be adapted to a particular setting. Various mediums are tools but, as they say, the medium is the message. If this were the only “touch” a new guest has, it might come across as “cold and impersonal” as Sam suggests above. If it’s just one of the many touches a new guest receives (handshakes, smiles, phone call, visit, AND email auto-responder with various pieces of information about how to connect) then it could be very useful.

  • I’m for the use of the auto-emails. But to your point on it not being the only strategy… exccellent. Technology is a great thing, and the church needs to utilize everything at her disposal to reach people. But nothing replaces relationships. I’m not sure showing up for a pastoral visit unannounced is still the way to go. America really doesn’t work like this anymore. But a phone call from the pastor is still good, I think. The bottom line though is that each church has to set up their own system for reaching out. And every church is different. It will be interesting to see where this goes over the years.

    • Wayne, thanks for chiming in and the reinforcement on relationship building! Your point about each church setting up their own system is right on. Contextualization is key.