God isn't bland. The Church shouldn't be, either.
Email Newsletters are Dead.

At least I like to pretend that they are. The fact of the matter is that I hate email newsletters with a burning passion. People mostly ignore them, they’re a pain in the butt to design and I think it’s just a dumb way to get information to your audience these days.

I realize that this is a strong opinion to hold, and one that not everyone agrees with. Lots of thriving ministries place a big emphasis on email newsletters, and Cleve even threw together a great list of bulk email services that he’s had success with.

With that said, I’m trying to move our church further away from email newsletters with every project I take on. Here’s why:

RSS is More Effective

News feeds are finally gaining mainstream popularity due to the abundance of personalized start pages and feed readers that are built into just about everything these days. RSS feeds push information out immediately, can be integrated into countless programs/devices and require no extra effort on our end.

Facebook is the New Start Page

It seems like almost everyone I know starts and ends their time online by checking their Facebook page along with their email. Since our Facebook page automatically pulls in our RSS feed, fans immediately receive the latest news without having to take additional steps to subscribe.

Feedburner Has Email Subscriptions Built-in

If visitors really want to get our news in email form, Feedburner makes it super-easy to get our news updates in your inbox. Check out our subscription page if you like.

Newsletters Aren’t Effective Any More

Do you regularly read the email newsletters that end up in your inbox? I know I don’t. Even if I sign myself up intentionally, I’ll skim the first message I receive (maybe) and will then ignore all of the rest. They even begin to annoy me over time, requiring me to unsubscribe or just block the message as spam. Just like ads online, my eyes are  in the habit of ignoring the newsletters in my inbox.

Am I saying that email communication all together is a bad idea? Not at all. I understand the importance of occasional email blasts for special events and promotions. I just feel that the weekly newsletter format is an outdated way to push out your information online.

So there… I’ve layed out my opinion on the matter. I would love to hear your side of the story; do you have a rockin’ email ministry that’s extremely sucessful? Are newsletters still necessary in today’s online world?

[Image © Pepo]

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  1. Josh Wagner (Reply) on June 10th, 2009

    I would have to agree with you. I have tons of email newsletters that I simply ignore in the mess called my inbox. I do think that email subscriptions (i.e. FeedBurner, FeedBlitz) will be the next thing. Interesting though, there’s not really much difference between the two. Must be the feel of each.

  2. Mark Kelly (Reply) on June 10th, 2009

    I wouldn’t say dead, but definitely not nearly as effective as they once were — mostly because of overuse and misuse. E-mail newsletters can still be effective, if you realize they are but one one tool among many and if you use them properly. They will be more effective again once everybody and their dog isn’t misusing them. Not everyone wants to get their information through RSS and some of us have so much going on with Facebook that it’s become almost as useless as an e-mail newsletter. We all have multiple audiences and it requires multiple communications tools to reach them all.

  3. Aaron Bateman (Reply) on June 10th, 2009

    I agree with the reader above. They aren’t nearly as effective as they once were, but I don’t ever recall them being that effective to begin with, when you take into consideration the number you send out versus the response you get back.

    That being said, I’d be interested to see some kind of tracking and analysis to see what the response rates are on different forms of communication. Facebook vs RSS vs Newsletters.

    I like newsletters because I can design them very effectively for a specific topic. RSS is great for longer messages that require some amount of explanation. Facebook is really only valuable as a way to quickly update the masses.

    IMHO.

  4. Dan Richardson (Reply) on June 10th, 2009

    Whether they are dead or not, I think it’s time to move on for sure. We just transitioned out of online newsletters and bulletins and are instead using a new online network called Unifyer. (unifyer.com) At first I thought it might not work because of Facebook but they’re 2 totally different things. This has decentralized the communication in our church and skyrocketed the participation of people who normally wouldn’t have a voice or have the courage to speak up. We’re a fairly new church plant but this has been the best decision we could have made at this point.

  5. Bill A (Reply) on June 10th, 2009

    I think it depends on the personality of each organization. We are lucky to have just recently reached critical mass with email coverage. So that is a good way to reach everyone. If you have a different demographic, your mileage may vary.

  6. I don’t think their dead. The culture of the church will determine the effectiveness of the e-newsletter. I much prefer RSS and Google Reader but I am constantly amazed at how few people know how to use RSS or Google Reader. Maybe it’s an education thing. I am finding that church+technology=education. We need to teach people how to use it.

  7. iHateChurch (Reply) on June 11th, 2009

    :: def not dead playerrrr ::

    our firm optimizes newsletter campaigns with higher readership than mostly any other outlet. your campaign must must must — KNOW WHO YOU ARE TALKING TO. if you are in the midst of women you dont talk about scratching your nuts, great crapper magazines or Vegas stripper jokes…

    most are too lazy to engage their email community which is why they assume their LIST IS DEAD. The real answer is YOUR TOO DEAD TO TALK TO THEM.

    welcome to Life, Work and the pursuit of communication

  8. Eric Murrell (Reply) on June 11th, 2009

    Wow… Great thoughts on this! Strong opinions on both sides of the argument.

    From a church communication perspective, I still don’t believe email is the best way to train our folks to receive communication from us. I understand the desire for some folks to receive information via email vs RSS, but I think we need to be moving our audiences toward a communication model with more growth potential.

    I’m hoping to train the majority of our users to receive our information in a place where they can interact with others. Facebook has been a great start for us (with a far bigger reach than the adoption of our RSS Feeds or Email Subscriptions), and I think that’s the direction we’re all heading with stuff like Google Wave on the horizon. Having a single threaded discussion that’s identical no matter what medium your accessing it on would be the holy grail.

    Really, like a commenter above said, it’s all about your audience and demographic. Maybe my post would be more accurately titled “Email Newsletters are Dying, Unless They’re Working Great for Your Audience” ;-)

  9. Jason Cooper (Reply) on November 4th, 2009

    For us, we still use email marketing, and will continue to do so, but we have gone from multiple “articles” and “announcements” in a single email newsletter to single event (and therefore single message) emails.

    We know that people glance at what is on their screen when they click on an email, skim quickly and move on. Long emails lose attention quickly, with the stuff at the bottom being ignored completely.

    Single event/message emails seem to overcome some of these factors. I do like RSS especially when you can get “summary” emails. Reading each individual entry individually is annoying.

  10. Raul (Reply) on November 4th, 2009

    E-mail newsletters are dead, but the paper ones are not (dammit).

  11. Jason (Reply) on November 4th, 2009

    My church (150 members) is all over the place. We have people who wouldn’t know what to do with a computer if their lives depended on it, so we have a printed monthly newsletter, which goes mostly unread by people living in the 21st century. I tried launching an e-newsletter with MailChimp (awesome by the way!) that looks really good and takes less than an hour or two to throw together, but only a handful of subscribers have signed up. I post the newsletter as an update on Facebook, and that seems to get a few people’s attention, but I find it hard to compete with FarmVille, if you know what I mean. Our facebook page is growing though, and if we can keep on top of posting updates there I notice activity rises.

    It really is all about covering as many bases as possible. There is no silver bullet in communications, you need a fully automatic with a barrel of ammunition.


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