The Skimm — the popular newsletter that sends conversational bits of news to its 4 million daily subscribers — has proven that e-mail is not dead.
Digital newsletters are all the fad right now. And churches can jump on this trend, but only if it’s what the congregation wants, explained Phil de Haan, senior public relations specialist at Calvin College.
“Good communication is part of what allows organizations to flourish and thrive,” he said, adding that a digital newsletter can reach both internal and external audiences.
Before launching a newsletter, church leaders should do some research to see if there is a desire for one from the congregation. It may be, de Haan said, that other forms of communication are a better fit. But if a church does want a newsletter, the next step is deciding if the church has the manpower to create one a regular basis.
“If you establish a weekly newsletter, for example, that means someone at the church has that on their plate once a week,” he said. “It can take significant time to produce good, engaging content. So make sure the person or persons in charge of getting the newsletter out have the capacity to do the job.”
The other part of the equation is determining how often a newsletter should go out — weekly, monthly or bi-monthly. Again, de Haan said, ask congregants what they prefer.
That could determine if the church’s print newsletter should be discontinued — if they have one.
“One of the struggles churches and other organizations face in this digital era is that often what we do as communicators is additive. We add a church Facebook page, we add a church Twitter feed, we add a digital newsletter, etc. But we don’t drop anything,” de Haan said.
Sometimes that’s OK, as long as there remains a demand for all communication channels.
De Haan said if a church decides to move forward with a digital newsletter there are certain things the product should include.
“I think the best features in a church newsletter are ones that are repeatable. Once you start promising something people come to expect it. So, don’t bite off more than you can chew, especially early on,” he said.
He said to keep things short and simple and include a mix of content. Informational and calendar items are important, as is “big picture type of stuff,” like information on a new sermon series. Member profiles, new member photos and bios and a list of birthdays are also features to consider.
De Haan uses Mailchimp to send out the monthly newsletters he creates for Calvin College, hymnary.org and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Mailchimp is free when a newsletter has less than 2,000 subscribers. Other popular newsletter platforms are Constant Contact and Campaign Monitor.
Whatever platform a church chooses, de Haan said it’s important not to spam subscribers. Get permission to send them the newsletter, and give them the option to unsubscribe and manage their email preferences.
Finally, he said, once the newsletter is launched it’s crucial to check in with users to see if it’s meeting their needs.
“Do what research you can to understand your public, your audience, and create a newsletter that is based on that research,” he said, “and that will serve your audience in ways they have told you will be meaningful to them.”
Through this gateway, religious leaders and the public can find congregational resources and insights into religious practices. This is made possible through the Lilly Endowment.