Tag: church communication

How to Use Email Automation for Easter Follow Up

How to Use Email Automation for Easter Follow Up

Photo by Ilze Lucero on Unsplash

One of the most overlooked parts of Easter planning can be the follow-up process. It’s incredible to see new guests show up at your church after you’ve spent weeks preparing, but how do you get them to come back?

Email is still a very effective communication tool for your ministry and guest follow up. Using email automation to follow up with first-time guests can simplify your workflow and ensure you connect with guests in a timely way. I would recommend using MailChimp because it’s simple to use and pretty inexpensive, but many email services offer automation.

Here’s a way to use email automation at your church this Easter.
Schedule a series of emails to send in the 30 days following Easter Sunday to guests who turn in a connection card. Recruit a staff member or volunteer to enter their information so you can send the initial email 24-48 hours after your Easter Sunday service.

Email #1 – Thank you and a free resource
This first email should come from a pastor saying thanks for celebrating Easter with you and offering a free resource to help them grow in their relationship with Jesus. This could be an original song from your worship team, a devotional resource, or a prayer guide.

Remember to tell your guests that when they fill out a connection card they will receive a free resource so they know to look for it in their inbox.

Email #2 – Invitation to come back
Aim to be as strategic with your post-Easter planning as you are with your pre-Easter planning. Plan to start a compelling and practical sermon series that would draw in someone who wouldn’t typically attend church the week after Easter. In your second email, invite them back for the series and emphasize why the series will benefit them and what they will get out of it. Include your service times and a link back to your website for more details.

Email #3 – Ask for feedback
The best way to improve your first-time guest experience is by capturing honest feedback. Using a tool like SurveyMonkey, create a brief survey to find out about your guests’ overall experience. The survey should include questions about what they noticed first, liked best, what could be improved, and how your staff can pray for them.

Email #4 – Meet the pastor
Many churches host a class or an opportunity to meet the pastor for new guests. Send a note with an overview and invitation to attend the next class. Include the important details like when, where, and how to register (if necessary), and if childcare is offered.

Email #5 – Get Connected
The final email should highlight ways to connect with other people through ministries like small groups. Include information about pastoral care and which staff members to contact if they have questions about getting to know Jesus or just want to speak with someone.

In all of the emails, make sure the voice of the email matches that of the sender and keep it personal. Set up the email to send directly from a personal address and encourage recipients to reply directly if they have any questions.

Ready to get started? Here are a few additional resources on email automation.

How Email Automation Can Improve Ministry Communication
Leveraging Email to Follow Up with First Time Guests
Step By Step Guide from MailChimp for Creating Automation

Why We Got Rid of the Monthly Bulletin

Why We Got Rid of the Monthly Bulletin

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

One of my most popular and asked about blog posts has been why we switched to a monthly bulletin. But it’s been a while since that original post, so I thought I’d share an update on how it worked and why we ultimately got rid of it.

Let’s start with the pros. The monthly bulletin was a great avenue to give a high-level view of what was happening at our church and share stories of life change. It almost read more like a magazine than a bulletin. It did save on our printing costs and reduced time spent preparing a weekly bulletin.

But, even with these benefits, we found the lack of flexibility to change information challenging. It improved our communications planning but, like many churches, last minute changes or events added throughout the month meant we weren’t always producing the most accurate information. Also, our church was going through major changes in our location, staffing, etc. and we needed an additional avenue to get out information quickly on Sunday mornings.

So after a year of the monthly, we switched back to a weekly. But we wanted a format that would still allow us the benefits of the monthly: reduced printing costs and minimal production time each week.

The solution was a bulletin shell designed around the sermon series that focused on first-time guests and included a simple black and white insert with the weekly news and events. This gave the visual appeal of the sermon series design but minimal weekly production to create the promotional insert.  The insert was printed in-house each week to keep printing costs low. We could add weekly changes easily in the insert but keep up the overall quality with a series shell. And, bonus points, we could reuse the left-over shells as long as they were not damaged.

Here’s an example

Here are three takeaways from the monthly bulletin:

1. It’s good to try something new in your church communications! Creating a monthly piece ultimately allowed us to produce a better weekly bulletin because we learned the pros and cons of each.

2. Allow ample time to see how a new channel of communication works. Be patient when you introduce something new. We used the monthly bulletin for a year to get a true sense of the benefits, costs, and results.

3. There’s no magic answer to bulletins. You won’t solve every church communication challenge with one bulletin format over another, so it’s okay to make a change…and change back again!

 

4 Ways to Use Push Notifications

4 Ways to Use Push Notifications

There’s a lot of debate happening around church apps right now. Critics say that a well-designed, mobile-friendly website eliminates the need for a separate app. And there are certainly valid reasons why churches shouldn’t launch an app, like additional the cost and maintenance.

However, one reason I love having an app for our church is the ability to send push notifications. These quick little messages allow us to communicate and stay in front of our church throughout the week.

Here are four ways to use push notifications in your app.

1. Inclement Weather Closings
This is especially important in my state of North Carolina where Southerners (like myself) tend to launch into a mild panic at the first flake. With a push notification, we can quickly let our church know if services and ministries will be held or cancelled.

2. Sunday sermons
Recently, we started sending out a notification when our Sunday sermons are ready to view. This is typically on Monday or Tuesday. With fewer people attending church every Sunday, it’s a helpful reminder and way for people to stay engaged with the teaching series.

3. Online Bulletin
Every week we create a quick online bulletin post that is linked directly in our app. Sending a push notification on Sunday morning with a link to the bulletin acts the same as if we were to pass out a physical bulletin as people come through the door.

4. Big Day Reminders
Have a baptism service coming up? Need to remind folks to reserve tickets for Christmas Eve? A push notification is a fast and easy way to send reminders for the big days happening at your church.

What do you think? How do you use push notifications for your church?

Communication Planning Sheet for Big Days

Communication Planning Sheet for Big Days

Christmas. Easter. Baptism. There are big days in the life of every church. My solution for mapping out these days has been to create a basic planning sheet. This allows me to see the overall picture of dates and communication channels in one place. This doesn’t capture every action item in a project (I use Asana for that), but it helps visualize what needs to happen and when.

Here’s an example from Christmas.

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-4-08-38-pm

Here’s a blank PDF template to download.

Why We Switched to a Monthly Bulletin

Why We Switched to a Monthly Bulletin

The bulletin. The word brings dread to church communicators everywhere.

Like many churches, we created, proofed, printed and folded hundreds of bulletins each week only to watch them be tossed into a trash, left in seats or crammed in Bibles to be thrown away later.

Surely there’s a better way!

In January we took the plunge and made the switch to a monthly bulletin.

Now we produce a monthly news that highlights major events and a story. We pass it out on the first Sunday of the month and make it available at our Guest Services all month. Each week we pass out a simple front and back card with our current series branding, information for first time guests and a perforated tear-off for a connection card.

Here are a few reasons why we made the switch.

1. We launched an app
The app is now the primary way for our regular members and attenders to see upcoming news and events. It’s geared toward our internal audience and we continually push people to check the app and use it to connect with us.

2. The bulletin didn’t change week to week
We emphasize small groups, volunteer teams, family ministries and missions. This means we don’t have significant programming changes week to week. If something does come up, there are other effective channels (email, social media, push notifications) we can use to get the word out.

3. It forces us to plan
All communication requests have to be submitted by the 15th of the month prior to be considered for the monthly news. The monthly method eliminates last-minute promotional requests and ensures details are mapped out well in advance.

4. It allows us to share stories
Every month we include a life change story or highlight a mission team. This gives us another avenue to share the mission of our church (connecting people to Jesus for life change), rather than simply pumping out more events and ministry leader requests.

How’s it working so far? Great! We’ve received positive feedback on the switch, saved money and can use time more effectively throughout the week.

There are no formulas for church communications – it all depends on your context and audience. For us, the move to a monthly bulletin has been the right one.

What about you? Does your church do a weekly bulletin? Are you ready to switch to a monthly?

Resources:
Monthly News – Example
Weekly Bulletin – Example

How to Use Asana to Plan a Sermon Series

How to Use Asana to Plan a Sermon Series

I’m an Asana fan. I use it for my weekly to do’s and to manage projects for our church . Sermon series are a major project that happen several times a year. To help me stay on track and make sure all the pieces for our series come together, I use a project template.

Here’s how it works.

Typically after a series planning meeting or talking with a our Lead Pastor, I’ll go into Asana and copy the project template from a previous series. The project is divided into sections based on the major things that go into a pulling off a series like design and graphics, promotions and then post-series tasks. I like to add a section that covers the marketing materials, just to make sure I have everything covered.

Screen shot 2015-08-25 at 8.24.15 AM

Design

First, I’ll map out the timeline for design and graphics. Typically, we run a 4-6 week timeline, depending on the series and how much marketing will go into it. I’ll add dates for when the initial design concept is due and how long we have for feedback and edits. After the design work is done, I’ll upload it into Google Drive and begin ordering any of the print or marketing materials.

Screen shot 2015-08-25 at 7.48.57 AM

 

 

Tip: Begin with the end date and work backward to establish your due dates for tasks.

 

Promotions

Promotions and marketing varies for each series. Usually our staple promotions will be social media graphics, eNews/bulletin and invite cards. For a longer series or one that is geared toward reaching our community, we may add a mailer or a video, too.

In this section, I outline the promotions timeline. We’ll promote a series 2 to 4 weeks out from the start date.

Screen shot 2015-08-25 at 7.49.16 AM

Post-Series

Finally, I create a post-series section. This is where I mark tasks that I’ll need to do after the series launches, like update web links and banners with the series page.

Screen shot 2015-08-25 at 7.50.16 AM

 

There you go! That’s how you can use Asana to map out your next sermon series.

What about you? What tool do you use for sermon series planning?

The Tension Between Relationship and Rules

The Tension Between Relationship and Rules

 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” – Exodus 20:2

Context, context, context. My pastor always drives home the importance of context when preaching the Bible. You have to look at the context of a passage of Scripture to understand the meaning.

Keeping this in mind as I was reading through Exodus, it hit me how God delivers the 10 commandments (Exodus 20) after establishing His relationship with the Israelites (Exodus 19). He establishes His relationship with them before giving the commandments to them.

This is an applicable lesson for church communicators.

It’s important to establish a relationship with your pastors and team mates before you introduce rules and systems. Communication is relational. It requires trust. Trust is established through relationship. Not rules.

At the same time, guidelines and systems are vital for clear and effective communication. Without them, you end up communicating everything which translates to nothing. Your message will get lost in the clutter and noise.

There’s a tension between the relationship and rules. In my few years experience working in ministry, I’ve found that many pastors and leaders are highly relational and prefer to focus on that, rather than systems and structures.

As a communicator, it’s your job (and mine) to help balance this tension within your church. Provide the structure and the systems but do it in the context of relationship.

When leading church communications, remember to establish relationship and build trust before you implement rules.

 

How to Create an Inexpensive Booklet

How to Create an Inexpensive Booklet

Print pieces can get expensive fast. Most churches, mine included, don’t have a massive communication budget to spend on print pieces. And booklets are one of the most expensive print pieces because of the multiple pages. I’ve found we can ease this cost by printing a cover out-of-house and finish the inner pages in-house. This gives a finished look but costs significantly less.  This doesn’t work for every booklet application, but it’s especially useful for pieces like devotionals, reading plans, prayer guides and small group guides.

Here’s how to do it: 

1. Design a full-bleed 8.5×11 cover page.
(That’s where the color extends all the way to the edge of the page.) I’ll usually ask our design volunteer do this. This will fold to a standard 5.5×8.5 booklet.

2. Order the cover from an online or local print vendor. 
I like to use Overnight Prints or NextDay Flyers. I select the full-page flier option and have it printed one-sided. Usually, I’ll pick a heavier cover stock option, like the 100#.  (To give you an estimate of cost savings, 1,000 full-page fliers only costs about $200.  1,000 12-page booklets would cost about $1,000.)

3. Set it up as your cover page and then print the inside. 
Configure your print settings to a booklet with a cover page and finish with bi-fold, staple-binding. Keep in mind: To do this, you need an office printer that can run a heavier stock without jamming (because jams are the worst) and can do a staple-binding.

And voila! You’ll have a pretty print piece without busting the budget.

Here’s an example from our small groups expo.

booklet-cover-example
Cover
booklet-inside
Inside

If you liked this post, here are a few more you might like.

How to Create Bulletins In-House

How to Create Video Announcements

4 Things to Communicate to First Time Guests This Sunday

4 Things to Communicate to First Time Guests This Sunday

Visiting a church for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience. A few months ago, I put myself in the role of a first time guest. I was out-of-state and decided to check out a nearby church. What did I do first?  I looked up the church online. I found service times, checked out the pastor and got a general feel for the church.

Then I actually visited on Sunday. I walked in and immediately started looking for some place marked for first time guests…but I never found it. As I sat in the auditorium listening to announcements, I waited for a special welcome to guests and instructions for where to turn in my information card…but I never heard it.

Perhaps I totally missed these parts of the service or maybe it was an off day. Who knows. But as church communicators, we can’t afford to miss the chance to communicate with 1st time guests.

First time guests are one of the most important audiences we communicate with and we need to get it right every single Sunday.

Here are four things you should communicate to first time guests this Sunday.

1. We’re glad you’re here.

This probably seems like common sense, right? But sometimes the most basic principles are the most easily forgotten.

A welcome to your guests could be in the form of your Lead Pastor giving a special welcome, in video announcements, a note in the bulletin and, of course, on your website.

There should be a special place reserved just for new guests and custom print materials catered to first time guests.

First Time Guest KioskAt my church, we have a First Time Guest Kiosk. This is where we receive guests and give them information and a gift. We also use this as a starting point where we can lead them into our facility and show them around.

We currently meet at a movie theater so our first time guest materials are packaged in a popcorn box. Inside includes: welcome booklet, CD from our Lead Pastor, candy, and microwave popcorn. We instruct our guests to fill out the Connection Card inside the bulletin and bring it back after the service. When they do this, we make a donation to one of our Strategic Partners and we also give them a $5 Starbucks gift card.

2. Next Steps

Your guests can’t take the next step if they don’t know about it. Turn in a Connection Card. Go the new attendee class. Check out a small group. Whatever your next step is for your guests, make sure they know. You can let your guests know when you welcome them, put it in your bulletin, and make it a part of your follow-up process.

One part of our follow-up process is to send a letter to anyone who turned in a Connection Card and invite them to Discovering Southbridge. This is a place where they can meet our Lead Pastor, ask questions and begin their journey with our church.

3. Where to get more information.

Where should guests go to have their questions answered? Visit our website. Stop by Guest Services (or whatever your church calls it). Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Tell them where to go to get the information they are looking for.

4. We hope to see you next week.

Surprisingly, this is the one that seems to be most overlooked. Show them why they should return the next week. Let them know about an upcoming sermon series or event. But it can be even simpler than that. Have your hospitality team make a point of inviting people back next week as they leave.

What do you think? What should you communicate to guests this Sunday?

How to Lead Design When You’re Not a Graphic Designer

I graduated with a degree in mass communication and marketing. But when I stepped into the role of Communications Director, I found myself faced with leading our church in graphic design and artwork.

If you’re in this position too, don’t worry. You can still lead design for your church without being a graphic designer.

Here are five lessons I’ve learned. I hope they are helpful to you!

1. Learn to identify good design and bad design.

Let’s be honest, there’s some really terrible design work out there. And unfortunately a lot of it is produced by churches. Learn to identify what makes the difference between a well-designed graphic and a poorly designed graphic. Take notes from churches that have a well-developed creative and design department. Check out Elevation Church and Mars Hill. Another great place to draw inspiration from is the Church Marketing Lab on Flickr.

Keep in mind: Be inspired by these designs, don’t just imitate them.

2. Take advantage of free resources.

Did you know that there are a ton of free resources available to you? These sites are gold mines and huge time savers. I’ve included a list of sites at the bottom of this post that should help you out.

3. Find an experienced volunteer.

The best resource for me has been volunteers. Find someone in your church who is passionate about your church’s mission and willing to serve by creating graphics and artwork that visually support that mission. These volunteers should have real-world experience and background in design. Ask to see a portfolio of their work. And, make sure to give them clear expectations and deadlines for projects upfront.

4. Learn the basics. 

I found online tutorials and articles to help me navigate the basics of Adobe Creative Suite. While I still don’t tackle major design projects, this gave me enough knowledge to create simple, basic graphics when I don’t have time to organize a volunteer.

5. Keep it simple.

The worst thing you can do is over complicate a design. Trust me, I’ve done it. It may seem boring, but always lean towards simple. Pick one or two fonts and stick with them. Brady Shearer over at Pro Church Tools has some good advice on this. If you have a solid design volunteer, have them create templates for your pre-service slides, web graphics, etc. and stick with those templates.

 

What do you think? How can you lead design for your church without being a designer?

 

Design Resources

CreationSwap
Vintage Church Resources
Seeds – Church on the Move
Lightstock (non-cheesy stock photos, plus one free photo a week)
Unsplash (10 free hi-res photos every 10 days)