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Want to Maximize Church Communications?comment (0)

January 3, 2008

By Bob Terry

Some churches believe it is possible to keep their members informed and involved in church activities by communicating with them through a church Web site and an e-mail network. Research is now demonstrating the shortcomings of such a decision.

Other congregations believe it is possible to keep members informed and involved by publishing a slick, full-color magazine on a quarterly or monthly basis. Results are now coming in to prove the fallacy of that reasoning, as well.

The bottom line is that churches need to use a multichannel approach to communications — direct mail, Web site and e-mail — in order to achieve the highest level of information and involvement among members. Such a finding should be common sense. Churches have promoted an event during worship services, made an announcement about the event during Sunday School time, even printed a reminder in the mailout bulletin only to have some active member claim never to have heard a word about the event.

We know it takes more than one way of promotion to reach members with the information necessary for their involvement in the church and to keep the church functioning in an effective and efficient manner. Yet common sense went out the window when e-mail and Web sites became the rage of modern communications.

Now we are learning the results. Jigsaw.com is an online marketing firm for corporate employees who share information with one another to help solve mutual problems. A marketing study to recruit new “members” found an e-mail response level on one-half of 1 percent. Response to direct mail was four times higher at 2 percent, but neither was the response level desired by the company. 

When e-mail, direct mail and a phone call were combined, response jumped to 10 percent. That is an outstanding response rate, even for a selected list of recipients.

What Jigsaw found is what marketing studies in other areas are finding. Direct mail out performs e-mail, but when the two are combined, the results are greater than the contributions of either medium by itself.

Catalog marketers found that direct mail recipients are more likely to make online purchases than shoppers who receive only e-mail promotions. In fact, direct mail revenue was 65 percent higher than revenue from e-mail or Web site promotions alone. But when the two mediums were used together, the revenue jump was even higher.

A study by the financial services industry found that direct mail reinforced the company’s brand name more than online communication and direct mail customers consistently registered higher satisfaction with the company’s services and resources than did online customers.

But in every case, a combination of direct mail and online communication produced significantly higher results than either medium alone.

Churches should take note of what the marketing industry is finding. Direct mail must be a vital part of a communications strategy designed to inform and involve members in the effective and efficient function of a local church. Direct mail gets information into the hands of members. The U.S. Postal Service has found that 98 percent of consumers bring in their mail the day it is delivered and 77 percent sort it immediately. Direct mail gets your message into the hands of church members.

Direct mail reinforces the identity of the church — the brand name, if you will. Direct mail allows for more detailed information about the services and resources of the church. A marketer would say it helps educate the audience about the brands and products. Interestingly those who received a direct mail piece were 10 percent less likely to do comparison shopping than those who received online communications. That is another reason a church wants to communicate in print with its members.

Jigsaw concluded, “We learned enough … that we’re not going to do e-mail alone.” Now the company uses direct mail as a vital part of its promotions. Like this company, churches need all the advantages that direct mail provides.

Frequency of mailings is another issue. Marketers found the longer the period between direct mail contacts, the lower the response rate from recipients. Magazine publishers have known for decades that weekly contact is the best for establishing a relationship between the publication and the readers. When that contact falls below twice a month, the relationship is usually short-lived. Many general interest Christian magazines, which publish monthly, report average subscription lengths of less than two years.

A monthly publication for a church can be effective in communicating the atmosphere of the church or the culture of the church. It can focus on feature articles about people and be a “feel good” piece. But a monthly publication cannot help a church function effectively and efficiently.

Church life is filled with a long list of important information that keeps the church functioning, that helps everybody stay on the same page, if you will, and work together. That kind of information demands regular weekly communication. Take away that regular flow of information and disintegration begins. Volunteer life, even in churches, demands a common flow of trusted information that enables people to work together toward common goals.

The Local Edition Service of The Alabama Baptist should be a part of every church’s communication strategy. For the churches using online communications, a local edition of church news mailed to members and prospects of the congregation provides that direct mail piece that reinforces church identity, that educates about services and resources, that adds power and thrust to a church’s message when judged by response of recipients.

For churches publishing full-color magazines on a quarterly or monthly basis, a local edition of The Alabama Baptist provides the regular flow of information that results in involvement to keep the church functioning efficiently and effectively. It can reach members and prospects 50 times a year.

At the conclusion of the marketing study by financial institutions, the researcher wrote, “[Direct mail] could be one of the smartest marketing investments your … company makes.” The same is true for the church. A local edition is an investment in the spiritual growth of members and the functioning of the church. Yet it is both inexpensive and efficient, a rare combination.

Those of us at The Alabama Baptist are ready to help your church get more results from its communications. Let us talk with you about a local edition for your church. It will work. Call us at 1-800-803-5201 or 205-870-4720, Ext. 108, or e-mail us at local@thealabamabaptist.org.

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