Everyone else seems to think that email is like the Windows 95 of communication tools.
They might even have a point!
Email is the oldest of your communication tools in your toolbox, and it’s definitely the least shiny in 2020.
I don’t know if email is cool or not. Because honestly, it doesn’t matter.
Email is effective.
I’d even say that in 2020, email is a critical part of a good parent and small group leader communication strategy.
Don’t believe me? A marketing and sales organization recently found that 73% of millennials prefer communications from businesses to come via email.
Plus, it’s one of the most direct ways to communicate digitally. With communication tools like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, those companies prioritize what your parents and small group leaders see. You’re playing a game to stand out, or just outright paying for it.
Email is effective, but more than that, good emails are effective.
In 2020, your communication needs to cut through the noise—not add to it.
Your best strategy is still to fit email into a holistic communication strategy that includes tools like Facebook, Instagram, Web, and other communication channels.
But for you, supercharging your emails means that with a few simple changes, you can be heard, communicate clearly, and send emails that parents and small group leaders in your youth ministry actually love.
You can create emails that actually get read.
Here’s seven things to start doing today.
1. Re-Define Your Audience
Said another way: “Who is this email for?” This is what marketers call “audience segmentation,” or grouping people by their values, interests, and needs.
Defining and understanding your audience might be the most important step in optimizing your communication. Start with the person. Ask yourself: Who are they, what are their needs, what do they want from my ministry, and how could my communication build trust with them?
Remember, a lot has changed this year. That might mean something for your emails too.
Today, we’re just talking about two audiences: parents and small group leaders. I’m a big fan of separate communication strategies for these two groups. Why? Their needs week-to-week are significantly different.
Here’s what a parent might wonder week-to-week:
- How do I be the parent I want to be?
- What’s my kid learning in your ministry?
- What’s coming up I need to know about?
On the other side, here’s a small group leader:
- What are we talking about this week?
- How can I be more prepared for the conversation?
- How do I understand what’s going on in a student’s brain?
- Does my role matter here?
I’m partial to specific parent emails and specific small group leader emails. And with XP3 Youth Ministry Curriculum, you get weekly and monthly pre-built email templates to jump start your email communications.
I love that in addition to PDF and HTML templates, you’ll get pre-built emails for MailChimp, so it’s SUPER easy for you to edit and customize them every week. They are a great starting point to help leaders get ahead and spend more time personalizing for their audience and writing clever intros instead of starting from scratch each week.
2. Validate Your Value
Spoiler alert: We all think our emails are valuable. We wouldn’t send it if we didn’t think it was valuable.
Even at the time of writing this, I think this blog could be valuable.
But I actually don’t get to decide if it’s valuable or not. You do.
And subsequently, I can determine its value based on your feedback. That feedback may be the number of times this blog is viewed, the number of times it’s referenced or linked to, how much buzz it gets on social, and anecdotally what people tell me about it.
Validating your value means using your best judgment to understand what your parents or small group leaders find valuable, and then validating whether that’s true based on real feedback.
To start, provide generous value in every single email. If you don’t have something valuable to provide, don’t say anything at all. Value might look like a helpful resource, a short update, a heads up, a personal note, a gift—whatever!
But value is both an art and a science. The art is using your best judgment to craft messages and information parents or small group leaders will want to read and find helpful. The science is validating that judgement.
Here’s how to validate if your emails are actually helpful:
- Invite feedback (this is why you should send emails from a person—more on this later)
- Send a survey
- Watch your metrics (also—more on this later)
Sometimes the absence of feedback is also a signal. Don’t expect a parent or small group leader to be able to articulate what’s not hitting the mark with your communication. But as a rule of thumb, if you consistently get no feedback or engagement, you may need to ask more direct questions. Generally, positive feedback is good, bad feedback is bad (duh), and neutral or no feedback is also bad (or at least needs more data).
That’s where metrics come in. But in order to get helpful metrics, you’ve got to use the right email service.
3. Use an Email Service
A good email service provider (ESP) like MailChimp, ConvertKit, or Constant Contact can do three big things for your youth ministry emails:
Make your message clear with good design.
Good design will reduce stress for the reader, will help you prioritize the right things visually, and will help express the values of your church visually. (See, email can be cool!) With an email service provider, you can elevate the design of your emails by using pre-built templates, or put the work in to design your own! The good news is you should only have to design your own once, then re-use and tweak the template for every email you send instead of starting from scratch.
Work in batches and with a team.
Batch it! Your job isn’t emails. You’ve got way more important things to do. An email service provider can help you batch work and schedule your emails out in one sitting, rather than revisiting them for hours each week. Using the example from XP3—you can schedule out your small group leader emails for an entire series! Revisit them and update them each week before they go out to include any new information or relevant messages, but you won’t have to start from scratch.
More than scheduling, an email service can help you work with a team to create your emails. Appoint a “parent communication” volunteer to start these emails for you, and then you just have to provide guidance and approve them every week!
Schedule for peak times.
I get it, you do your best work Friday at 3 p.m. But you probably know, emails sent at 3 p.m. on Friday don’t get read. Instead, automate and schedule your emails for the times they’re most likely to be read (anything but Friday at 3 p.m.).
4. Watch Your Metrics
Here are the two biggest metrics you should pay attention to.
Open rate is the percentage of people who open your emails. It’s maybe the most basic and the easier metric to follow, but it might also be the most misleading. (It’s often much higher than stated.) It’s best used as a comparative metric, meaning you can use it to compare email sends week to week or across a period of time. It can give you clues about your subject line, preview text, send times, email list health, and the general value of your week-to-week mailings.
So how do you boost your open rate? Schedule some honesty-hour time for yourself and consider the value of your emails. With your own hypothesis in hand, compare your open rate to the industry benchmarks (your youth ministry probably fits best in the “religion” category).
Got the number? Good. If you’re above the average, don’t tune out. If you’re below, pay special attention to these things.
- Subject line. Your readers are making split-second decisions in their email inbox to answer the question: “Should I read this?” I like a bit of variety with subject lines, alternating between descriptive (help them understand the value) and clever (tease their interest and curiosity). Witty never hurts too!
- Preview Text. This is where you can describe a little more accurately what someone will find in your email. If you go for a fun subject line, give the most concise summary of what someone will find in your email. It’s important to spark curiosity, but not tease people or at worst send clickbait. You should get quickly to how your email can help them.
- Content. Oversimplifying here, but ask yourself: Does someone want to open your emails? What’s inside that will improve their life, or make them better at life?
- Consistency. The more consistent you are in your email relationship, the better you’ll find your emails perform. Dropping off the planet for a long time is an easy way to lose engagement. There’s no rule for frequency, but once a week is a great target. You don’t want to overwhelm busy parents and leaders, but consistent weekly communication can help them feel valued and in the loop. If you can’t do weekly, aim for monthly or bi-weekly, and build your way up.
- Contacts. This is the most boring part. Not to point out the obvious, but students graduate. If you’ve got 50 students in your youth group and 400 parents on your email list, the majority of your list really doesn’t care about what you send. Make sure you keep your church database in sync with your email provider so you’re not building up useless contacts. How you manage church contacts and email lists is a great conversation to have with your church so you ensure you’re reaching the right people, and not spamming the wrong people.
Click rate is recorded when someone clicks on a link in your email. It’s one of the more meaningful measurements because it means someone took action based on your email. That’s the goal right?
You might think that loading your email with 103 things to click would help this metric, but that isn’t always the case. In many cases, a person is most likely to click when there’s one call-to-action in your email. Too many things to click can overwhelm, or create confusion around what’s most important. Most email professionals recommend providing one thing to do, and reinforcing your action step a few times in the email.
To start getting that higher click rate, consider a few things.
- Make your ask clear. Say what you want them to do, tell them why it matters, and reinforce that throughout your email.
- Don’t ask for too much. Respect their attention by not overwhelming your email with things to do. Make it easy, otherwise they’ll probably click out and do nothing at all.
- Be helpful. Be generous with what you provide. If you’re going to ask for someone to click, make sure it’s worth the ask.
Keep in mind, there are different “styles” of email communication. A newsletter format will probably have many things to click on and serve a menu of helpful things. An announcement might just have one thing. Click rate will always be specific to the goal and style of the email.
That’s the starter guide on open rate and click rate. You can get really in-depth into email metrics. I won’t do that for our own sanity, but here’s a full guide in case you want the deep dive.
5. Send from a Person
Hey, Tyler here 👋
. . . said every marketing email you’ve ever received ever.
Most email marketers will tell you to send from a person because your emails will get more opens.
But I don’t think that’s the main reason you should do it.
You should send from a person because it gives you the opportunity to be human—to use humor, to use vulnerability, empathy, and to connect with people.
When sending from a person, you can be conversational, and invite feedback in a whole new way.
You’ve got personality—your emails should too. Sending emails from a person helps make it easy and natural for you to communicate the way you talk. Consider with me a few examples . . .
You could write the normal (meh) way . . .
Subject Line: See you at Remix this week!
Email: Hey leaders, this week at Remix we’re talking about Jonah! As you prepare for group, please take a look at the attached Small Group Leader Guide for your discussion questions.
Or, if you’re super punny . . .
Subject Line: What’s going to be a whale-y good time?
Email: When you and your small group talk about Jonah this week in Remix! To have the best conversation, download the Small Group Leader Guide and read the questions ahead of time.
Or, maybe you just like a little teaser . . .
Subject Line: You, Jonah, and a whale.
Email: Three things that make me excited for youth group this week. In case you haven’t guessed by now . . . we’re talking about Jonah this week in Remix.
You can download your Small Group Leader Guide for the week right here in this email (travel to Nineveh not required).
Or, maybe you’re more the heartfelt type . .
Subject Line: How was your week?
Email: Hopefully, it didn’t include getting swallowed by a whale (maybe it just felt like it?).
Either way, I’m excited to see you this week at Remix. I’m so grateful that week after week YOU show up to influence the faith of students.
Here’s the Small Group Leader Guide for Week 1 of our series on Jonah.
Writing conversationally is about creating a connection and talking how you would normally talk. We tend to write more formally than we talk (thanks English class), so challenge yourself to write your emails the way you would say something out loud. Read your email out loud to yourself a few times before you send it to see if it actually sounds like you.
If you’re wondering how to start bringing a more personal tone to your emails, start with four simple things.
- Write in short sentences.
- Offer 1-3 main points.
- Use humor.
- Write how you talk.
- Use GIFs.
You can ask questions and invite engagement over email!
Ask people to tell you one thing about their week, ask your small group leaders what their biggest win in small group was last week, or ask your parents what parenting moment has stuck out to them this month.
No one wants a bland, lifeless email. By sending from a person, you get a chance to express personality, create connection, and invite feedback.
6. Tell Stories
I used to hate writing. I thought it was more about accuracy, proper grammar, citing your sources, and boring stuff.
Instead, I’ve always liked speaking from the stage. I could bring my voice, my stories, my personality to the platform.
Turns out, I should have been doing that all along with my writing too.
People connect to stories. They connect even more when they feel like they’re a part of one. There are stories to tell in your youth ministry—sometimes you just have to write them out.
For you, they could start like this.
- “A 6th grade leader told me something this week, and it might make you stop in your tracks too.”
- “What would it look like if . . .”
- “I remember the first time I led a small group during a sex series . . .”
When you tell stories you can’t help but be personal. You can’t help but tell a story to someone and not just write at them. You’ll notice yourself thinking of the person on the other side of the story, not just the story itself.
One caution… stories are just one tool in your toolbelt. Overuse them, and readers will tune out or feel like you’re trying to sell something. Sprinkle stories in here and there, but always do it to serve a clear point. The insight or call to action is always your goal—the story is just how you bring someone along for the ride.
To summarize using stories…
Always keep your stories short. Like, shorter than you think.
Don’t overuse them—instead sprinkle them occasionally for variety
Make your point clear—don’t make someone guess
7. Keep It Simple
When it comes to communication, simple wins.
When you’re in front of students, you have 15 minutes to help them understand a concept or principle. With email, you have seconds to convince someone to keep reading. So, make it clear and make it simple. There are two ways I like to do that.
- Use repeated segments for consistency. In routine communication I like to think in segments or modules. Segments help you create consistency in your communications. This is good for your reader and for you. Your reader will have an easier time digesting information with segments. And it’s easier for you to work from a structure instead of starting from scratch every week. Here’s what repeated segments could look like for you:
- Win of the Week (Highlight a win in small group from a volunteer every week!)
- Put It on Your Calendar (all the things coming up you don’t want them to forget!)
- Brain Science (a developmental tip to help parents or leaders understand students better!)
- GIF of the Week (Your favorite GIF?! Why not?!)
- What You’ll Need (link to all the things they’ll need for this coming week’s small group time)
- Use clear headers to organize information. For a good example of a newsletter that uses a header well is Morning Brew. They have really clever headlines that draw you in and sort their information in clear modules. Clever is a great trick with headlines, but if you can’t do clever, just aim for clear.
To recap, when I say structure, I simply mean that structure is there to help your reader understand what’s most important, to be able to skim your communication (everyone does it—so help make it easy!), and to guide their eyes to what you want them to see.
One Last Thing—Don’t Do It All Yourself
If you’ve made it to the end of this way too long appropriately wordy article, it’s clear you care about how your ministry communicates. I really believe youth workers can do anything, and I think you too can write emails that parents and volunteers love (or at least read).
You’ve probably also noticed that this is a lot. And because I need this reminder often, I’ll add my own two cents here:
- You don’t have to do this yourself. In fact, eventually to do everything well . . . you can’t. Start thinking of a key volunteer who could help with your communication strategy! Develop a process where they can help start or edit emails before they go out. The best type of volunteer here can help you think through all communication channels and how they work together. That means social, website, email, slack channels—whatever!
- You’ve got tools to help. One of the reasons I love working for a company that produces curriculum is hearing stories of what leaders can accomplish when they have the support of a team and weekly curriculum. A comprehensive youth ministry curriculum and strategy like XP3 gives you pre-built small group leader emails, parent emails, social media posts, daily devotionals, teaching videos, messages, small group questions, and so much more. If you want to see more of how XP3 can help you make your time matter, and free you to do what only you can do—try it free today.
Oh, and remember when I said: “I don’t get to decide if this article is valuable, you do?” Well, let me know! Was this helpful? What questions do you have? Connect with me @thereeseyspieces