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Parish Weekly Email: A New Direction

by Jan 7, 2021Internal Communications

A New Format: Hopefully you have noticed that there has been a change in the format of the weekly parish email. If you have not had the chance to review the emails, here are the recent emails since we implemented the format change:

Some Background on the Change: The impetus behind the change was simple: people were not opening the emails. The mass-email system we use (Mailchimp) records statistics for every email. Among mass-email systems such as Mailchimp and Constant Contact, the “church sector” has typical open rates of 40%. If a church “works” at being intentional in its communications, the open rate hovers between 55% and 60%. Our open rate hovers around 20% with peaks at 30%.

An informal inquiring of parishioners (who attend Mass in person) asked if they routinely opened the parish email and if not, why not. About 30% of the informal survey opened the email – but then again, they are the more-engaged parishioners. For those who did not open the emails, the most basic reason given was that “it was always the same” or “never anything new.” But among those who did open the email, the “sameness” comment was made. In addition, the scrolling-length of the email was off-putting.

In short, the content and visual appeal/aesthetic were areas where improvement was needed if we want more people to open the emails.

What are parishioners reading? Even if they were opening emails, we have no idea of what they were reading because a plain email will only provide “open rates.” But Mailchimp has the ability to track “click-thru’s” – in other words, if there is a link/URL present in the email, Mailchimp reports the number of unique “clicks” and as well “repeated clicks” for each link/URL. (It does not report clicking on emails) While not all “articles” had a URL/link, of those that did, it was not unusual to have 6 “clicks” out of 1800 emails.

Going forward, the only way we will be able to tell if people are reading a particular article in the weekly email is to have that article include a link/URL – often as simple as “read more” or “click here.”  Of course, that means there is a destination we are sending them to that will have content for them.

Why the change in format? Based on the above, you can infer some of the design objectives of the new parish email format:

  • Improving the visual appeal/aesthetic using:
    • images and a two-column format – easy to scan and auto-reformats for mobile viewing
    • banner blocks to highlight certain messages.
  • Limiting the number of articles so that they appear “above the fold” on desktop viewing and do not require excessive scrolling in mobile viewing. We are aiming at 4 (to possibly 6) articles.
  • Embedding links/URLs in all articles (but not necessarily “banner blocks”).
  • Avoiding “always the same” when possible. Some articles will repeat

This should give you an idea of our intent and direction. Thoughts and feedback are welcomed. If you like what you see, let us know that too. Please include both Chanel and me in your correspondence.

Links/URLs in the weekly email – how they will begin to improve readership of your article. If we are trying to keep 4-6 articles in the parish weekly email “above the fold” – that means many articles will be very short introductions with a “read more” or “click here” link to take them to a fuller article. Previously, we had created downloadable PDFs as the means to provide additional information. While that is one solution, it is not the best, especially for mobile computing as PDFs do not adjust well based on the viewers device (desktop, tablet, mobile) – and they take up storage on the mail platform.

A better solution. A better solution is to use the capabilities of our parish website – not to develop a new page for each article, but to use the capability for easily creating posts. Recently, we were asked to promote AmazonSmile for the school. Rather than create a page, we quickly developed a post. Each post has its own unique URL. As a result, the fuller article exists in one place, is accessible via the weekly email or the website (or however the URL is distributed), uses minimal storage, and automatically adjusts for the viewer’s device. Also, if content needs to change, we only need go one place to update – the URL stays the same.

Why use a Post instead of a website Page? The reason to use a post vs. a website page – simple – ease of production (if you can type, you can post). Also, we can take advantage of the ability to assign categories to each post. For example, if there is a category of “Religious Education”, our website automatically creates a page for that category. Here’s an example of such a page for the Daily Reflections. The URL for the page is: – that looks like a page, but really it is a post-page which WordPress automatically creates to group together all posts with the category. The creation of that page takes no effort on our part. All one need do is to substitute the name of a category and you instantly have the desired page. The creation of a new Category takes about 5 seconds.

Want something more elegant? Creating a category-specific page is simple and allows for some aesthetic improvements. We can provide that if needed – but I suspect the auto-created page will meet your ministry needs.

What does all this mean for you? By creating content in a post-format, you can have consistent and accessible content for many channel of distribution to your intended audience. In addition, if you want to know, we can provide statistics on how many people read your article in the parish email – and if very important – we can let you know who opened the article.

What’s the process for all this coming together? You provide the copy (text) and the images for the article and the post. This means:

  • A short concise “leader” for the parish email,
  • A fuller text for the post, and
  • Images you would like for each.
  • Forward all the above to Chanel – in a timely manner.

We will produce the post and provide you with the URL in case you want to promote your article in other communication avenues. Want to learn how to create a post? We would be happy to train you

As regards the image(s), don’t worry about image size, but bigger is better. We will convert the image to a size appropriate for Mailchimp or the website.  We use to produce images for our communications channels. It is often helpful if you find one image that is more vertical than banner-like and another than is more horizontal (banner-like). They need not be the same image. Note: once we use these images, we are able to reuse in the future

Planning Weekly Parish Email Content. Given our goal of limiting content to 4 – 6 articles in the weekly email, we need to plan based on upcoming parish and ministry events, programs, and promotions. We will not be able to publish all things at all times. How will we decide what will be included?

Appropriate lead-time and channels. Some events need a long lead-time promotion, e.g. a parish wide retreat or mission. Some events are best served by a limited promotion, e.g. a weekend clothing drive – people don’t need weeks to prepare. In other words, to avoid the viewer reaction of “nothing new,” the article needs to be appropriate to the timing of call-to-action, be of broad interest to the parish, and consider if the parish email is the right “channel” to reach a select audience. For example, if you are trying to reach parents of children in the RE program, there are better communication channels for that audience.

Article priorities. The top priority and placement will be for “a message from our pastor” – and we hope to move that messaging to a video format. There won’t be a message every week and from time-to-time other friars may provide content. And sometimes there won’t be one!

Other top priorities will include:

  • sacramental celebrations (Mass, Reconciliation, etc.) –special mass times for Holy Days (e.g.) or changes to the usual schedule for on-going celebration
  • upcoming parish-wide events and celebrations
  • new faith formation events (e.g. Discovering Christ)
  • new parish outreach/education events
  • (as available) a special promotion for an on-going ministry or program

The next level of priorities will include:

  • on-going event reminders
  • on-going ministry highlights or reports

One of the ideas we are considering is to have a “Parish News” webpage. This would address the limited space in the parish email but fill the need for an easily accessible place for “expanded coverage” available on the website. There are several options even within this idea.

The last level of priorities will include:

  • outside organizations for whom the pastor chooses to promote, e.g., St. John Paul the Great HS (which is important, but consider….is this the best channel to promote the high school)