Every leader I talk with who leads in children’s or student ministry wants to improve their partnership with parents. We all recognize the power that comes from our church and our parents being on the same page. A core part of our church’s strategy for partnering with parents is communication. The premise is simple. The more parents know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, the more equipped they’ll be to continue conversations at home.
What’s the best way to communicate?
I don’t know if there is one best way to communicate with parents, which is why we use multiple channels. The primary channels we use are email, text, social media and our website. Our weekly email is the most consistent and complete way we communicate with parents. We certainly haven’t found the magic solution that gets every parent to read each week, but here are some things we’ve learned along the way that I hope will be helpful to you.
Clarify the Purpose of Your Emails
It’s important to clarify why you want to email parents regularly. For us, the purpose is to give them the tools and information they need to lead their kids spiritually. Ultimately, that comes down to informing them of what their kids learned, providing resources to use at home, and reminding them of opportunities for them and their kids at church. Nobody, I mean nobody, needs more email. It’s important to make sure our emails are intentional and helpful.
One approach would be to only email parents for specific reasons. This might result in them reading them more because each one is unique and people are always curious. That would be a fine strategy, except in our case our main purpose wouldn’t be fulfilled. We want to get that information to them weekly. If you want to email weekly like we do, make sure you’re consistent with your emails so parents can get into a rhythm and know what to expect. We send our weekly email to parents on the same day at the same time every week.
Use an Email Service
It’s helpful to use an email service when emailing parents because they provide a lot of features you can’t get when you throw a bunch of addresses in the BCC field and fire off an email. An email service can allow you to create groups, track opens, track link clicks, and much more. If you want your email to have a designed look, like a newsletter, you can do that as well. Some church management systems include email services. If yours doesn’t, or you want another option, MailChimp is good and affordable (free up to 2,000 subscribers).
Have Reasonable Expectations
If you’re expecting every parent to read every email, you’re setting yourself up for quite the disappointment. I mentioned that most email service providers will show you how many people actually opened your email. That stat isn’t completely reliable, but it’s pretty close. To give you an idea of what MailChimp sees on average, click here. As you’ll see, the average they see in the Religion Industry (whatever that is), is 26 percent. It would be great if it were 75 percent, but even if I can only equip a quarter of our parents through a weekly email, that’s worth it to me.
For the parents who are reading your emails, most of them will read it on their phone. Therefore, we have to be concise. Short sentences and short paragraphs. Like this one.
Use Special Headings, Like This One
If it is going to be longer, use special headings (larger font or built-in heading) in your email to break it up into logical sections. Yes, this could encourage readers to skip certain sections but it will encourage them to read what they really need. This may not be necessary if you have a newsletter format.
Use an Editor and Triple Check
Over the years, I’ve learned how important it is to write well if you want to be a leader. Communication is a huge part of leadership, and the fact is, not everyone does it well. Whether it’s typos, grammar mistakes, or something else that’s off, it can hurt your credibility as a leader. Everyone makes mistakes, but be sure to use an editor that will identify errors and triple check your emails before sending them out. You grammar perfectionists know what this is in relation to! (See what I did there?)
Don’t Overload Them
If you’re like us, you don’t really overload parents with too many emails from your ministry. The problem is, many of us overload parents because we don’t consider the other emails they’re getting from our church. It would be completely realistic for a parent to get a weekly email for their elementary kid, one for their middle schooler, one from the church-wide email and one from the volunteer team they serve on. Think about a parent in your church who serves, is in a small group, and has kids in two age-groups. Print out samples of the emails they got last month and tape them on a wall. What stands out?
Use Different Subject Lines
Newsletters usually begin with good open rates and then fade over time. We recently shifted our email strategy and broke this rule after following it for a while. Guess what? We experienced the open rate decline so we’re switching back to unique subject lines. You want to create some intrigue with your subject line. There’s a reason click-bait works so well. The difference, of course, is you actually have information parents need (as opposed to what happened next after someone shaved their cat). If your content is truly helpful, then don’t feel bad about piquing their curiosity with your subject lines.
That’s pretty much everything we’ve learned, and, you know what? We still haven’t figured it out. So, if you figure it out, please let me know. In the mean time, I hope these tips will help you improve your email communication with parents. I want your partnership with parents to be strong because I want your parents to lead their children as well as they possibly can when it comes to faith. Nothing else matters more.