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By Lauren H. Dowdle

Most religious groups have their core emails they send out—like regular newsletters, reminders about upcoming services or events, and ways to get involved. Those are often sent out manually to the group’s entire list, no matter if or how they’ve engaged previously. But, there’s a more effective (and efficient) option to reach your audience: an autoresponder series.

Email autoresponders are a series of pre-set emails that are sent to subscribers automatically based on an event. For example, if someone signs up to receive your newsletter, they would enter the welcome email series. Or if they request more information about membership via your site, they could enter an autoresponder series that sends messages walking them through the steps. 

Before you ask, all organizations can benefit from incorporating an autoresponder series—no matter the size of your religious group. In fact, automation campaigns are listed as the third most effective email marketing strategy, and 78 percent of media planners use this technique.

Here are more benefits and reasons to use them:

  • Saves you time after the series is set up because they go out automatically
  • Provides targeted information based off of their actions
  • Continuously engages subscribers with multiple emails
  • Nurtures relationships with your contacts and strengthens that connection

Ready to put your email campaigns on autopilot? Follow these steps to create a successful autoresponder series for your church or religious group.

Identify trigger events

All autoresponders require a set event to occur before the emails can be triggered to send out. What that specific event is will depend on what actions visitors can take on your site, through your email campaigns, or through a time-based option. Here are a few of the most common types of autoresponders for religious groups:

  • Welcome: When they sign up to be on your email list
  • Time-Based: When the subscriber doesn’t engage with or respond to a previously sent email within the set time limit
  • Interest-Based: When they express interest (ex. request more information via your site or email, visit a landing page, register, or fill out a physical form) in a topic, event, ministry, etc.
  • Giver Status: When they make a monetary contribution—whether they’re a first-time tither or a long-time member
  • Link Click: When they click a predetermined link
  • Demographics: When you add them to a series based on their age, marital status, children’s ages, job or other identifiers
  • Subscriber Status: When they receive emails based on if they are engaged or unengaged

Create segmented email lists for those events so you can add the contact to them after they complete the action—and begin the autoresponder series.

Once you know what triggers and segments you want to use for your autoresponder series, you can begin creating the emails and automated journey for each. While the initial setup process does take time—especially with multiple series—it will mainly run on its own going forward after you finish. 

Set the schedule

You’ve decided on the initial trigger for your autoresponder series, so now you need to map out the rest of the emails to send. Do you want subscribers to receive future emails in the series after a set amount of time, or should it be after they complete another action? The answer to those questions will depend on the type of autoresponder series you’re creating.

With a welcome email series, you might want to stick with a timed schedule—unless they engage and are added to another segmented list after the initial email. Here’s an example of what your welcome email series could look like for your religious group:

  • Day 0: Immediately thank them for signing up for your newsletter/emails, and let them know what they can expect now that they are on your list (types of emails they’ll receive, frequency, etc.)
  • Day 1: Meet the staff—be sure to include photos of them and maybe a message from the leader
  • Day 2: Classes, services or events offered
  • Day 3: How to get involved—or who to contact if they want more information

Here’s an example of an email from Hunter Street Baptist Church that highlights upcoming events to help subscribers get involved (the type you’d want to send around Day 2 or 3):

Each class has its own CTA for them to learn more about whatever interests them. Make sure you have clear CTAs no matter the type of autoresponder because you always want to give subscribers a way to click-through and engage.

Create compelling content

The last component of setting up your autoresponder series is to craft the content that you’ll send. Your emails need to include information that your audience will find valuable for the series to be successful. The focus of the content will depend on why they are receiving the message, but here are some general best practices to boost your religious group’s email metrics.

Personalization

Add a name tag at the top of the message to greet your subscribers—and make them feel like this email is specifically for them. That’s especially important with the first message of the series. 

You can also add a name tag to the subject line to catch their eyes. Properly segmenting the subscribers is another important component of ensuring they receive personalized information. 

Keep it short

You have a lot you want to convey to your subscribers—from upcoming events to how they can give back. But, you don’t want to pile all of that information into a single email, which is why an autoresponder series is so useful. If you find the content of your email is going beyond a few paragraphs, either add a “Click here for more information” CTA or split it into multiple emails in the series.

In this example from Passion City Church via Really Good Emails, they cover multiple topics—but they don’t overwhelm the reader with too much information about each one:

Know the goal

Each email autoresponder series needs a single goal so that you can ensure each email is moving them one step closer to achieving it. Without a purpose, the series is a random assortment of emails.

If someone expresses interest in one of your groups or classes, for example, the goal of the email series could be to get them to join that group. The series could start with an email giving a general overview of the group, then give examples and photos of things the group has done, and eventually send them a registration link to sign up.

Monitor metrics—and make changes

Your religious group needs a solid email strategy in place—and setting up an autoresponder campaign can help take your online efforts to the next level. While it’s tempting, don’t simply create and leave them on autopilot forever. Check to see which series or emails are performing the best and worst so you can continuously improve the flow to have the best results.

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