Are email newsletters dead?


Some of you know that I’ve been very active in church communications for the last decade or so. I’ve been involved in parish, diocesan and national work as part of that. The one thing I’ve learned over the past ten years is that communications is rapidly changing, and that we’re ALL struggling to keep up with the crest of the wave.

Ten years or more ago the idea of using email to regularly communicate with members of a parish or a diocese was a radically innovative idea. I did a lot of fast talking getting various parts of the church to get involved in using that technology.

But things are changing. Good email is being inundated and drowned in unwanted spam. Users haven’t all learned how to deal with too many emails. ISP’s and mail servers are starting to just reject mail if they’re too busy to be able to receive it. And the sender has no idea if the message is read or not.

The nice folks over at Media Salt ask the question about whether or not it’s time to move beyond emailed communications:

“Do you regularly read the email newsletters that end up in your inbox? I know I don’t. Even if I sign myself up intentionally, I’ll skim the first message I receive (maybe) and will then ignore all of the rest. They even begin to annoy me over time, requiring me to unsubscribe or just block the message as spam. Just like ads online, my eyes are  in the habit of ignoring the newsletters in my inbox.

Am I saying that email communication all together is a bad idea? Not at all. I understand the importance of occasional email blasts for special events and promotions. I just feel that the weekly newsletter format is an outdated way to push out your information online.”

Read the full article here.

Email is a push medium – the message is pushed out the recepient. As such there’s “friction” in its transmission. You have to format the note correctly. The servers all have to be working. The receivers computer must be working. The receiver must be ready to read your message.

There are other techniques. Facebook, RSS (real-simple-syndication), twitter for example are all pull media. The user tells the computer to go get interesting things when they’re ready or interested in reading them. As such there’s less friction to getting your message out there.

Is it time to pull the plug on email newsletters? Probably not. The one thing I have learned is that absolute answers don’t work during a time of rapid transition. (There’s a theological side to that too, I should blog about that.) So we’re going to be best served with a both/and solution for a while. Email newsletters and RSS feeds.

Sort of what I’m doing here. (See the upper right hand corner under the mast head.) Not that I have lots of readers (about 400-500 a day) but the ones I have use direct page loading, facebook, email and RSS feeds about equally.

And I’m glad you do. Thanks. Now go and see if you can convince the folks in your church or diocese to do something similar. Grin.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. I think it needs to be both/and and and and and. There’s still folks in this congregation who don’t have internet. We still do a traditional (top quality)newsletter and people eat it up. I think there are still many people who will read the whole thing if it’s in their hands, but aren’t about to print it out, or read it on the monitor. I don’t know of anyone in the congregation on Facebook or Twitter! (Yea, it’s the older demographic)

  2. We do all of it – but, we are changing the way we do mailings. In 2010 our monthly newsletter will become a quarterly newsletter with a different agenda. We mail monthly postcards that highlight the 5 major events of the month. We send out weekly email newsletters – out of 550 subscribers I know that 45-50% of those subscribers open it. (we have a service that provides that info) We also have a church facebook page, web page, blog… all trying to reach different segments of our population. And still I get – “why didn’t I know about that?”

  3. Martin says

    I’m not surprised by this news at all, but I also think there’s a strong generational component with this. Am I right in thinking that new communications methods move up the age ladder in adoption from youngest to oldest? Perhaps this is only saying the obvious.
    Besides the cumbersome nature of it, I wonder if print media is a more effective way of getting the word out about what’s going on in churches to many of the folks who aren’t reading their E-mails.
    At the same time, I think there’s a “if you build it, they will come” kind of thing also. If the content is good, and people see that the communication source is consistent, people will seek the news out.

Comments are closed.