How to Make Your Church E-mails Work

I am under no delusions that pastors think of things like their church sending emails as much as I do. But I do think pastors should have a helpful little cheat-sheet primer available to share with their team so churches can stop being blatant email spammers. This primer is concise and doesn’t pull out all the technical stops. This is for pastors, not IT directors. Having said that, this should spur some discussions at churches that need to review how they’re handling mass emails.


“Hear ye, hear ye! We have something going on in our women’s ministry that we think everyone should hear about!” said no town crier, ever. And yet, I’d say just about all of us men in churches have received an email about a women’s ministry event (or vice versa). It’s the same thing: Someone is making noise to get my attention even though what they’re saying isn’t really directed at me, personally.

There’s a very high chance the various ministries and departments of your church are sending out emails independent of each other, blissfully unaware poor John Doe has received 19 emails in the span of three days from his church.

Unintentional spam happens frequently in churches that don’t coordinate the sending of mass emails and use a master email database and editorial calendar.

Even church management software companies are not exempt from this issue, though the database of people is consistent. Many of these software programs do not offer a way to easily manage and understand the frequency of emails to prevent unintentional spam. Someone on your team has to manage mass emails—all mass emails—or you’ll end up spamming your attendees and visitors.


Back in 2003, the U.S. government passed the CAN-SPAM Act. The idea was to limit spam, but what happened was they simply legalized spam, as long as the sender followed some simple rules. And, yes, churches are subject to these rules as nonprofits. The main flaw is it allows for unsolicited commercial email to be sent as long as it includes an opt-out option, a valid subject line and a working return email address.

Opt-out—a link that, with only one click, allows the recipient to be removed from the sender’s email database. The sender has up to 10 days to make this happen.

Here’s my problem with opt-out for churches: Your church is basically saying: Because you gave us your email address somewhere at some time in the past, we reserve the right to email you as much as we want. Your only recourse is to force us to stop emailing you.” How endearing.

Opt-in—Simply put: Email that is explicitly requested by the recipient.

If I sign up to get emails from the men’s ministry, my expectation is to ONLY receive email from that department and no others. If I sign up for generic church-wide emails, I don’t expect to have my email address shared across all ministries. This is completely reasonable, but chances are, once my email address is in any kind of system, it’s fair game for any staff member to add me to their mass emails. That’s probably going to feel like spam to me.

There are also these things called single opt-in and double opt-in. In short: A single opt-in means actions were taken to sign up for the email in question. The term double opt-in means the subscriber has actively confirmed their subscription, typically by responding to an automatic email asking to confirm subscription to this particular group/ministry/event/mass email.

I’ll let you and your IT staff debate the finer points of single opt-in versus double opt-in.


Look, I’m simply trying to bring up what may be a touchy subject for more than a few of your people. I realize some of your current systems (such as email through your Church Management Software [ChMS]) make this less-than-easy. The idea here is to create awareness, review your current mass email procedures and policies and consider not being that spamming church.