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Touch Management


Church Wellness

Last week I introduced “Rethinking Membership Development.

No longer can congregations focus all of their energies on Sunday morning worship. They can’t just open the door on Sunday and expect people to walk through. The flow of visitors isn’t enough to compensate for attrition, and people’s needs are too varied.

Instead, church leaders must work at reaching people and leading them to affiliating. I laid out a four-stage approach that closely mirrors the ways any sales and marketing effort works.

The stages are:

Touches (people whose lives you touch in some way)
Prospects (touches who have expressed some interest in your mission)
Leads (prospects who are moving toward a decision to affiliate)
Constituents (leads who make a decision to be part of your congregation)

This week: “Touch Management”

A touch has some connection to your congregation, such as shopping at your fall fair, sending a child to your preschool, attending a concert in your nave, playing softball on your fields, serving on a town committee with your pastor, or asking to receive a white paper on some pertinent topic. They know you exist, and they are likely to give you their email address and then read what you send them – if what you send does more than simply announce church events and try to steer them to Sunday worship.

The heart of touch management is a large and dynamic email list. You will want a list of several thousand, and you should be adding to it regularly. Every time someone comes into contact with your church or pastor, you should be getting their email address. You build a list one name at a time. It must be an “opt-in” list, which people have agreed to join and from which they can unsubscribe easily.

Email sent to touches shouldn’t be about church or upcoming events or worship or staff changes. They don’t care about such matters. Email to touches should respond to what you perceive their needs and interests to be.

For example, in an area where racial tension is rising, you could present a dialog among key community leaders, including the police chief. Invite comments. Do it as a service to the community, and show them you care. Don’t draw lines or accuse. Touches will tune you out. Telling half the people they are wrong isn’t a way to nurture relationships.

Look beyond your church walls to see who is out there. Anxious job-holders falling out of the middle class, or young professionals struggling to find work-life balance, retirees filled with financial stress, new immigrants speaking other languages – each audience has unique needs. Your touch-focused newsletter and blog are a way to acknowledge those needs, without trying to channel everything into a decision to attend Sunday worship.

Touch-focused emails should be brief (300 words), covering a single topic, light but not trivial, and focused on building a bridge between pastor and recipient. Avoid church business. Touches don’t care about your institution.

Remember: you will need a comprehensive communications strategy, including at least one weekly newsletter for each group (touches, prospects, et al), a pastor’s blog, and regular postings of videos and photos to social media. Your pastor should make communications a top priority.

Start a database, perhaps a CRM (customer relationship management) program such as Insightly, Zoho CRM, or SalesForce. Use a solid mail service like MailChimp with custom templates for each group to whom you send. I prefer Insightly and MailChimp.

About the Author Tom Ehrich

Tom is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the publisher of Fresh Day online magazine, author of On a Journey and two national newspaper columns. His website is

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