three colored pixels arranged to form an abstract D

Digital Essentials for Missionaries

How & Why Missionaries Should Build Their Email List

The tension is real.

Building resiliency in your support base is essential to longevity in the mission field. But the methods that create resiliency often feel like self-promotion. And if I know missionaries, we are allergic to self-promotion.

The internet says you have to be a guru, ninja, or rock star to build your email list. This just isn’t the case. Sincerity, humility, and quality are the traits that make for a resilient email list that provides support and encouragement for the long haul.

It’s important to grow a large email list

When the main funding source of missionaries flipped from a few churches with big budgets to a bunch of individuals with smaller ones, the number of partnerships a single missionary unit fosters exponentially increased.

If you are raising support, that financial burden has to be spread across and shouldered by a lot of people. As you know, personal budgets are always in flux. People will have to cut back on their support at times or even stop altogether. You don’t want that to determine your longevity in the field.

Email is incredibly effective as a call-to-action tool. It’s wonderful, really. When support wanes and you put out the signal via email, you want a the right people to receive it and respond. That requires not only a diverse list but also a big one.

Like how big?

It depends how much support you need. If you are producing quality emails and nurturing the relationships on your list, you should expect fairly high engagement. If you put out a call-to-action asking for year end support, you might expect somewhere around 20% of your list to respond with a gift (this would be a great percentage, by the way, and probably out of reach for impersonal brands/ministries).  So if you have a list of 100, 20 people may make a donation. Now of that 20, there will be a spectrum of gift sizes.

You can see, as long as you are building a meaningful list, it kind of comes down to a numbers game. The larger your list the more people will be in that 20%.

As a general idea, I think most missionaries could work toward a list of 600-1,000 meaningful subscribers. This size of a list will provide resiliency and probably prove itself as your most valuable communications asset for the long run.

5 steps to grow your email list without selling out

First step: write down the contact email addresses of 10 people who you think may be interested in subscribing. Don’t think too hard about this. Put their information into a Google Sheets document along with any specific notes about why you think they may be interested as well as anything that is interesting about them that you could discuss.

Step two: Write personal emails to all 10 of them. Something like the following:

“Hi [their name]! I hope you’re doing well. [Question about that thing in their life you’re interested in]. As you may know, I’m working on building a support team for [ministry you’ll be involved with]. No pressure at all, but I thought you might be interested in signing up for my newsletter? If so, you can either just let me know or just sign up at this form here [a link to your MailChimp subscription form]. Either way, it would be awesome to catch up soon!”

Step three: Send out personal emails to 10 more people!

Step four: Create an easy URL for your MailChimp subscription form.  Use a service like to shorten it and include it in your email signature, business cards, prayer cards, even in conversations!

Step five: Send good emails. The best way to grow any community (including a subscriber list!) is to nurture the connections you already have. Sending quality email with compelling stories helps you build your list two ways: 1) people will share it and 2) people won’t unsubscribe.

It really is that simple…and hard. Realistically, most people don’t get past step two. In a flurry of excitement, you may grow your list to twenty people if you get to step three. However, steps four and five are hard.

Really hard. Especially if you’ve never experienced the power of a diverse, resilient email list fulfilling a pressing support need.

Maybe the arguments below can persuade you to put in the work.

I believe email is the best tool for a resilient communications and support building foundation. Here’s why:

Email is focused

A status update to a Facebook account with 400 friends is not the same as an email to a list of 400 subscribers. They both may have their place at the communications table, but when it comes to asking for support, email will almost always win on two fronts: impression and conversion.

Impression: of those 400 facebook friends, only a small percentage will even see the post you made (like 6% of them). Compare that to an average open rate impression of 25% through an email (it’s probably closer to 50% if you are a person and not a brand).

Conversion: Conversion is when someone follows through with what you’ve asked them. It ends up being a percentage of total impressions. So the more impressions you have, the more conversions. But some channels also have higher conversion rates.

Email is one of those channels. Look at these engagement rates:

  • Email click through rate: 3.57%
  • Facebook like, share, comment: 0.07%
  • Twitter like, retweet, comment: 0.03%

Email is stable

While social networks change (or at least attitudes about them do), email has been around quietly doing its job for over 30 years.  I mean, when did you get your first email address? For me, it was quarterbackstud40@hotmail back in junior high. Email isn’t going anywhere (despite what some would wish upon it).

Email is universal

While Facebook touts its billion+ users, every single one of those users need to have an email address as well. In fact, of the 7.6 billion residents of Earth, 3.6 billion have email addresses.

Email respects personal data and attention

In recent years it email has become one of the few marketing channels that can scale to the volume of your contacts while still respecting their data. With no other requirement besides an email address, people grant permission for you to send them messages to their inbox. No Google tracking code. No cookies installed in their browser.

As a result of this prudence, the general feeling about email is pretty strong and people generally prefer it over other channels.