Spam filters are more strict than ever.

Privacy is becoming a much more mainstream issue as marketers and digital companies push the limits of how they use and abuse data gained from their users. With more and more unsolicited marketing emails hitting inboxes, email providers are strengthening protections from fines by creating extremely sensitive SPAM filters.

The direct result is that how we send bulk email to our congregation has become an art form. As much as we want to see bulk email in the same way we see sending a simple email to our friends, we cannot. It’s not the same.

However, email is still one of the most successful methods for reaching your church weekly (next to text messaging). Even though we may only get 20% of our subscribers to open our emails, it’s still better than the 1-4% impression rate we get on social media.

Many churches report upwards of 30-40% open rates, but we’re always trying to improve, right? One of the most common reasons someone would NOT open your email is because they never actually see it.

The probability that your email will land in someone’s inbox verses the spam folder or trash is called deliverability. The best thing we can do to increase how many people open our email is to do everything we can to make sure they actually get it in the inbox. So we have to keep it out of the spam folder and these 9 best practices will ensure the deliverability of your bulk email is high and positive.

The URL you’re sending from isn’t verified

Do you know what SPF and DKIM stand for? It’s your Sender Policy Framework and Domain Keys Identified Mail. You have to go into your domain’s DNS settings and create records for your email provider. Then, when they populate after about 24 hours, you click verify and if everything was entered correctly, the email provider can classify your domain as verified and inboxes will let your email through.

Sound complicated? Well, depending on who you’re talking to, it is. I think some mail providers like Mailchimp do this easily. Do a Google search for your provider + SPF or DKIM and you’ll find step-by-step guides to updating your DNS records and verifying your email sender.

This will identify your sending URL ( as legitimate instead of possible spam and can do wonders for your deliverability.

You don’t have permission to email them

You can actually be fined up to $16k for putting someone on a mailing list without their consent.

If those who receive your email decide to report you for emailing them without permission, there’s only a certain amount of times that can happen before Gmail flags all of your emails as spam.

The solution to this is to turn on Double Opt-In on your list. How it works is when someone is added to your list, an email is automatically sent to the user’s email asking them to confirm you want to receive emails from the sender (you). If they click yes, it establishes a back and forth connection between the two addresses which labels you as safe in their inbox. If they click no, then you do not get to email them and that’s a good thing.

Low open rates

At the risk of sounding like a scene out of The Terminator, your subscribers’ email providers are learning. Gmail is watching to see if your emails are being opened a lot or if they are being deleted outright. If you have low open rates among a lot of Gmail users on emails sent from your address, Gmail could flag your email/IP address as suspicious or junk.

They aren’t trying to be difficult, but they are thinking about their customer experience first. If it looks like lots of people don’t want to open emails from you then they will protect them from receiving unwanted messages.

Your subject line is deceptive

Catchy or interesting subject lines are the key to getting people to open your emails. However, being deceptive can get you flagged by both the subscriber as well as Gmail. Subject lines like “Hey, I have important information about your dad” or “Your credit is in jeopardy. **Final notice**” are not acceptable.

Too many (large) images

If you have a lot of images, it increases the size of the email. When Gmail sees a huge email, it “thinks” that your email might be something dangerous like a virus. To protect the user, Gmail will move these to the spam folder to prevent the user from opening it.

The default mode for Gmail users is that images are turned off, so whatever you’re sending probably isn’t loading anyway. Users can accept images manually and once that is done, images will go through, however too many can still increase the size of the email to become spammy.

The limit for most emails is 24Mb, which isn’t much, so be careful with your design options. Just because well-designed templates are available doesn’t mean they are always a good idea.

Your reply address, from address, and from name don’t match

When the “From” address and the “Reply to” address don’t match, it is a red flag for most email providers because that’s a common practice of spamming called “phishing.” The sender masks their reply email with what appears to something you might recognize so you’ll reply and get sucked into their spam funnel.

If your “from” email is then that should be your “reply to” email as well. For the “from” name, you may want it to look like it’s from your pastor. Our solution is to write “Pastor John at Your Church” in the “from” name line so that your church name appears in every field to show that you’re legitimate.

Soft and Hard Bounces

A soft bounce is when you send an email to someone whose “out of office reply” is on or the mailbox is full. A hard bounce is when you send an email to an inbox that doesn’t exist at all. If you get a lot of hard bounces, you look like a spammer.

A common practice of spammers is to do what is like a brute force virus attack. They create a lot of different versions of email addresses without knowing if they exist or not and mailing them just to see what comes back. It’s like not knowing someone’s phone number and you first dial 111-111-1111. Then you dial 111-111-1112, then 111-111-1113 until you get it right.

You didn’t include your physical address

This may seem like an odd violation, but it’s actually against CAN-SPAM laws to email someone and not include a physical address in the footer. If you deleted that default footer in Mailchimp, better go put it back. It includes your physical address as well as an unsubscribe link.

You didn’t include an unsubscribe link

The greatest offense of them all. It is a privilege to be able to communicate with our people via their inbox. We should treat it as such. Having no Unsubscribe link is like a dinner guest that comes over, lets himself in, and refuses to go home. This is actually against the law too and will get you fined fast, so make sure have a way to opt-out of your list.

In the American church, our days are numbered on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). We’ve already seen it instituted in Europe and we would be foolish to think that it will not become law here in the near future as well. Start practicing high-standards of marketing now and trust me, your people will thank you for it.

Following these guidelines and best practices can be difficult or confusing. It’s what we help our Church Comm Team partners with every day. How can we help you?