How Messy Churches can make best use of email (and the small print)

Published 23rd September 2014 by Messy Church

A short introduction

Lots of Messy Churches use email to keep members up to date. The aim of this resource is to help churches know a bit about the legal landscape so that any emails you send to members jump through all the legal loopholes.

‘But Messy Church said…’

A short disclaimer: this has been compiled by the web team at BRF, and was written in 2014. We know a good amount about email law as we send a fair number of emails to different lists, but we’re not lawyers. If there’s something you’re not sure about you should read the regulations for yourself. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 make fascinating reading if you’re struggling to get to sleep. The advice hereunder (pretending to sound like a lawyer) comes partly from this, but also is informed by our wider knowledge.

Each country has its own set of regulations – CAN-SPAM in the US probably being the most well-known.

What’s email?

Might sound like a daft question, and it is. This is just to say that electronic mail also includes text, video, sound, images or other new-fangled ways of communicating that might be invented as soon as I finish writing this. So if you do text reminders about Messy Church to a list then the same rules apply.

What do Messy Church emails fall under?

Messy Church emails, like any church communication email, are classified as marketing emails. When the regulations say ‘marketing material by electronic mail’ this includes an email that says ‘Hey, our next Messy Church is this Thursday’.

Some terminology

Subscriber = the person who gets your email
List = the list of people who get this email
Best practice = stuff to read carefully through…

Best practice in a nutshell

  • Don’t send unsolicited emails – each and every subscriber on your list has to opt in to being there. When you collect email addresses it therefore needs to be clear exactly what a subscriber is opting in for. (If you thought you were opting in for a news update and got sales emails you’d be rightly annoyed).  [The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003]
    • Aside: if someone emails you to find about Messy Church and says they would like to come along, this is not an opt-in to getting your marketing email. But it is a good opportunity to say ‘Would you like to be on our list so we can tell you when the next Messy Church is?’
  • Your identity needs to be clear when sending the email – so each and every email you send to your list on behalf of your Messy Church must include your name and full address of the church and any other useful information – for example a phone number, Twitter, Facebook page etc. [The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003]
  • Every email you send to the list needs to include a method to unsubscribe from the list. This can be as simple as saying ‘If you don’t want to receive these emails any more please reply with “Unsubscribe” as the subject’.  [Data Protection Act, CAN-SPAM]
  • You need to look after your list – updating email address details when these change (i.e. My new email address is and honouring unsubscribe requests punctually (CAN SPAM gives you ten days, Data Protection Act says within a ‘reasonable period’ but in our view tolerance for continuing to get emails when people have asked to unsubscribe is diminishing).
  • To make admin easier there should be one list (to rule them all…), so you’ll need to designate someone to be responsible for this in your Messy Church leadership team. Trying to concurrently maintain several lists is a bad idea and wastes time (speaking from experience)
  • When you send an email to a list, you need to BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) the email to all recipients. A few reasons for this:
  1. The person who subscribed asked to get Messy Church emails from you, not have their details shared with everyone. There’s a very real data protection issue here.
  2. If you send an email to everyone copied in, then someone might press the reply all button… and if a few people do this then the email turns into something we all want to avoid: spam.
  3. Spammers like finding whole lists of email addresses to spam. Ensuring you use BCC makes it harder for them.

Common sense things

  • Have a dedicated email address for your Messy Church. It doesn’t matter whether it is an email address linked to your Church website (messychurch@stpeters.etc) or a Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail etc.
  • Make sure the email account login details are known by more than one person – just in case.
  • If you have the details stored in a spreadsheet on a computer, make sure the computer is password protected and has antivirus software up to date on it – do to your neighbour(‘s personal details) as you would like them do to yours.

A useful tool

Lots of churches and mission partners are starting to use Mailchimp for prayer letters and news. It has a free account for smaller lists and helps with lots of things, including legalities and making sure emails display nicely on a wide range of devices.