The Church Online: Starting an Email Prayer List

by Michael L. White

In this new feature article for THE AWF CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE, we will address topics in each issue that are relevant to the local churchís endeavors to provide meaningful worship and effective ministry for its parish and community using modern computer technology. Guest articles are welcome, so if you have something you want to contribute here, just submit it to the editor, Andy Ellis.

For this premier issue, I will discuss a ministry that every local church can provide, regardless of size or location. Iím speaking of the creation of a Prayer Chain and Announcements List. My own home church, Tabernacle United Methodist in Dothan, AL, has already been using this approach to the ministry of prayer for more than a year now. A couple of lay women in the congregation volunteer to send email prayer requests and church meetings/events announcements to everyone who has joined the list. Believe it or not, there are even some members of the list who are neither members nor attendees of Tabernacle, though they are connected by family and/or friends who attend there.

The best news about starting a Prayer Chain and Announcements List for your local church is that it requires no additional software or hardware other than your existing personal computer with its Internet Service Provider (ISP) connection and current email software. In other words, if you have an account with any ISP, you can start an email list. However, there are a few "Nettiquette" rules we need to keep in mind before getting started.

  1. Always put your own email address in the "To:" box and enter your "Send To:" email addresses in the blind courtesy copy ("BCC:") box. The BCC option will hide all the addresses on the outgoing message and spare the recipients from a lengthy scroll down the page to the eventual message. To save you a lot of time typing in the addresses each time you send a message, some email programs, like Microsoft Outlook and most of the free web-mail services like Hotmail, Yahoo!, and Excite, allow you to create email groups. If you donít have or want that option, however, I suggest you create a text file containing all the addresses, separated by commas, which you can copy and paste into the BCC box each time you send a message. Using the BCC box also provides email address security from any prying eyes, a VERY important feature in todayís flood of "spam mail"! Yes, all emails can potentially be intercepted and read by unintended recipients, so keep that in mind.
  2. Be sensitive to folksí prayer requests and how you broadcast them. Thereís no need to go into great, intimate detail about matters that may be highly personal. Whether you are the Prayer Chain List manager or one submitting a request, follow the KISS principle: "Keep it simple, Saint."
  3. Try as much as possible to combine multiple prayer requests and announcements into one message to avoid overwhelming your list members with a flood of requests everyday, although you may want to keep your announcements separate from your prayer requests. Many of us get large amounts of email everyday as it is. Increasing that number unnecessarily will cost your recipients valuable time and may even prompt them to delete some messages without reading them.
  4. Finally, use a generic subject title, such as "TUMC Prayer Chain", for all your broadcast messages so your recipients can easily identify them as coming from you. That will help prevent accidental deletions due to mistaken identities as "spam mail".

There are probably many more common sense rules to use in managing a Prayer Chain List, but I think these are likely the most important. Now, all you have left to do is gather the email addresses of those in your local church who are interested in joining your list, and youíll be ready to create your local church email Prayer Chain and Announcements List!

In the next issue, I will address the use of computers and digital video projection in worship services, church administration, and other miscellaneous local church functions. Donít miss it!