There is one area where pastors and ministry leaders seem to consistently fail—answering emails, returning phone calls and following up with people. Well-intentioned clergy become victims of ministry avalanches and succumb to the tyranny of the urgent. Managing disaster is the A game of the pastor. But follow up requires more than reaction it demands standards and planning.
Church communication is not all about logos, artwork and zippy video bumpers posted on Youtube, however useful these are. Human connection and touch matter most in communication and the grass roots response of your email inbox is ground zero. Here are some stories that punctuate this issue:
- A young female worship leader in a town contacted all the local worship leaders for a project to survey us so she could learn and glean. She was the most polite young woman and I loved meeting with her. At the end of our meeting she embarrassingly expressed the fact that out of about 30 or more church worship leaders in our local area, I was the only one who returned her email and phone call.
- Recently, my family and I visited a few churches to explore where we would worship. In one church we filled out those response cards and marked every box, including asking for information on membership. All I got was a weekly spam letter from the pastor. There was no personal response, not even a form letter. Needless to say, we are no longer attending that particular church.
- A pastor I worked with came and sat down in my office with a confession. He took some time off and accumulated 1,600 or so emails only to discover a narrative of one individual. In the early emails to the pastor a man shared his desire to meet about his marriage. Dated weeks later, a couple emails from the man arrived that pleaded further for help. Finally, an email weeks later shared news of his impending divorce. Ouch.
The tragedy in all of this is that a simple response in any of these cases could have been the difference that changed someone’s life. With all the conferences and books on the latest trends and tools for relevancy there is nothing more relevant than answering that email.
Here are some tips to help change the followup culture in your church staff and leadership:
- Every email is answered within the business day or by next morning. CEOs of big companies can do it, so why not you?
- Use an auto-response to your email that states exactly when you will give a response and who that response will be from when unavailable.
- Return phone messages within 24 hours on business days. If you’re not taking calls, be sure to let those leaving a message know this fact and what response they should expect.
- Give out your cell phone to your circle of church leaders.
- Set up a Google account and have people leave phone/text messages for you there. You can email staff or volunteers messages to follow up.
- Set some goals on being “available” to your people. A blog might help or being on Facebook. Social media tools might allow you a personal touch with many, but you have to respond same day or within a day to be effective on it.
Remember above all that it is not about tools but about people.