We want people to respond to what we communicate to them, we want them to show up and participate. Yet, again and again, I hear from those who are challenged emotionally and spiritually because people on the church staff do not respond to emails. Here are some recent ones (identifying details are modified so as not to embarrass any individual or church as we can all be guilty of these things):
"I wanted to sponsor some of the youth group going to camp and it was not an insignificant amount of money. I also had some other things I wanted to give the group and as I went over my email I realized it wasn't clear that a lot of money was involved with the various offers and a few questions I had. However, the youth pastor took days and no response. I recopied it and sent it again with a nice "I'm sorry I bothered, and you may have missed this....." I got an extremely short reply, basically rejecting my offer. I don't think he actually read the email. I am NEVER again going to support this person and my money will go elsewhere.
I had a really important question about an issue that came up with our small group. I emailed the pastor who is supposed to be in charge of all this and still no reply. I'm trying hard not to call and yell. We just had a budget approval time and our church pays people really well and I don't understand why they don't answer emails.
I sent in the requested material so the communications person could add our Sunday School topics to the church weekly email newsletter. No acknowledgment it was received. It wasn't put into the newsletter. I don't know what to do.
I could go on and on with comments from many churches, but all of them have the same question, and concern--"Why does the church staff not answer email?"
Let's look at why this is happening and positive ways to improve the situation.
I know everyone is incredibly busy and it's hard to answer emails to the staff but. . . . .
When I started my first job as a waitress at Tasty House, a wonderful little family-owned cafe, one of the first pieces of advice my boss gave me was, "ALWAYS acknowledge people. No matter how busy you are, let them know you see them and will get to them as soon as possible. It affirms them as a person and they will appreciate it—and probably your tip will be better!"
It was not only great advice for a starting server but for all of life.
When you let people know you see them, you got their message, even if you can't answer in detail (and none of the people above needed a lengthy theological answer, a less than 5-minute response would have been adequate), take the time to respond.
If you don't—it says, "You don't matter. Your concern doesn't matter."
Do you think that after that any of the people above are going to happily listen to anything else the staff person does? Oh, of course as Christians we hope they forgive, forget and go on, but often if a person ignores people once they will do it again and after a few times the person asking questions will stop. They may even quit going to your church or church in general.
We might put a response like that that in the category of a bad attitude or unforgiving spirit, yet there may be great pain or a need or sadness behind what seemed a simple request or question on the surface. To ignore it may cause more pain than we realize and a tender heart may not easily get over it.
Practical suggestions for email challenges
Don't put email addresses of staff on the website or in other church directories unless you have a clear staff policy of when they will be answered.
If the staff person prefers to not answer emails and prefers texts, that is perfectly OK, but be clear that is the situation and give a number they can be texted to.
As for a staff policy, ask that all emails be responded to within 24 hours. If a person on staff is unable or unwilling to do this, have someone else check their emails regularly and work out how to respond. My dear husband does not answer emails--never has, never will in all our ministry endeavors, though he is happy to get questions and requests via email I regularly check his email and respond for him, letting people know that's what I'm doing.
Concluding thoughts about answering emails to church staff ASAP
This isn't a little thing. People are precious, their concerns and questions are important. If we ignore their emails, we are ignoring them and that can hurt a heart, in addition to being frustrating.
I didn't write this simply to scold, but to remind us all (myself included) that in this as in so many areas of life and service if we are faithful in small things, the Lord can trust us with greater things. If we fail in small areas, how can He trust us in larger ones?
If we want people to respond to our requests, our communications, our texts, and emails, we need to first honor them by responding to theirs. That may be one of the most important and effective communications we send out.
Most of all, it is definitely a way to show love, honor, and respect to the people God has given us to serve.
Please share your thoughts, comments, questions!