Who is answering your church email? That question is perhaps the most important one you will consider today if you are a church leader. If you are not a church leader, you might want to forward this post to your leader. There are of course many other more important questions you will answer on different days, but may I humbly suggest that this question is a vital one if you want to see your church growing.
I suspect that this will surprise you greatly, but over the past several months I have discovered a very strange phenomena. It is a not that infrequent an event for a reader to contact me about whether I know of a church in their area that might have a similar set of values to what they read on my blog. Often, of course, I am at a loss to know where to send someone. But with the aid of some church search websites run by various groups of churches, I sometimes think, “I know just the place.” I then email the relevant church in the hope of organizing an introduction. So far, so unsurprising.
What never ceases to astonish me is how frequently it is that I then get no response.
Perhaps some churches have an overzealous spam filter, but I doubt that is the problem. I can assure you my emails are not of the “I want to give you a million pounds towards your ministry if you will just give me your bank details…” variety!
I suspect that the issue is that the church email is just a task that gets buried under everything else. Often from the church website, especially in a small church, it looks as if the email is going direct to the pastor, which is probably a very bad idea. Managing email is probably going to be a fairly onerous task in even a small church. In a growing church it will be a massive undertaking. But why would we want to turn away a potential visitor before they even get to the church?
How can we improve on this and make it easier.
1. Understand how important it is that email is answered. If your church website is the new front door, email is a vital bridge that some surfers will use before they take the plunge to visit your church. Do make sure first of all by the way that there is an email address for people to contact listed on your site.
2. Delegate. Most pastors will be busy people. You should be busy people. Find someone that can screen emails that arrive at your churches email address. Choose wisely. They must be someone you can trust. You can still have a private email address for more sensitive items. Make sure they understand precisely how you want them to reply to different kinds of email. Maybe even agree some canned standard replies.3. Use Google Mail or something similar. Gmail can be set up on your server via the google apps service which for less than fifty accounts is free. Or you can use a personal gmail account (perhaps forwarding a more professional looking email address onto it). Gmail has an excelent spam filter and its new priority inbox sorts mail for you into what it thinks are important emails based on your pattern of replying or not. You can also star your email that is important and warrants a reply.
4. Ensure all email is replied to within a day of receipt. In general (and in my personal case) if you don’t reply within a couple of hours you will probably never reply at all. I should admit that I do not manage to quickly answer all my email, but I do not have a PA to help me and I am not a church seeking to grow!
5. Arrange to send a follow up email to an enquirer a week or so later, especially if they intended to visit your church. People often have good intentions but don’t quite make it the first week they mean to go. A friendly email that says “I looked out for you, but not sure if you made it or not” will be warmly received and may just prompt the potential visitor to come back.
6. Consider calling the enquirer. To be honest a phone call is probably much more friendly and engaging than an email. If they have a phone number on their email signature why not ring it and say “I saw your email and thought I would give you a ring” Alternatively, make sure your churches phone number is in your signature and in your reply invite them to call the office for more information about the church. The personal impact of communication is clearly as follows face-to-face > telephone > physical letters > email.