Please Answer Your Email: Improving Follow Up Could Change a Life

Please Answer Your Email: Improving Follow Up Could Change a Life

July 16, 2012 by

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.


Post By:

Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich is a writer, speaker, musician, blogs at and elsewhere, and is a dad of two and married to his best friend. In 2014 he authored the book, The Six Hats of the Worship Leader.
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11 Responses to “Please Answer Your Email: Improving Follow Up Could Change a Life”

  • Kenny Jahng
    July 16, 2012

    Great thoughts. I think there’s probably two biggie issues that stalls people from responding to people this way.

    1) We’re spending all of our times in meetings meetings meetings. I recommend Al Pitampalli’s manifesto against the meeting: Read This Before Our Next Meeting ( ) It is short and sweet.

    2) In seminary, we learn how to read the Bible, but never was taught on how to read our email. Email productivity best practices just aren’t widely know. If you employ some simple approaches to reading and processing your inbox, you can get down to zero every day. Once your inbox is empty, you have the time, and psychological energy to respond.

    Both require discipline. Both come with huge rewards. Being responsive to the people under your care is a big one.

    Kenny Jahng

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  • Jerry Wyckoff
    July 16, 2012

    I have spent over 8 years in full-time ministry (plus 6 years as a volunteer) in addition to my 12 years working in the legal field. I appreciate this article a lot because so many pastors and other church leaders fail to provide the simple common courtesy of a simple reply email or return telephone call. I can think of 3 churches in particular I have contacted within the last 6 months who have either failed to return a phone call, reply to an email, or respond in some way to my inquiry. I always hear from pastors how busy they are, but you know what….. we are all busy. I would never be allowed to do this in the legal field, and it is just common courtesy to reply email or respond to a telephone call in a timely mannor. Even if you personally cannot do it, delegate it out to someone (which means more than telling your secretary to respond by acknowledging the email becuase that is not a real response….if you delegate to someone, then provide them with what needs to be said or the authority to provide a real response on their own).

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  • Jason Mosteller
    July 16, 2012

    Wow. I love this post. I love this “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. ” Wow. If more pastors would see this we would not be losing a generation.

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  • Jonathan Pearson
    July 16, 2012

    The auto response is a big thing. I see a lot of these. More and more. I think it’s great to let people know when you will and won’t be responding. Make you look more dependable and sets sender at ease. Great tips!

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  • Charles Edwards
    July 16, 2012

    Right on Rich, it’s not about the logos, brochures, or the church newsletter or even the website, it’s about the personal touch, always has been, always will be. I wait days and sometimes weeks to get responses to my emails from my own church leadership. So after while you don’t feel like even writing a suggestion or a compliment.
    I send an email to the Senior Pastor of a large Methodist Church in Dallas Texas some time back and he responded within minutes. Total stranger to him, 1000 miles away and it blew me away. No wonder he has been there for 15 years and has 12,000 members or more. The guy knows what works. Great advice.

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  • kendra michelle
    July 17, 2012

    {thanks for the good read and advice!}

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  • Frances Duffy
    July 23, 2012

    I so agree with this mail. As Christians we should set an example of how to deal with others. In our business the people who have been the most difficult and who waste our time have been other Christian businesses. They are the ones who do not reply to mails and phone calls even after repreated contacts being made. Bills are often paid late and again often only after a lot of reminding , phone calls and mails on our behalf. It is very frustrating and a bad witness to secular businesses.

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    • Rich Kirkpatrick
      July 23, 2012

      Witness? You bet. In fact, I recently called some of this behavior “revival killers” because church leaders often forget how “visible” how they communicate and pay their bills reflects on them to the entire community. Business matters because people matter.

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  • Matt
    July 25, 2012

    Great thoughts, people need to be punctual. So frustrating when they are not.

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  • Jason
    March 21, 2013

    Great points…at the end of the day, customer service matters, and we are in the people business. Jesus and people on mission together.

    There’s two sides to this coin…what do you do about the email “noise factor”? As a church grows, countless emails from artists and bands and speakers and book tours and movie releases pour in, all personally addressed and all asking for a response to their desire to partner together. Their mission and every church body’s mission are two separate things, and although they are passing through town the real question is why are we spending so much time responding to these emails that are not requesting spiritual support, equipping, discipleship, prayer, etc. They are a form of sales and solicitation, but we are uncaring or mean if we don’t respond.

    Studies show office workers can spend up to 60+ percent of their time reading and responding to emails. Reading the subject, opening the email, reading it, responding, and recovery time. We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus, connecting with the community He has placed us in, getting away from the computer and into real relationships. Encouraging, equipping, discipling, counseling. So how do we not use a form email for this kind of stuff? Especially considering most average churches don’t have paid assistants with extra time available to respond to these kinds of emails versus the kinds of emails mentioned in Rich’s blog post above?

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  • Susan
    May 23, 2017

    I am so glad someone is discussing this. It has been my personal experience as well as what I’ve heard from others with multiple churches that email follow up from church staff has been non existent. I’m not talking about solicitation emails. I’m talking about a member of the church who is in need or wants to offer help. Yes I understand that churches are typically under staffed, but the irony is that my emails have typically been about the offer of serving! It’s as if I am in a big black hole… Yet we can’t really say anything because the scriptures talk about patience, to not be easily offended and not cause division. Just pray and wait. But aren’t we supposed to have higher standards then the world? Professionally, I have been expected to respond to emails within a 24 hour period- even if I don’t have an answer. Failure to answer leaves one with only doubts about the authenticity and commitment of the staff. And it makes one reluctant to offer help if no one gets back to you.

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