By Danielle Ripley-Burgess
An email from a pastor at our church broke through my cluttered inbox with a powerful message that went beyond its few words.
I’d been on a group email with Pastor Dave and several others who were helping start up a new small group at my house. In an effort to communicate all the details involved for our new group, we began to email one another to confirm logistics and ask questions.
In the midst of our email chain, a training document was referenced—something the church had previously put together for new leaders like my husband and me. It was a document we’d not seen before, or knew to ask about. So, I emailed Pastor Dave.
I responded to our group, “The coaching tool sounds neat, how do we go about accessing that?”
In less than an hour, he emailed to respond to my question and included an attachment that I reviewed later that night.
Rarely in my experience as a working professional had communicating via email with a ministry leader followed such a fast pace and quick turnaround. The exchange was similar to something I’d expect from people at work, but not from church.
I wasn’t only impressed, but a little (pleasantly) surprised.
And as I processed why his email stood out so much in the middle of my crowded inbox, I realized his quick communication with me did more than empower me as a leader. It also made me I feel loved, seen, and heard by my church during the work day.
Since that initial email exchange with my pastor, I’ve become passionate about helping put words to the invisible, often unspoken, etiquette that lives in the world of email.
I believe one way to serve and love others well is to simply communicate well. And with 3.8 billion (and counting!) email users in the world, email is a critical mode for churches to utilize when connecting with the church family.
I’ve also recognized that not all pastors and church leaders have worked in the same email-relient environments as many working professionals, and many may be unaware of the communication that can shepherd a career-minded congregation member well.
For anyone wanting to gain insight into email culture, here’s a few tips I’ve learned and can offer.
1. Prompt email replies make people feel valued.
The first advice I received as an ambitious, 22-year-old account coordinator was to reply to emails within 24 to 48 hours. And while not every industry and workplace runs on the same adrenaline and expectation as an advertising agency, it’s proven to be helpful advice.
I can’t explain it, but we often feel important when someone gets back to us right away. Even when replies are quick and along the lines of, “Received; working on it,” or “Thanks for sending. I’ll pray and get back to you,” the confirmation of receipt validates the sender.
That’s why Pastor Dave’s email meant so much that day. He responded to my question not just within a day, but within less than an hour. While this isn’t always feasible (I don’t always follow the pace myself), it’s a good goal to keep in mind.
The more prompt a reply, the better.
2. Eliminating the follow-up email is an act of service.
Unfortunately, in any environment, it’s common for people to not respond to emails. In families, businesses and congregations, some people just don’t email back.
In fact, there’s task management software in the workplace that automates email follow ups because it’s expected that people won’t respond. I think we all know that follow ups are important, yet they take time and energy. A task to nudge, circle-back and “bump up” in the inbox will often rest on someone’s shoulders.
While everyone deserves grace and gentle reminders, it’s powerful when the communication flows so well that a follow-up email isn’t needed. When our pastor replied with an attachment, without me needing to prompt it, he served me and honored my time.
3. Emails offer clarity and handlebars.
The actual attachment that came by way of the email exchange provided a helpful structure and guidance for serving. The document contained a checklist and suggested questions for our team. It was a file I could easily download and open. It made the expectations of leading a small group crystal clear.
As a working mom juggling career and home responsibilities—on top of leading a new small group—the clarity brought me peace and confidence. I can do this, I thought, after reading through the material.
I appreciated the succinct email that gave me specific steps and didn’t flood me with information not relevant to the topic at hand. This was similar to the tone and flow of my everyday work emails, and I appreciated it.
4. Emails can often be a preferred mode of connection.
I email a lot for work. It’s how I often communicate with clients, receive tasks and share feedback. Out of many of the modes of communication—calls, texts, social media, snail mail, online community notifications—I like email if we’re discussing resources and tools because I can remember where to find the tool and easily print it out.
When our group decided to email with the pastor, it meant a lot that the pastor replied via email. He didn’t call to discuss my question because he preferred talking on the phone. He also didn’t send us a message on a different platform he liked better.
Sometimes a change of mode is necessary in ministry when sensitive topics come up, but oftentimes when it’s training or small questions, sticking with the preferred mode is ideal—especially if it’s email.
5. Including others through a “cc” builds unity.
Our team turned to email because six of us needed to get on the same page and share resources. As we all emailed, many messages went back and forth with clarifications, requested attachments, and appreciation.
Because everyone used the “cc” function of the email, everyone on the message received the information and tools at the same time. We all felt included—like we were crucial part of this ministry effort. We didn’t have “side conversations” happening in email.
The day Pastor Dave took a moment out of his day to quickly respond to my email, I was on the receiving end of a small act that made the biggest difference. His small act of service was rooted in an intention to communicate well—which in turn, can be a ministry unto itself.
A short email reply can send a loud message to those you lead.
DANIELLE RIPLEY-BURGESS (@DanielleisB) is a Kansas City-based award-winning communications professional. She is a two-time colon cancer survivor and the author of Unexpected: 25 Advent Devotionals.