I heard it again last weekend: another story from one of our guests who had contacted someone about something, and that someone never got back with them.
Nor did the next someone.
Or the next.
Or the next.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a staff member, a ministry leader, or a volunteer. Allowing people to fall through the cracks is an all too real phenomenon in our churches. And before you check out of this post and write this off as a “big church” problem, you should know that this happens at churches of all sizes, every single day. A phone message gets lost. An email gets forwarded and reassigned and ultimately forgotten. A meeting request goes unanswered.
It’s happened to me, too. More times than I can count. I’ve been on both sides: the guy who falls through the cracks, and the guy who allows it to happen.
Can we totally eradicate it? Maybe not. Churches are made up of systems, structures, and people, and all three are going to be imperfect. But because people are the mission, we can’t hide behind an imperfect system and expect that “connect attrition” is just a sad reality. Nope, we have to be ever-diligent, knowing that every request carries a world of weight to the person who makes it.
So here are five things that we can do to (hopefully) keep our people from getting lost in the system:
- Figure out your preferred communication style. I talked about this recently, but it carries weight here: you need to know what process will get your attention. For me, I’m really good at answering emails. But I forget all about voice mails, texts, and Post-It Notes. The trick is to get my “non-preferred” system to match up with my preferred system. (And yes, I may or may not have emailed myself the details of a voice mail before, just so I’ll be sure to handle it later. #nerd)
- Respond within 24 hours. Don’t let a “simple” request get buried under other things. Be insanely vicious about getting back with someone within one business day. Even if you don’t have the information they’re looking for right then, you should let them know (a) you’re working on it and (b) when they can expect to hear from you. And by all means, make use of your out of office reply. If you’re going to be out on a weekday, you should let folks know that.
- Take, don’t point. I’m ripping this right out of Mark Waltz’s First Impressions book. It’s intended for the weekend experience, but it equally applies here. You’re not Mr. Answer Person for every request that comes through. But rather than saying “It’s not my problem, here’s who you need to speak to,” go the extra mile. Email the right person on their behalf, cc’ing the asker. Set up a meeting. Walk them over. Do whatever it takes to make sure you’re not adding an unnecessary, burdensome step.
- Follow up. Whether you’re personally handling the request or asking someone else to, set a reminder for a day or a week or a month to make sure the asker got connected. This is where I blow it. For me, it’s “out of sight, out of mind” far too often. I replied to the email or returned the phone call or made the connection, so I assume everything is hunky dory. But that’s not good enough. Make sure you circle back around at some point in the near future.
- Set a structure for accountability. Great guest services and communication practices are everyone’s job within a church. We can talk all day about org charts and ministry departments and jurisdictional leadership, but if someone isn’t responding to requests, that’s everyone’s problem. So light a fire. Ask the question. Shake things up. Make sure this isn’t just a new practice for you, but for your entire team: paid staff, volunteer leadership, everybody.
What did I miss? Are there other items you’d suggest? And … (deep breath) … how have I / we violated this with you? Are there open loops that I can help close? Comment below or contact me via email. It’s my preferred style, you know.