Most of us are used to corresponding by email. Quickly, it has become the primary form of communication for most of our congregations. And, of course, we may not have thought of all the fine points of etiquette for church email yet. So here’s what I’ve come up with:
First, keep bulk emails to a minimum. People don’t enjoy email spam, and if an organization keeps sending out frequent electronic messages, then the receiver will begin to delete the message before opening it. In order to keep this from happening, avoid using a bulk congregational email more than once per week. When using bulk mail, put the list on blind copy (bcc).
Second, be considerate with prayer requests. Although email can be a powerful force in getting prayer requests out to a large number of people, there is some danger involved. If you have a large, exhaustive email list that includes people who are not members of the congregation, you may want to rethink before sending out a message that an elderly woman is in the hospital again. The information could be disseminated to people who are not trust-worthy, and you may be putting her in possible peril.
Third, respond quickly. We live in a society where a person can call a utility company and expect to spend forty-five minutes on the phone, waiting for a human being to answer. Even when they try to mesmerize the caller with muzak and the hypnotic message, “Your call is very important to us. Please continue to hold. It will be answered in the order in which it was received.” The person who is holding knows clearly that their call is absolutely not important to them, or else they would hire more people to answer the calls. The utility company can get away with this because they do not see us face-to-face.
As a society, we’ve learned that evading people can be simple when using impersonal forms of communication (whether we mean to or not). So, as pastors, we can answer emails immediately, whenever possible. Of course, on our days off, we cannot be expected to answer them, but on all other days, a good goal is to answer them immediately if we’re at the computer, and within twenty-four hours if we’re not.
Fourth, when receiving a bulk email that needs a response, reply only to the sender. You wouldn’t want to crowd everyone’s box with superfluous information.
Fifth, a pastor can claim email bankcruptcy. What do you think about this one? When a pastor comes home from leave or vacation, and our inbox is completely filled with thousands of letters, and we know that there will be no conceivable way to catch up, should we be able to declare email bankruptcy? In others words, tell the congregation that we’ll read the email, but we won’t be able to respond? Or something like that… I’m not sure of the details….
What would you add to the list? Are there some you disagree with? What is it about email that drives you crazy? What do you like about it? Should it always be treated as personal correspondence between the sender and the receiver? If so, what about forwarding? Should people be allowed to forward indiscriminately?