As a pastor I have a love-hate relationship with e-mail

Dos & Don’ts of Good E-mail Communication

As a pastor, I have a love-hate relationship with e-mail

by Gary Combs

Dos & Don’ts of Good E-mail Communication
As a pastor, I have a love-hate relationship with e-mail

by Gary Combs

ON THE ONE HAND, I can’t remember what life was like without e-mail. I use it everyday. E-mail represents a large percentage of my communication with our church members and staff. I don’t know what I’d do without it.

On the other hand, I hate e-mail. I sometimes wish it had never been invented. Discovering 97 e-mails in my inbox on Monday morning, after not checking it on Sunday, fills me with dread. Just knowing they’re in the inbox, waiting for me, I can barely work on anything else.

And I’m sure we’ve all opened the e-mail bomb that blows up our attitude for the day. It’s just too easy to press “send” on a critical comment that wasn’t given enough thought.

So, I’ve developed some “do’s” and “don’ts” of how to use e-mail. I even teach these to our staff and church leaders so they can maximize their communication too. Here they are:

DO: Use e-mail to keep everyone informed. We use weekly e-mail newsletters, or “e-zines,” to keep our people informed. Many of our ministry teams — the youth, the worship team and others — put out weekly e-zines. We send out a church-wide e-zine every Thursday that promotes the upcoming weekend events and sermon series. It offers news articles, calendar information, prayer concerns and other items of interest to our members. We try to keep the e-zine short so people will read it.

We also use the e-zine to promote our church website by putting only the first paragraph of an interesting article on the e-zine, with a “Read more…” tab. Readers can mouse-click to continue reading the item on our website.

We use a professional provider for our church-wide e-zine. It offers special templates, ease of use, multiple-contact-list storage, and usage tracking. It’s helpful to see how many “opens,” “bounces” and “click-throughs” our e-zines get. Although it might be discouraging for the pastor to learn that of the e-zines “opened,” only 25 percent “clicked through” to read his article, it’s still good information to have for improving communication.

DON’T: Assume e-mail keeps everyone informed. E-mail is just one form of communication. You can never over-communicate. People are always down on what they’re not up on — so keep them “up” on everything. Use e-mail, but don’t forget to use the church bulletin, pulpit announcements, scroll PowerPoint announcements before and after the service, mail fliers, etc. People often don’t ‘get it’ until they’ve heard something multiple times. Plus, as strange as it might seem in this modern age, not everyone has e-mail.

DO: Use e-mail to share facts. E-mail is great at this. Use it to attach the minutes from your last board meeting to all the board members. Send your sermon notes to the small-groups pastor, so he or she can write the facilitator questions for next week’s groups. (These will be sent out to all small-group facilitators via e-mail, too.) Attach recent photos from church event when you e-mail to the webmaster so they can be posted to the website.

DON’T: Use e-mail to correct or criticize someone. E-mail is terrible at this. It just doesn’t work well with anything that has the potential for emotional misunderstanding. I’ve made the mistake of offering criticism via e-mail. I thought I had mixed in the appropriate number of “warm fuzzies” before delivering my “cold prickly” by email, but the recipient totally misunderstood. They sent a very angry e-mail in response.

Rather than continue with a string of ever-escalating replies, I chose to phone the individual. Just adding the tone of voice to the context of the conversation changed everything.

That’s the thing: e-mail has no tone of voice and no visual cues. Communicating by phone — or better yet, in person — is much more effective when offering correction.

DON’T: Use e-mail when you’re angry. This seems an obvious addition to the above suggestion, but it’s just too easy to hit the “send” button. Letters have to be licked and stamped, but not e-mail.

Plus, e-mail has a dangerous second life. The recipient might decide to keep the e-mail and read it over and over again, constantly stirring them up. Or worse, they might decide to forward it to others in the church without the sender’s permission. (By the way, if you ever receive an angry e-mail, the “delete” button is just as easy to reach as the “send” button.)

DO: Use e-mails to get urgent information out quickly. We use e-mail “blasts” to quickly notify our members of something that needs their immediate attention. For instance, we’ll send out a very short e-mail that reads like a press release to inform of a member’s death and funeral arrangements. This keeps as many people as possible in the loop when something like this happens during the week.

DON’T: Let e-mail control you. Designate a portion of your day to e-mailing. Many e-mail providers and programs have an e-mail notification that includes a “ding” sound, like a bell, followed by an onscreen message that says, “You have a new email in your inbox. Would you like to open it now?”

One of the best things I’ve ever done to improve my time management is to turn off that automatic e-mail notification. I have a secretary for my phone calls (and an answering machine, too), but why do I have to read every e-mail as it arrives? I don’t. It can wait until the time I’ve allotted to reading it.

When properly used, e-mail helps me save time by letting me budget when and how much time I want to devote to correspondence that day.

DO: Add e-mail as an important tool to your communications tool box. E-mail is a wonderful tool when properly used. It’s great at keeping people informed, sharing factual information, making everyone aware of urgent needs quickly, and it can be a great time management tool, too. Just remember: It shouldn’t be the only tool in your tool box.

Some things require a different touch. A hand-written card is always more powerful when we want to communicate our care. A conversation over a cup of coffee is always preferred when offering a gentle correction. E-mail should be used where it works best. Don’t overuse it, or use it inappropriately, just because it’s easy to use.

For those of us in the ministry, we recognize communication as one of our primary jobs. When we learn the proper use of e-mail as one of the many tools at our disposal, we can use it to greatly improve our task of getting the word out and keeping the people informed.

Gary Combs is the founding/lead pastor at Wilson Community Church in Wilson, N.C. He has a master of divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with an emphasis in Biblical Languages. Combs is also one of the founding members of North Carolina’s Innovative Church Community and serves as one of its directors, providing church leaders and planters with coaching, consulting, conferences and learning communities.

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6 Questions to Consider Before Starting a Building Campaign

by Brad Leeper

Continued from

page 1

3. Am I encouraging biblical generosity and stewardship?

For years now, churches have reaped the fruit of financial gifts that flow more from excess than from a heart of generosity and sacrifice. Givers need fresh, relevant teaching in biblical generosity and sound financial stewardship.

Studies such as Crown Financial Ministries (, Good $ense (, or Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University ( can help you teach basic biblical principles regarding money. Crown also has a special edition study for high-capacity givers to help you minister to their special needs.

4. How long should my campaign be?

The traditional three-year campaign was developed primarily because of the need to maximize pledges to secure a long-term loan. But with less lending options and cheaper alternatives to building, there is a trend for more frequent mission expansion projects with a smaller giving season.

For example, one church I work with just finished a massive construction project and immediately outgrew the space within months of opening. Ordinarily, the next step would have been to build an even larger facility at a projected cost of more than $30 million. Instead, they are opting for a multisite strategy at less than 10 percent of that cost. The church, rather than pursuing the standard three-year giving season, is looking for financial gifts within the next nine months only. The cash will be in hand when the multisites are launched, and no bank loan will be required. If the multisites are successful, they will tackle another campaign within the year.

Should your church consider a series of smaller campaigns over three years rather than one large one? Here are some of the advantages:

  • Members today are much more comfortable with short-term commitments because of uncertainty about their jobs or financial investments.
  • Bank loans are not necessary for many projects now if you can raise the necessary resources in a shorter amount of time.
  • Supporters favor paying as they go in projects rather than committing the church to long-term debt in these times.

5. How am I communicating to each giver?

A traditional campaign assumes that most of the communication is one-size-fits-all. Just like our culture, church populations have diverse and unique groups that have their own special needs. So the conversation must be customized for each of those groups. An expensive brochure or creative video alone will no longer be adequate. Intentional layers of communication spread out over more time are more effective.

High-capacity givers need one level of conversation, and within this group, there are as many female givers as male. Newcomers require a glossary of terms because they are just encountering the process. Lay leaders have different expectations and should be engaged on a deeper level. In this sense, communication has become far more complex. You will need to take more time to communicate deliberately with your various groups of givers to maximize their financial investment.

6. Am I giving people what they need to connect?

In classic capital campaigns, most of the information is communicated in a five-week window, assuming that people are in church each of those five weeks. But the idea that projects can be launched and completed in less than 40 days will no longer be the best practice.

It is very rare for people to be physically present in church every Sunday. Online social networking and other cultural shifts have changed how we communicate. People now long for intimacy, affinity and community within an authentic context. To engage the heart, mind, and money of their people, churches are radically shifting how they tell their stories.

In addition to providing a brochure, you need to focus on fostering conversation. Create places of dialogue where givers can get face-to-face with you and other visionaries in an intimate setting. Churches that generate a steady stream of meaningful communication in the six to nine months prior to the actual public phase of the campaign often build momentum to a tipping point that culminates in a successful financial outpouring.

While you may wonder if some of these trends are relevant for your church, there’s no doubt that the traditional campaign is evolving. I pray that these questions will help your church adapt to new methods of ministry expansion beyond anything you have ever hoped or imagined.

Brad Leeper is a senior strategist at Generis (, one of the nation’s leaders in church giving and generosity counsel. As a specialist in multisite strategy and other pioneering church movements, Leeper works with all types of churches across the U.S. to help them advance the Kingdom in their community.

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Autumn Winds Are Blowing

Well, okay, maybe they’re not.

You’re probably still battling your on-the-blink air-conditioner, slathering the kids in SPF40 and actually using your pool for once. The last thing you want to think about is your fall festival. Still, like it or not, the lazy days of summer are the perfect time to start planning.

And boy, have you got your work cut out! I remember the annual fall bazaar at our church was a very big deal to my family. While Mom busied herself in the pie room and Dad refereed the sack races, we kids whizzed back and forth between the book fair, fishing pond (Read: stick + string + clothespin = oodles of prizes), cakewalk and Bingo—lots of Bingo. Normally, this particular game would not register so much as a blip on our radar screen o’ fun where there was PacMan on Atari and Hot Wheels to race around their little track. Nevertheless, we looked forward to the bazaar and all its old fashioned fun every year.

Of course, autumn heralds another event: Halloween. A number of studies have gauged various faith groups’ attitudes toward the day.

Not surprisingly, quite a few faithful families— nearly 30 percent, according to one Focus on the Family poll—said they would turn out the lights and ignore it altogether this year. On other hand, the same poll showed nearly as many Christians (29 percent) said they enjoyed the costumes and candy. Moreover, they planned to organize fall festivals at their churches that included these elements.

The challenge, which can feel like a water into-wine-size commission, is to make this outreach fun. You don’t want to dilute your Christian message, but you also know that whatever you do must be entertaining enough that the youngest members won’t feel “punished” for their faith.

Fortunately, some trailblazing churches have managed to walk this line very well, and their creative alternatives are food for thought. In Connecticut, for instance, one church hosts a harvest festival/outreach event starring puppets.

To counter children’s fears of ghouls and goblins, they perform a skit called “Jesus Protects Me” and lead a sing-along of Veggie Tales tunes, including “God Is Bigger.”

Meanwhile in Hickory, La., two Christian business owners host the Corny Harvest Festival, featuring a “fear-free” maze, hayrides and Pumpkin Parables story hour. Wacky costumes are encouraged, but anyone who shows up as a ghoulish character is funneled off to the Goblin Rehab Center. There, with the help of a hairstylist and a face painter, they are transformed into funny new characters.

Other activities are much simpler to organize.

Every year, thousands of churches order scripture mints, gum and candies from CTA Inc. ( and distribute them to members to hand out at home on Halloween night. And the American Tract Society ( offers some terrific kid friendly tracts in its Halloween Rescue Kit.

Candy is taped to each tract—a sweet treat for the palate and soul.

These are just a few ideas, and more follow on page 12. But no matter what you do about Halloween this year, remember one thing: None of these alternatives “celebrate” the day. Obviously, glorifying darkness is not an option—but turning it into light is a great trick.

RaeAnn Slaybaugh
[email protected]

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National Call In Single Day (Calling in Love-sick Doesn’t Count!)

Valentine’s Day is a great time to express yourself and show the one you love most just how much you care. For all you singles out there, this can be a pretty lonely day.

But don’t worry because you’re in luck! Today no longer has to be Valentine’s Day! From here on out, it’s National Call In Single Day. Singles all across the country are encouraged to pick up the phone, take a day off from work, and set aside some time for themselves. Nobody can love you like you, so make sure you love yourself a lot today.

So go on out and do things for YOU. Take a walk, spit at passing couples walking hand-in-hand, eat copious amounts of chocolates, chase your shadow, and do whatever else you single people do, just make sure you enjoy yourself. If all that alone time eventually gets to you, you could always pickup some games and gadgets to pass the time.

***Attention, for all those who seek to avoid this holiday next year***

Instead of using today to enjoy and appreciate yourself, go out and find some other lonely singles to celebrate with. Who knows, you two could hit it off and next year you’ll be the one needing to pickup some Valentine’s Day gifts!

Hey, it could happen.

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