Prior to Christmas, I shared the statistic that 58% of Australian church websites weren't displaying Christmas service times. For a visitor interested in attending a church service at Christmas, this lack of information communicates one of two things:
Given that most church websites failed to display Christmas service times, and the fact that most people know fewer and fewer Christians, most potential visitors would need to contact the church to find out Christmas service times. So I set out to discover what would happen if I emailed each church and asked for the Christmas church service times. In the 2 weeks before Christmas, I emailed the same list of 100 churches (regardless of whether or not they displayed service times on their website) and asked them a simple question. Here's the email I sent:
Hi, "What are the times of your Christmas church services?" Thanks, Steve
It was a short email with a question, representative of emails that could be sent to churches across Australia prior to Christmas. I conducted this experiment, not to waste anyone's time, but because I wanted to discover how responsive Australian churches are to the requests for information from potential visitors. After all, churches across Australia pray for visitors and often spend a lot of energy and money promoting Christmas services in their local area. This all falls down if requests for further information go unheeded. So what happened?
4% of emails either bounced, or the contact form was broken and failed to send my request. A staggering 39% of churches failed to respond to my email. I say 'staggering', but it's only staggering in that it's a far higher number than it should be. In reality, this is a problem that I've written about many times before.
Perhaps the most pointed and discouraging statistic is this:
31% of churches failed to display service times AND failed to respond to request for information.
Churches that displayed Christmas service times on their website were more likely to reply to my email (57% compared with 47%).
This isn't a surprise - I would expect that churches that haven't served visitors to their website are also less likely to serve people who get in touch via other channels. This may sound harsh, but I believe that responsiveness relates more to convictions than technological abilities. Let me explain. If you are convicted that most people will visit your church website before ever setting foot in your church, you will make it a priority to serve these potential visitors with the information they require. If you are convicted that serving potential visitors to your church is important and God-glorifying, you will adopt the necessary practices and invest in the skills and platforms to serve these people well. If you are convicted that you are an ambassador of Christ, you will adopt high standards in your communication. As Paul Tripp puts it:
“We have high standards because we know who we’re representing.”
Conviction drive practice.
I'd like to point out that many churches responded and were fantastic. Their replies were friendly, helpful and welcoming. I may write to them to let them know what terrific ambassadors they were for the Lord Jesus Christ. I also had 2 interactions that are worth sharing, because they flag issues that should be addressed wherever they occur.
I received a reply from one church on the 20th of December. It said:
Hi, Thanks for your email. City Church office is currently closed for the holidays and this inbox not be attended frequently. Thank you for your patience in our response. The office reopens on January 6th 2015.
I don't understand how a church office can be closed 5 days before Christmas.
I was told by one one church to visit their website if I wanted to know the service time. This was their response - I've removed the church's details to avoid naming and shaming:
Good afternoon Steve The times for our Christmas Services at CHURCH NAME are on our home page at CHURCH WEBSITE. Kind regards and Merry Christmas
The problem was - I visited the website and couldn't find this information.
Does it matter that more than one third of churches failed to respond? Does it matter that even of the responding 57% of churches, the replies weren't always particularly friendly or helpful? I believe it matters a great deal (and not just because it's good manners) - stay tuned for more on this.
After Christmas I received 3 replies (each very apologetic) from the churches I didn't hear from prior to Christmas. Interestingly, in 2 of these cases, the person responsible for replying to the emails was away over Christmas. This means that by mid-January, for the remaining 36% of churches I'm still waiting for a reply.