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Phone your church = disaster?

When someone phones your church, what response do they receive?

I do some voluntary work for a Christian organisation. In recent weeks I’ve phoned more than 50 churches across Australia. It has proved to be a very interesting exercise. Here are some examples of what I’ve experienced when I have called churches:

  • [recorded American voice] “Hello. After the tone, please record your message.” I was taken straight to a recorded message that didn’t mention which church I had called so I wasn’t sure if I had called the right number. Even on a home answering machine you would mention who you are, e.g. “you have called Jack and Jill, we’re sorry we couldn’t take your call, please leave a message”.
  • “Hello?”. The person who answered the phone wasn’t sure if they wanted to say hello – they seemed surprised that the phone had rung!
  • [curt tone of voice] “Hello”. More than a couple of times I experienced the grumpy church administrator who seemed unhappy that I had interrupted whatever they were doing.
  • I woke up a child who was (I gathered) the grandson of the minister, who told me that his grandma and grandpa are away for the week and his mum is at TAFE. I suggested that I might call back later.
  • [recorded message] “You have reached Telstra Home Messages 101 service for…”.
  • [recorded message] “We regret that the number you have dialed in incomplete or incorrect”. I had sourced this number from the church’s website.
  • The phone rang out and I wasn’t transferred to an answering machine. From this, I assumed I was expected to keep calling until someone answered.

I was also struck by how hard it was to find the phone numbers for many churches. Lots of churches don’t have websites, and of those that do, many don’t list a contact phone number (a simple Contact Us link is essential on your church website, see Can people contact you – five lessons for church websites) Even when searching for church phone numbers on Google (the world’s largest phone book!) I came up short.

Phone may be the first (and potentially the last!) method of contact a newcomer has to your church. Ensuring this is a straightforward and positive experience is not only important, it’s also very easy. Here are five suggestions for tightening this process in your church:

  1. Remember that everyone who answers the phone is an ambassador for your church. They don’t have to know all the answers to the questions a caller might ask. They do have to be friendly and welcoming!
  2. Get an answering machine for the times that someone is unable to answer the phone. It shouldn’t be the caller’s responsibility to keep calling until someone answers – they might not have the patience to keep calling and we all know the frustration of continually calling a number without getting through.
  3. When recording the message for your answering machine, be sure to mention the name of your church – so the caller knows they’ve called the right number! And remember, tone of voice is just as important in a message as it is in a conversation.
  4. In your recorded message, you might like to mention the service times and other ways people can learn more about your church, e.g. address of the church website.
  5. If a message is left on the answering machine, be sure to call them back as soon as possible. There’s no point having an answering machine if you don’t call people back!

Of course, not every phone interaction I had with churches was a disaster – there were lots of great interactions too. For example, I came across this recorded message: “We’re open 7 days and have heaps of activities on during the week for you to enjoy”. The message was recorded by the pastor and was enthusiastic and welcoming. Based on the message alone, I wanted to visit the church!

Surely this is the reaction we want to create in newcomers when they phone our churches.

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