3 Casualties from Unresponsiveness

I remember meeting with a young man in our church a number of years ago. I had baptized him a few months before and had taken a personal interest in him. I saw such potential in him, and knew he was likely heading towards vocational ministry, so I asked him to serve in one of our ministries as a volunteer. He was delighted at the invitation.

Many of the best volunteers are just one personal ask away from serving.

A few weeks later, I followed up with him. He said he filled out a card asking to serve immediately after our conversation. He never heard anything. He assumed, therefore, we weren’t interested in him or he wasn’t qualified.

I was devastated – and a bit embarrassed. Hopefully, he simply fell through the cracks of our system, but this type of thing frustrates me more than just about anything in leadership. He certainly was qualified, but even if he had not been it would’ve deserved an answer.  

Responsiveness should be a paramount value in ministry and leadership.

Whether it’s an email, a phone call, or Facebook message, most people expect some sort of response. I realize we all get busy and it may sometimes delay a response, but people are too valuable not to respond to them in a timely fashion. I encourage all leaders to figure out a system, which works best for them, which will assure responsiveness.  

When a leader is unresponsive it creates problems for the leader and the people seeking to follow.

Here are 3 casualties from unresponsiveness:

It makes a person feel unappreciated.

When someone doesn’t get a response back, the person feels they aren’t important enough to you. They wonder what they’ve done wrong or why you don’t consider them good enough to merit one. 

It makes a person feel unloved.

Like it or not, unresponsiveness is translated, especially in the church setting, as an indicator of care. It’s a relationship. If you don’t respond, you must not care for them very much.

It makes a person mistrust you or the organization.

People will only tolerate unresponsiveness a few times. When a leader fails to respond they lose credibility with people and are seen as unprofessional.

The bottom line is when you don’t respond to people you force them to create their own response. And, naturally, our minds assume the worst.

So what do you do about it?

  • Make responsiveness an extremely high value in the organization.
  • Leaders should lead by example.
  • Answer all emails or messages and return calls promptly, even if you don’t have an answer yet. I can’t say what the proper response time is for every organization or individual, but for me I want responses to go out the same day they were received or first thing the next working day. 
  • Have a system is in place to respond to all queries. The fact is, sometimes I’m not available to everyone who needs an answer – we have a large church; especially if it might take an extended response. Plus, I may not even know the answer. But, I can make sure the person gets the answer they need.

Even in the best environments, situations like the example above will happen. Emails or cards get lost. People forget. Mistakes happen.  People will feel they’ve not been listened to, no one cares, or even they are unloved. They’ll take it personal enough to leave the organization. It should never be because we simply chose not to respond in a timely way.  

And, I should mention, there are rare times when the person seeking information is the problem in the situation – or where they use tactics such as verbal abuse to get the response they want. I’m not addressing those in this post. Again, those are rare and should be handled differently. (You might read my post on Stakeholder Analysis for this type scenario.)

This post is about the normal, day in an day out communication with people. People need and deserve answers. It’s part of a healthy culture. It’s part of healthy relationships. And, it’s the right thing to do.

The more you can do to avoid unresponsiveness the better you will build an atmosphere of genuine trust.

How does it make you feel when someone doesn’t respond to an inquiry?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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  • Kyle says:

    Ron, thanks for reminding those of us in church leadership positions that we are the inspiration, we are the engine of responsiveness change in our congregations.

    Unresponsiveness breeds unresponsiveness. And when a congregation is unresponsive long to encouragement and exhortation from the pastor (and/or other church leaders, if the pastor is lucky) the pastor and/or other leaders get discouraged and we are tempted to stop trying. What's the point? I have a saying that's a mash-up of two cliches: if you beat your head against a wall long enough, some of it will stick.

    In my situation, the question is how long do I persist in exhorting my congregation to action, to response, to acts on Christ's invitation to partner in the work of the Kingdom for the sake of the world when the response is underwhelming to say the least? It's hard on a daily basis, but I really try to adopt Jesus' instruction to the apostles about forgiveness: how often do I keep at this? 70 times 7 times…

    • ronedmondson says:

      It sounds like you are dealing with stubbornness, not an issue needing forgiveness. I'd ask myself, if these people are unresponsive and I can't help them get there, is it me, is it them, or is it a systems issue? Based on that answer I think you'll have an easier time discerning what you do next.

  • I see that unresponsiveness as a great way of escaping from responsibility/ committment. As you have written, unresponsivness often leads to breakage in relationships.

  • Robert Young says:

    So true! I now personal know and feel the effect of unresponsiveness. I spent 12 years in the Dallas/Ft Worth area and had a wonderful home church. I have now moved to the west coast of British Columbia where I have spent over a year trying to find the same. Unresponsiveness? There are no small group s here and no interest in starting them. No fellowship at all – no outreach opportunities either. Sad.

  • great post, as a young pastor of 7 years, I needed to hear this. Please continue to let God use you.

  • olagoke says:

    sir, you have really dealt with an important topic here. My first time visiting your site. I’ve subscribed for updates. Please keep in touch. God bless you. Amen

  • Melissa says:

    Just a quick thank you can work wonders! I've noticed that you acknowledge most every post that you can on your blog….thank you for that.

    Can you imagine how different things would be with acknowledgement (or at least effort if in the form of a nod, handshake, smiley icon (cornball I know), or thank you were made…or even the dreaded RSVP that I see you have listed in the photo tag for his blog. 🙂

    Thanks as always Ron

    • ronedmondson says:

      Yea, I'm afraid we neglect RSVP's these days. When planning events it can be very hard to know who is coming and who is not.

  • jerry stewart says:

    Thanks Ron, It’s great to see someone as busy as you responding so quickly. Thanks for all your advice and quick responses\time given to me. Jerry

  • kathyfannon

    Twice our church put out requests for help in various areas of ministry and twice I offered to volunteer in the office. (I have extensive experience there.) Twice I never received a response.

    The third time the request was put out I ignored it for feeling a but blacklisted. I REALLY wanted to help and am already familiar with the machines (copy, fax etc), the people (they’re my friends) and how things flow in general. It makes me sad they don’t call since I’m a stay-at-home with free time. 🙁

    • ronedmondson says:

      I hate to hear that. Thanks for being willing to serve. I hope they take advantage of that soon.

  • Cheryl Smith says:

    I heard Dr. Holly Latty Mann say on more than one occasion, "in the absence of communication, people go negative." Yikes. I just remembered I've dropped the ball on something…

  • We had similar things happen in our church. It wasn't malicious – things just fell between the cracks. But people were left feeling insignificant. I think people in positions of influence need to understand the power that even their smallest actions can have. Something as simple as a pastor not fully paying attention when you're talking can lead to long-lasting relational scars.
    I think the real key you've pointed out is to have a system about being responsive. So often, we just hope for the best – and that's when things slip between the cracks. Being responsive is something we need to be intentional about.

  • Ron, I am glad you wrote this – it rings true for me personally. A simple click of the like button or share link, or a +1 can mean so much. I know it is a little thing, but when one is trying to get a positive message out it is nice to get at least one response. 🙂

  • Jon says:

    I've got a similar story. Probably between 15 and 20 years ago, a friend of my wife and me and his wife came to our church to visit. We don't have the little stickers in the pews, but do have an area where new people can put down their information and asked to be contacted. I was not on the committee involved with this. A few weeks went by and I only saw them come back perhaps once. Something prompted me one evening to give them a call to ask how they liked the church. My friend answered and when we started to talk he said he was so glad that I had called, that no one from the church had bothered and he and his wife were about to write us off and move on. He put me on speaker phone and he and his wife and I talked about the church and the beliefs and the mechanics of the workings of the body for probably over an hour.

    From that conversation, they decided to start coming and now he is the worship and song leader and he and his family have ministered to the body for the last 10-15 years in a might way.

  • Ben Steele says:

    It gives me the sense that I am feeling a need that the organization, church in this case, does not recognize as valid. I think things like, "They must already have plenty of help" or "I guess they were looking for someone with more experience" etc. If you're naturally self-conscious or introverted it can be a big de-motivator. I've since realized that these are rarely true and ministries are usually aching for help but they have a poor system for connecting with volunteers. I now try to put the burden on myself to get inserted in places where I would like to serve.

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