Why Do God’s People Never Respond To Emails? A Study On Why The Little Things Matter.

The email was a paragraph long.  It took me forty-five teary minutes to write.

“Hi,” it read.  “[Husband] received a job offer in another city about nine hours away.  We are desperately torn about what to do and desperate to discern God’s will, but we are both far too emotional and overwrought to see clearly.  You all know us very well and so along with your prayers, we welcome any thoughts or input you can provide.”

I sent it to a group of people near and dear to us: two of our best Christian friends from our small group, our small group pastor, and our small group leader.

Two days later, I got a response from the small group leader.  “Praying!”  And that was all it said.  Hurt and confused, I assumed maybe no one else had gotten the email.  I found out weeks later that they all had received it the night I sent it.

This is not uncommon.  In fact, here is a selected list of emails I have sent to valid email addresses of Christians I knew to which I never received a response:

  • a note to my music minister praising the recent play and asking for the name of one of the pieces so I could add it to my playlist
  • a request to the small groups pastor for more information about a particular small group
  • an email to a ministry leader (different from the above two) asking about the start time of a particular ministry event
  • at least three different serious requests for prayer, which I send only rarely
  • a request for information about a church
  • a note volunteering my services for another event
  • a note to the leader of a downtown collegiate ministry where I live asking if there was an available mailing list for me to join

Here’s the thing: I can understand the occasional lack of response.  Sometimes you send a note to an inactive email address, or people check Facebook instead, or someone had a really busy week.  Sometimes you run across a person who sends way too many emails to the point that it’s easy to ignore or miss theirs.  But I am not a person who sends a deluge of emails, particularly prayer requests. And all of the emails I sent were sent to Christians who did check email, who had received emails from me before, and who actively advertised their email addresses as a part of their ministry.

As a result of never hearing anything back, I: never got the name of that song that moved my heart and reminded me of God, never joined the small group I was thinking of because I didn’t know when it met and couldn’t find out anywhere, missed the ministry event because nobody wrote the time down, never bothered trying out a new church, never volunteered for the event, never was able to participate in the ministry that seemed awesome, and assumed God’s people who were supposed to be my brothers and sisters didn’t care about me when I was hurting.

If that sounds terrible, it is.  And there is no excuse for it.  If you’re a believer getting requests from people about ministries, about small groups, if you’re getting requests for prayer, for help, for clarification?  Answer them.

“The problem is I never check my email.”  Okay.  Then stop advertising your email as a point of contact.  Share your Facebook info or your phone number or your Instagram.  But if you don’t check your email, don’t tell people they can reach you at it.

“But the answer’s available elsewhere!”  First: are you sure?  (I experienced this once when, after being told the answer was on the church website, I had to point out that it unequivocally was not, to the embarrassment of the other party).  Second: maybe people don’t know where to find the answer.  Maybe they don’t read the church’s Facebook, or they didn’t attend the service sharing the details, or they don’t know you put this stuff on the website, or they just wanted to double-check the information with an actual human being.

“We just mostly use Facebook/Instagram/Twitter to communicate because that’s what most of the congregation uses.”  Again, if this is the case, remove your email as a point of contact.

“I didn’t know what to say.”  I can assure you that the most ham-handed response you can imagine is probably better than a wall of indifferent silence. Alternatively, just be honest.  “I don’t know what to say” or “Unfortunately, I don’t have any more info! You might try calling Susan” or “Oh, I don’t handle that, wish I could help more!” are all useful things to say instead of nothing.

An article in Christianity Today recently argued that believers should be skeptical of digital detoxes and time away from technology because emails, texts, and where social media is where the ministry is now.  I don’t actually think that’s the case, nor should it be, but the principle of kindness and decency applies across the board to all communication mediums: respond to people.  Don’t leave them hanging.  Answer their calls.  Their Facebook posts.  Their texts.  Their emails.

I’ll admit that for me, it’s not that big a deal: an unanswered email, or even a ton of unanswered emails, were never going to keep me from Jesus or from God.  I’m a mature believer and, as annoying and frustrating as these walls of silence can be, it’s also not enough to turn me away.  But for someone who is seeking?  Someone who’s predisposed to dismiss believers anyway?  Someone who might be discouraged by perceived indifference?  It can mean everything.  It can be a difference-maker.

Keep the barriers for entry low for those who wish to get to Jesus.  Do the little things.  Respond when you can.  Something short is better than none at all, and it’s an acknowledgement that the person on the other end of the interaction has been heard, noticed, and seen.  It matters, sometimes more than we know.




21 thoughts on “Why Do God’s People Never Respond To Emails? A Study On Why The Little Things Matter.

  1. Yes! My sad experience too. I could give a LONG list of examples as well. And like you, I am not demanding and seldom ask for help or ask a question without first trying very hard to find answer myself or make do without assistance. I am ignored. No courtesy. I also encountered the same once when someone (in charge of a group) told me they NEVER check their e-mail. THEN WHY DID YOU list your e-mail as the primary way to contact you?!?!?! I had a rant about such on twitter a couple months ago, and tried to use humor — looking for something like an amusing threat to put at end of every e-mail to try and get reply. Like “if you don’t respond within 24 hours I will begin re-emailing you every 30 minutes”
    I see another reply has not had this problem. You and I have. Others too. I have sometimes (No, often) wondered what is it about ME (and you…) that makes me/us so ignorable? I often feel like an invisible person. But not everyone out there is ignored. How are they different than us? Maybe we come across as independent but even independent people on occasion need a hand or have a question or need.
    THANKS FOR your post! I will be sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, I used to wonder if it was something about me, but then I talked to a few people about it who basically admitted that they just consider email outdated – “we just tend to share on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, it’s nothing personal.” To which I say great – but then don’t advertise the email addy! I do think it is a surprisingly common problem for some folks, though: maybe (unfortunately) even more common for those who reach out, hear nothing, and then don’t bother to stick around.

      Share away – so glad to know others experience this too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve thought e-mail “outdated” too, but my husband who uses a smart phone (I do not) says this is no excuse, as it is easy to get and check e-mail on your phone.
        Also, because e-mail outdated, I’ve thought I’d revert to phone calls (which I dislike) but this does not work either — As it now seems about 90% of the time when I muster the courage to call – they do not answer AND the voice mail is full so you can not leave a message. I think phone calls are outdated.
        I think it is texting, texting, texting and social media. Although, it seems more common that people are pulling back from social media. So that leaves texting.
        And I don’t text.


      2. The thing is , some of us tend to rely on email more. I don’t use Instagram and very rarely do I use Twitter (never really got the hang of it). Facebook is sometimes useful, depending. But generally I prefer to be able to ask/get information either face to face, through a phone call, website and email.
        Maybe the youngsters are more au fait with Instagram etc, but for older people, some of whom don’t even own a pc/smartphone/laptop or anything, they need to have much more direct contact.
        All this digital stuff is all very well and very helpful and good in many ways, but in others, it’s definitely not.
        A lot of young people seem to mock those who use cash, don’t have smartphones, aren’t internet savvy etc. But I’d very much like to know how they’d manage if suddenly the whole thing crashed..or the satnav didn;t work. I think many of them would be totally lost! Sorry, felt lie a rant!


      3. I have no problem w/people using whatever mode of communication is necessary to get the message out, for sure. But as you rightly point out, they need to get the message out to EVERYONE. Sure, younger generations do make copious use of certain technologies (though those change by the day), but some people don’t. And it’s not just an age disparity but an economic and a geographic one too. I grew up in a distinctly rural area where to this day technology use in general is much less than the general population.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Your experiences are a cultural phenomenon that has unfortunately infiltrated ministry. Everyone is too busy and totally acclimated to auto responses. That is SO unlike Jesus who, God incarnate, had time for the blind and lost.
    How can any of us hope to counsel or disciple anyone in the Lord? THAT is the crux if our call on earth!
    The casual response to prayer is so ungodly.
    Thank you for making these points, may the Body of Christ, including myself, rise up and walk like He did!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s heartbreaking that it’s a phenomenon and I think you are right about that….it has certainly convicted me to respond to emails! Even if it only takes a little bit of time I consider it well spent – a lot of people simply need to feel seen….just like so many seekers in Scripture.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Things like this can happen face to face too. Years ago I was asked by a lay preacher if I’d like to take on a particular job. I told her I would think about it. Anyway, after a couple of days (or maybe it was a week before I saw her again at the next service) I said that I was sorry, but I didn’t think that the thing was particularly suitable for me, or words to that effect. She was so pleased that I had taken the trouble to get back to her and let her know, one way or the other. None of the others she’d asked had bothered to give her their answer.


      1. Maybe that’s where older, retired people can come into their own. They may have more time to respond to/ advise/help people. Unless they have loads of worries, illnesses and busyness of their own.
        A dear aunt of my husband’s (she died a couple of years ago) used to send birthday cards to my husband and our children every year although she’d never met them. It was so appreciated. I also have a feeling she probably iused to pray for us (and others) as well. I sometimes wonder whether it was her praying (though of course, I don’t know) that was partly instrumental in my becoming a Christian years ago.


  4. This article is right on — in so many ways. I have had a non response so I reached out to her mother. She replied, “I deal with email all day at work and I can’t deal with it any more after work. So I never check my email.” Like you say, WHY ADVERTISE AN EMAIL ADDRESS AS A POINT OF CONTACT???

    The other rude issue I have had is when people only respond if they want something from you. I was the Treasurer and I kept asking an Elder for information — WHICH I NEEDED TO BE ABLE TO DO MY JOB AS AN EMPLOYEE OF THE CHURCH. He kept ignoring me. So I stopped sending him the Monthly Financial Reports. After a few months of him asking for them and me responding, “I’m working on it” I sent him a report which I knew would be confusing. And I only sent one report not all of them. He immediately replied — not answering the question I had been emailing about repeatedly. He asked all sorts of questions about the reports.

    I am so sick and tired of people saying, “We want to extend grace” or “Well, you know, we’re all sinners” or “I guess that’s how God decided to have things work out.” THESE RESPONSES ARE COP OUTS. The other one is, “We are a church, we are not running a business.” That’s right — this is God’s work and IT SHOULD BE RUN BETTER THAN A BUSINESS!!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Interesting post. If there’s a sermon online that I listen to I generally will shoot the pastor an email and let them know that I enjoyed it or how the spirit moved me or what came into my mind when listening. Nothing rude and I would never criticize. I’ll never hear back though. No acknowledgement or thanks for listening or whatever. I’ve actually come to the belief that it’s common practice. How I landed on your blog was googling ‘why don’t pastors respond to email.’ I guess I can understand. Most are much too busy I would think. Being a pastor is a 24/7 gig and I would think your own parishioners are a lot too take care and answering some random persons email would be low on their list. Still and I can be honest: It makes you feel unseen and unwelcome.


    1. I do think it is common, yes. Which is fine – but then it makes me wonder why the email address is there at all! Certainly makes me mindful to reply to people when at all possible.


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