Going Emailess

As an introvert, I always believed that email (and IM) were a gift. However, after several years of serving as an associate pastor in a large church, I had a dream: no more emails. There are the typical characteristics of email (e.g. no foolproof way to convey tone, inbox overload through indecisiveness resulting in multiple readings of the same email, etc.) but I will explain my specific reasons for this decision. First of all, life is about people and people are about relationships. People then naturally drift toward formed relationships. Therefore, in today’s post-industrialized culture, if I have developed a relationship with a church-goer, he or she will understandably (and technologically) come to me with all questions without going through the following thought process: “I need the phone number of my small group leader. I bet Stephen has her number so I will just email him. No, wait. I’m sure the church has a database of phone numbers so instead, I will email (or call) the administrative assistant who does not attend the church. Oh, what’s her name again?” Rather, this church-goer fires off an email asking me for information that is accessible through an already established system created for this purpose. (This post could quickly deteriorate into one on systems in general.) This is one simple example, but all of these short emails can add up quickly, manifesting as interruptions and distractions. Another reason is that I have realized people will say (actually type) sentiments over email that they would not speak in person or even over the phone. If one is not informed, courageous, or convinced enough to say sometime to me directly, then I would rather not give him the opportunity to do so at all. Finally, I just did not believe that using email made me more effective in my role.

Of course in today’s world not having a public email address is a near impossible reality unless you go all On Walden Pond; which has also crossed my mind a time or two. Therefore, I went through a process of determining exactly how email helps and how email hurts. This conversation and research will always be industry, or at least position, specific. While serving as an associate pastor, I decided that when appointed as a lead pastor, I would no longer publish an email address.

This move requires some inconvenience and diligence, but after almost one year I have found that it can be done and it can be beneficial. You must operate within a system in which others are willing to participate as well. I am fortunate enough to have an assistant who understands my rationale (always over-explain your rationale because this decision will create work for others) and who is willing to fill in the gaps left by not having a public email address. The first step is to remove your email address from public. I made sure that no one can find my email address. Quite simply, it is very difficult for people to email you without your email address. Then, I had to decide who should have access to my (now) private or personal email address. There is a select “executive team” made up of select church staff and key program servants (program servants is the term we use for our “volunteer” positions. The United Way has volunteers. The church has servants). The forward button can be tricky so make sure that these chosen few understand the system. If you are convincing, then they will take the time to extract what they need from your email and then create an original with necessary information and attachments (sounds high maintenance and primadonna-ish, I know).

Finally, I publish my cell phone number on printed documents. I use text messaging (or iMessaging) and good ol’ phone conversations more now; which I have found much more effective toward desired results than email. I had to get over my phontroversion (introverted-inspired fear of speaking to people over the phone).

Do you think you too could go (essentially) emailess? What are your questions about my process to get there?

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