Why I Don’t Engage Unhappy Church Members by Email


One thing I do not do anymore is engage unhappy parishioners by email or respond to them if they write to me. You know what I’m talking about. The email subject line says “A concern.” And you have to scroll down five times to read the entire length of the email. You get mad, then you get sad, then you spend two hours crafting your carefully written response. Then they send their carefully written response. And it keeps going around.

The only tried and true way to resolve conflict is to sit down face to face.

Most of these folks have a lot of time to craft carefully written responses. You don’t. That time you spend on this activity will not — I repeat NOT — get you or your adversary the end you desire. Nobody ever read an adversary’s carefully crafted email and had a Eureka moment, falling all over themselves in an effort to make amends for their bad or misguided behavior. The only tried and true way to resolve conflict is to sit down face to face.

I tell folks that I will meet with them in person and that I will meet on their turf if that helps them feel stronger. If they say they are more articulate in writing, I say great, write out your concern and read it to me while we sit together. If it would help to have a third person present, so you feel supported, I say, bring them along. Christianity is an incarnational religion and we should meet in the flesh. It is only in this way we can communicate nuance, body language, and have a real dialogue to resolve differences.

This article is an excerpt from Molly’s book Real Good Church: How Our Church Came Back from the Dead, and Yours Can, Too, © 2014, used by permission from The Pilgrim Press. It is available from Cokesbury and Amazon.

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About Author

Molly Phinney Baskette is Senior Pastor at First Congregational Church of Berkeley, United Church of Christ. Previously, she was lead pastor at First Church UCC in Somerville, MA. She was written several books, The most recent is How to Begin When Your World is Ending (Broadleaf Books, 2022), available on Cokesbury and Amazon.