My mom writes about two emails a month, while my sister writes about a hundred a day. (Their days look very different!) Wherever you fall within this spectrum, it’s important to make sure you and the people representing your church utilize proper email etiquette to imbue your communications with professionalism.
Is this really an email?
Before you start writing, ask the question, is this message really an email? Would I be better served with a meeting? Video chat? Text message?
Sometimes it's quicker to pick up the phone when I have lots of questions. For back and forth communication, I’ll text or use a web-based messaging tool like Slack. When my message is heartfelt or very personal, offering thanks, sympathy, or congratulations, I’ll grab a card for a handwritten note. Begin by evaluating the needs of your message and choose the best medium.
Other cases when your message probably shouldn’t land in an email:
- When it includes sensitive or confidential information
- When you’re angry or upset (cool down first, then consider talking face to face)
Say Hello (and Goodbye)
Emails are the online equivalent of letters, so a genial hello (and goodbye) is just good manners. Start with hello or greetings in Christ! Introduce yourself if the recipient might not recognize your email address or name. For more casual communications, you can skip the greeting in replies.
When it comes time to say goodbye, add some humanity back into your message with well wishes. It never hurts to add “Have a good weekend!” to a friendly Friday afternoon message.
Sign off with a quick thanks, thank you for your assistance, blessings, or something similar, and include your first name after. Follow this with an email signature, which should contain your full name, phone number, and any other relevant contact information. Shorten or remove your signature in reply messages, especially if it is large.
Black Tie or Board Shorts?
The level of formality in your emails should depend on the topic and your audience. When in doubt, it never hurts to dress up a little (ahem, I mean, lean toward a formal tone). By formal, I mean including a greeting, an introduction, a polite message, and a full signature at the bottom. Avoid jokes and sarcasm with people you don’t know very well, since those are easily lost in translation.
At the same time, you don’t have to sound like Miss Manners! When done properly, writing in a conversational tone lends a feeling of friendliness and humanity to your email without diminishing its professionalism.
Get to the Point
Gone are the days of novel length emails! Get to the point of your message within the first two or three sentences, then proceed to explain as needed. If you need to share a lot of information, consider using Word create a PDF attachment.
Leverage Formatting Tricks
Use formatting to your advantage to ensure your reader gets through the whole thing and remembers what’s important. I like add white space by breaking up paragraphs; each is a single thought or request, being no more than a few sentences.
Bullet points and numbered lists help eliminate extraneous words. To call out key information, use bold or accent color text sparingly. Avoid garish colors like hot pink or neon green, going for something noticeable but a little more subtle. For hyperlinks, use your email provider’s hyperlink tool to paste the link so that a word in your message goes to the appropriate URL.
And never, NEVER use all caps unless you have a very good reason. It’s the equivalent to online shouting, and most people find it highly upsetting!
A (Virtual) Red Pen
I'll say it just once. Proofread your emails! Check them carefully, start to finish, before hitting send. Make sure you've included any attachments or links. For important emails, I like to set them aside for at least 30 minutes, then come back and read through one more time.
Even in casual emails, there’s no excuse for being sloppy! Ask someone else to review important emails, especially those going to a lot of people. Check for correct spelling and proper grammar, and avoid acronyms unless you’re sure the readers will understand. And speaking of spelling things out, don’t be lazy and use text message language! It became outdated once we all got smart phones with full keyboards for texting anyway.
Don't forget this all-important aspect of the email! A clear, concise subject line that matches the content of your email encourages recipients to actually open the email. Proofread it just like the rest of the message for spelling and grammar. Steer clear of all caps or excessive exclamations to avoid sending your email straight into your recipients’ spam folders.
Sending to a Crowd
When you send an email multiple recipients, consider whether everyone on the list really needs the information. This also applies when using Reply All, since the extended conversation may cease to be relevant to the original list.
Here’s another polite tactic to use when contacting a crowd: Use Bcc: (blind carbon copy) to hide the email addresses. While the recipients may have shared their email addresses with the church office, they might not want it shared with all everyone else.
Speaking of lists, it’s important to check them regularly to verify they are up to date. For example, if you send a message about an upcoming marriage themed Bible study, you certainly want make sure anyone who recently lost a spouse is not on that list.
The Art of the Reply
A professional reply should come within one business day of the original message, or on the same day, if possible. Timely responses communicate respect for the sender that you care about their message. If you know that it will take time to get answers to questions or to comply with a request, send a message back that explains you are working on it, and an approximate time frame of when you’ll email again.
Often, you can skip one-liner replies like “ok” or “thanks,” assuming no reply is needed unless you have something more to say.
The Student Becomes the Teacher
While pretty much everyone knows how to write an email, it’s still important to go over email etiquette and any office guidelines with new church office staff, board members, and volunteers. Doing so will make sure your church maintains a consistently professional presence.
To learn more ways the church can care for millennials, download our free ebook Millennials and the Church.