Churches, please check
your telephone manners

Commentary By Alice Smith

My mother is making a move from condo living to a senior adult facility, and as part of the paperwork involved, I spent several hours on the telephone recently trying to get some needed financial information. I was making the calls because she has trouble navigating phone systems and hearing what people say.

My mother is quite smart and alert and on top of things (she speeds through the daily crossword puzzle in the paper), and her physical problems are mostly related to some hearing loss and trouble walking because of an arthritic knee. She is moving to an independent living facility, but one that offers support services. It is a move she initiated and is ready for, and I believe she will enjoy the other residents and the many activities.

I totally understand her frustration about trying to get a human on the phone when you want some information that you are entitled to and should be able to obtain readily. Convoluted voice-mail systems have become so commonplace that there are Web sites that tell you what to do in specific companies in order to access a person.

But what I've encountered as editor of Wesleyan Christian Advocate, the newspaper of the North and South Georgia annual conferences, is that many churches (not all, by any means) have impersonal phone systems where it's difficult to get a person on the line. Of all the places in the world you would expect to make human contact and hear a friendly voice right from the start, it is a church.

I call a lot of churches in my job, and it's usually during regular office hours when a staff member is normally there. Often I am amazed at what I find (or hear). One church, upon answering, had two full minutes of recorded options (I timed it). There was a greeting, listing of office hours, a fax number, an emergency number, a chance to punch your party's extension or access a staff directory, a lengthy discourse on the church's ministries, an opportunity to hear a monthly devotion - and finally the option to press "0" to talk to a person.

And while I'm at it, I have two other pet peeves. One is calling a church, asking to speak to someone, being put through as if the person were there and then getting the person's voice mail. I so appreciate those who tell me upfront the person isn't in and then offer access to their voice mail, because it gives me the opportunity to ask when the person will be in or if there is someone else who can help me. When you're working on deadlines, this information is helpful.

My other pet peeve is when people e-mail me but my response back doesn't go through because I'm not on their approved list. Once I went on one of our conference Web sites to get information about a specific event, and when I e-mailed the contact name on the Web site, I received the message, "I now allow incoming messages only from senders I have approved beforehand." Why on earth would someone give their e-mail address "for more information" and then refuse to receive the e-mails?

I understand and appreciate the conveniences that come with message machines and e-mail, but common courtesy never goes out of style. Particularly it's incumbent on churches - which should place the highest priority on human connection in an increasingly anonymous society - to evaluate how they answer their phones and the image they are presenting to their members and the world.

Smith is editor of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate, the newspaper of the North and South Georgia annual conferences.


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