ELCA Congregational Email Turnaround

Logo for series on Church Demographics and Congregational Websites

There is nothing more frustrating than asking a question and not getting an answer. Timely communication is critical in the business world, and it’s critical in the church world too. Churches seem to recognize this: as I noted in part 5 of this series, over 95% of congregations posted email contact information on their website.

Just listing an email address isn’t enough, though – someone has to check it.

To find out whether there was someone on the other end, I sent this email to each of the 81 congregations that listed an email address or had an online contact form on their website:

Subject: Church Website Study

To whom it may concern:

My name is Ted Carnahan, and I am currently an M.Div. Intern at Wartburg Theological Seminary serving St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sterling, IL. I am conducting a research project on demographic trends and church website quality, and your congregation’s website was randomly selected for evaluation. Part of this evaluation involves testing whether email addresses posted on the congregation’s website are checked and responded to in a timely fashion. If you could simply reply to this email (or otherwise contact me at to let me know you’ve received it, you will significantly advance my research and the quality of internet outreach for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Thank you for your time and participation.


Ted Carnahan
M.Div. Intern

The email was designed to look professional, non-spammy, and filled with keywords that would hopefully make it stick out from the garbage that routinely ends up in most churches’ inboxes. Here were the results:

The Data

I measured the turnaround time in whole numbers of business days. Responding on the same day was a turnaround time of “0” business days, etc. The average congregation that responded to my query responded in 1.8 business days. I would suggest that that is very high – the average ought to be 1.0 business days, with most queries being answered the same day.

Fortunately, if you remove the 4 outliers that took longer than two business days to respond, the average drops to 0.75 business days. This is fantastic! By the way, those outliers responded in 5, 6, 8, and 23 business days. The last one is not a typo – a full calendar month went by before they responded. I applaud their honesty in trying to get caught up on email.

Contact forms seemed to be counter-productive: only 2 of 7 congregations offering online contact forms actually responded to the messages sent through them.

I was surprised that only three email addresses bounced. More surprising was that 38 congregations silently failed to respond at all. Perhaps my message was rejected as spam, or a busy secretary didn’t have time for a lowly intern, but I can’t help but wonder if these churches have lost visitors as a result. Community context had no statistically significant impact on whether or how quickly a congregation responded to email.


  • Most ELCA congregations understand the need for email communication.
  • The congregations that answer the email answer it in a timely fashion.
  • Half of congregations have no one answering the email. If your congregation has a website, review the procedure with your secretary, webmaster, or whoever else is responsible for that account, and check to make sure that email is being answered in a timely fashion.

Next: A look at blogs and calendars on ELCA websites.

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