You called? A survey of telephone hospitality in Holston

You called? A survey of telephone hospitality in Holston

By Suzanne C. Hickerson

We did the first time in 2005. Two years later, The Call has again telephoned 12 churches of varying sizes during the week before Easter.The motive was simple. We wanted to experience what it’s like for a potential guest to call a church and ask, “When are your Easter Sunday services?”

Church leaders know that Easter is a golden opportunity to welcome guests they might not see any other time of the year. Many expect to publicize their Easter services through newspaper ads, church signs, and Web sites. Yet, despite our technology-driven world, sometimes a simple telephone call is the most direct and personable way to gather information. 

From March 31 to April 7, I conducted an informal telephone survey of 12 churches in 12 districts, representing an equal number of small, medium, and large congregations. The calls were made during office hours as well as evenings and weekends – when most people are home and perhaps thinking about attending church. Telephone numbers were initially located through the Internet white pages (

Overall, the responses were beneficial and courteous. In some cases, churches did not have voice mail or did not immediately return my calls. Remember that this survey is not scientific, but does reflect my personal observations. The responses could have been different on any given day.

Following a similar 2005 survey, one pastor expressed concern that we called during non-officehours. Another pastor protested that his church was in the midst of a building program and the phone system was experiencing problems. A district superintendent observed that a particular church had a hard-working part-time pastor who had many other obligations besides keeping up with telephone calls.

As true and complicated asthese situations may be, the pointisthat a potential visitor is unawareof such circumstances. When a person makes an effort to telephone a church for information, he or she should be rewarded with easy answers, a quick and courteous response, and an invitation to attend. Otherwise, it’s easy for that potential guest to turn to a more welcoming or accessible church – or to forget about going to church at all.

Abingdon District: First Bristol UMC

I called First Bristol on Saturday about 3:30 p.m., one week before Easter. I was greeted by a pleasant and friendly voice. The man provided the information I requested. He also offered to double-check the time of the sunrise service by obtaining a nearby church bulletin.

Big Stone Gap District: Tacoma UMC

Tacoma does not seem to have a voice mail system, so it became frustrating and impossible to obtain information or speak with someone. I called eight times throughout the week – Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning, Monday afternoon, Wednesday evening, Friday morning and afternoon, and again Saturday morning prior to Easter Sunday. To make sure I was calling the correct number, I completed an online search through a program called Citysearch, which provided me with the same number I had been calling.

Chattanooga District: Jones Memorial UMC

The Jones Memorial voice mail system provided a pleasant message with the worship service and Sunday school schedule. To obtain specific information concerning Easter Sunday services, I left a message Saturday afternoon and received a prompt return call Monday morning. A very cheerful woman left a message on my answering machine with times for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday services. She also provided the time and location for an Easter morning breakfast. On the message, she called me by name and offered her name and number for additional questions.

Cleveland District: Red Hill UMC

A phone number was not available in the white pages, because the church doesn’t have a phone. However, the parsonage number is located on the church sign. I called Red Hill parsonage early Monday afternoon and received a prompt return call later the same day. “We would love to have you,” the friendly voice said. In addition to providing the times for worship service, Sunday school, and the Wednesday fellowship meal, she told me about the congregation and invited me to “come be a part of our family.”

Johnson City District: Cherokee UMC

Cherokee’s voice mail message provided a wealth of information for worship, Sunday school, youth, choir and Wednesday-nightactivities. I left a message Wednesday evening and received a timely response Thursday morning. A helpful woman left a message, providing worship service information. She also told me about the blossoming cross, located outside the church. “You may bring a flower to place on the cross,” she said. She also left her name and a number for more information. “There’s a lot going on,” she added. “There always is at this church. It’s wonderful! I appreciate the phone call.” The only problem I encountered in contacting Cherokee was that the number provided on the Internet white pages was a fax number. I called directory assistance to obtain the church phone number.

Kingsport District: Wheeler UMC

On my first two attempts, I was unsuccessful in reaching someone at Wheeler. There didn’t seem to be an answering machine, and there was no way to leave a message. However, when I called again Wednesday evening I talked with a helpful individual, who answered my questions. “We would love to have you,” the person said. “Hope you will come and join us.”

Knoxville District: Cokesbury UMC

The individual I spoke with at Cokesbury provided the information I requested. However, I was disappointed in the tone of the conversation. The individual was polite, but did not extend an invitation to Cokesbury or provide a friendly greeting the way several others did. I may have caught the individual off guard while they were working on another project, but it was something I noticed.

Maryville District: Peck’s Memorial UMC

The Peck’s Memorial number was not available in the online white pages but was available through directory assistance. I called Peck’s Memorial Wednesday evening at 6:35 p.m. and received a return call a few hours later. The caller was friendly and provided the requested information.

Morristown District: First Morristown UMC

I contacted First Morristown Wednesday evening and left a message at approximately 6:40 p.m. I did not receive a return call. I called again Saturday morning about 9:10 a.m., leaving a second message. A man returned my call around noon and provided information concerning Easter services.

Oak Ridge District: Luminary UMC

Luminary’s voice mail provided office hours and worship times. The message ended with, “Thank you for calling.” I received a punctual return call. The caller provided times for Easter services and thanked me again for calling. “Hope you enjoy your Easter,” she added.

Tazewell District: Grundy UMC

I called Grundy five times and was unsuccessful in gathering information about Easter services, since the church does not seem to have an answering machine or voice mail. I called Wednesday evening, Friday morning, twice Friday afternoon, as well as Saturday morning. To make sure I was calling the correct number, I also completed an online search through a program called Citysearch, which provided me with the same number I had been calling.

Wytheville District: First Pulaski UMC

I reached a friendly voice Wednesday evening. The individual provided information concerning Easter Sunday services as well as the time and location for the sunrise service. “We would love to see you,” she concluded.

Suzanne C. Hickerson is a freelance writer living in Salem, Va.