Sunday morning: you’ve navigated a half a hundred conversations anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes long. You’ve fielded questions, given counsel, and suggested next steps. And somewhere in the middle was a question or seven that you didn’t know the answer to, but promised you’d follow up on.
Tuesday afternoon: you’re still digging through the inbox from Monday and you’re attempting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. An inquiry inexplicably comes to you even though it clearly should have hit the desk of another staff member. You make a mental note to talk to that staffer later and connect them.
Friday night: after a long week you’re looking forward to nothing more than a relaxing date night out with your spouse. As you’re taking the first bite of your meal, you spot a couple from the church walking past your table to get to theirs. They stop, make small talk, and ask about an upcoming event. You left your phone (with your digital brain) in the car, but told them you’d get back with them in a couple of days with the information they’re looking for.
Handoffs are a fact of ministry. I’ve long said that I know very few answers, but given enough time I can usually find the person who has the answers. That means that most weekends I conduct a series of handoffs between the asker and the person who can actually answer. I’ll bet you do that, as well. And if you lead a team of volunteers, the number of handoffs that they’re asked to make can easily multiply into the hundreds (thousands?) over the course of a Sunday. Unfortunately, many times all of those handoffs translates to forgotten requests, misplaced emails, or broken promises to pass along more information.
So how do you get a handle on handoffs?
Just say no to “I don’t know.” My friend Mark Waltz says that I don’t know is a forbidden phrase. Yes, there are plenty of times that we don’t know, and it’s okay to say so. You just can’t leave it there. The correct phrasing is “I don’t know…but I’ll find out.” Care for your guests enough that you’re willing to put in some legwork to get them what they need.
Know where common information is housed. Our website can be – like many church sites – difficult to navigate if you’re not sure where to begin. Our web team has done an admirable job of making things simple, and one trick they’ve employed is intuitive URLs (think summitrdu.com/students, summitrdu.com/smallgroups, and summitrdu.com/underwaterbasketweavingoutreachministry). If I know the asker’s question can be answered online, I’ll pull out my phone and show them where they can find the information later. It puts the power in their hand and – as the saying goes – teaches a man to fish.
Find the answer on the spot. If you’re stumped on a question, ask if the guest has a few minutes for you to find the answer. And then hustle like crazy to find the person who can answer it. Text them, call them, track them down in the lobby, but do whatever it takes to prevent your guest from leaving empty handed. But if you can’t find the person with the knowledge…
Let the asker know your next step. Last weekend I was asked a question I didn’t know the answer to, and the guy who had the answer didn’t pick up his phone or reply to my text. So I took my guest’s information, told him I would follow up with the answer man later that afternoon, and promised to have the answer in his inbox by that evening.
Be a “question broker” for the asker. I’m amazed when I call a customer support line and have to give the same round of information multiple times before I can get an answer. It’s frustrating to know that the company doesn’t care enough to record that info as they pass me up the chain. Blessed be the customer service rep who has to pass me along, but before doing so they explain the situation on my behalf. We should do the same for our guests. When we’re asked a question we don’t know the answer to, we should re-ask the question to the answer-bearer. It communicates that (a) we’re listening, and (b) we cared enough about their comfort that we didn’t make them repeat themselves.
Trade information. If I take a guest’s email or phone number and promise to follow up later, I always offer my information in exchange. That way they don’t feel like I hold all of the power. They can follow up with me if they haven’t heard back in a reasonable amount of time. That said, the most important part of the handoff is…
Follow up. Write down their information. Contact the person you promised you’d contact. Get back in touch with them if you said you would. Make a note, set a reminder, write it in Sharpie on your arm, tell them to hit you up if they haven’t heard back in 24 hours…whatever it takes to keep them from falling through the cracks, do that thing. Your credibility is on the line when you say it and don’t do it.
Got any tips for making handoffs happen? I’d love to hear them. Comment below.