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The Role of Permission In Community Management

Spam HatA community isn’t really a community if you have to find ways to trap people in it. It’s a prison.

I’m a community manager. That’s part of my formal role with Pastors.com, and it also definitely comes with the territory of leading a church. I see my role, in each case, as being twofold. I ask these two key questions daily:

  • How can I connect the next person to the community, or the organization that owns the community?
  • How can I connect people within the community to each other? This is the essence of community to begin with.

We’ve made some changes to how we handle Rick Warren’s Pastor’s Toolbox newsletter, which is an awesome, free, weekly resource for Pastors and church leaders, by the way. Sometimes, for reasons that will only be known in eternity, someone wants to be removed from the newsletter’s email list. In the past, that has required several steps that never actually worked.

Today, I received a kind email about the issue from an unwilling subscriber who couldn’t get off the list. And here’s how I responded (names have been changed to protect the innocent)…

As Pastors.com’s community manager, I must apologize! You’re not the only person who has had trouble getting off the list. As of two weeks ago, we moved the Toolbox over to Mailchimp so that we could be a better, more permission-based community.

I’ve personally removed your email and am attaching the screenshot of the confirmation. If you get next week’s Toolbox, you should call my cell phone immediately (***-***-****) and let me HAVE it!!

Thanks for handling this gently. We’re trying to be a better community, even if it means letting people leave it gracefully.

I meant that last line. Being a good community manager means respecting every member of the community, even when it means respecting their right to leave at will. When people leave the church I lead as Pastor, I respect that they know what they’re doing and that they know, better than I do, what is best for their relationship with God. And when people want to unsubscribe from Pastor Rick’s weekly emails, I respect that they’re being sharpened in other ways, need to cut back on their media intake, or have some other really great reason for leaving.

We (including church leaders) have to reject any approach to people that treats them as mere numbers or, in professional terms, “leads.” We aren’t selling the gospel. Systems that help us minister to everyone without letting people fall through the cracks are necessary and beneficial. But a mindset that “works the prospect list” is often contrary to the kind of community-building Jesus engaged in. It worked in the 50′s and 60′s because, whether we will admit it or not, the church was taking a lot of cues from the developing business world. As you sell life insurance, so sell the gospel…

I want people to want in. Therefore, before I engage them, I want their permission, which flows out of a real, genuine, human relationship, not a sales pitch.

With your permission, I’d love to send you email updates (just use the subscription box on my website), but if you don’t want my input in your inbox, don’t expect my updates and promotions to show up there. After all, you can only engage in so many communities. I hope to lead mine to be compelling.

Photo by Kanaka Menehune.

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