I teach the Pastoral Leadership Course at the Center for Ministry Training Program at Phillips Seminary. It’s an eight-week online intensive on what it takes to be an effective leader in the church today. One of the things I teach during the course is that a pastor cannot grow the church by staying in their office. There’s always a lengthy discussion on why a pastor shouldn’t keep office hours … and should spend as little time in the office as possible.

When that particular topic is broached, inevitably a student asks, “If I’m not in my office, where should I spend my time?” (and for the record, sitting at your house is the wrong answer). And so, here is a list of seven things you can, and arguably should, do instead of spending time in your office.

1. Get Yourself Known

Spend some significant time building a positive reputation with the local community leadership. Go meet the mayor, the chief of police, the fire chief, your aldermen (all of them), the city manager, the principles, the school superintendent, the high school sports coaches, the chamber president, the local commercial real estate developers, business owners, the hospital CEO, and so on.

And don’t just introduce yourself, get to know them. Befriend them. Find out where they hang out, and hang out with them. Over the years, I’ve built great relationships with many of these leaders and it always pays off in increased visibility. Don’t forget, you’re the face of the church in your community, so the more widely you’re known, the more leverage your church has to reach people.

2. Join the Chamber of Commerce

And don’t just join it, get involved. Most Chambers have multiple networking opportunities each month. Go to the breakfasts. Go to the lunches. Go to the networking events. Never miss a ribbon cutting. Lead the invocations. Take your business cards and get to know every business owner who attends (and of course, pass out those biz cards copiously). And when a new member joins, be one of the first ones to get next to him/her and introduce them to pretty much everyone.

By the end of your first year as a Chamber member, you should be one of the best-known individuals, and you should know all the regulars, and a good number of the irregulars. However, don’t be lured into becoming a board member – most Chambers generate a lot of work for their board members, and there’s rarely a big enough payoff in terms of exposure to take that step.

3. Join the Downtown Revitalization Association

Of course, if your church isn’t “downtown,” this recommendation makes no sense. But there are a lot of churches that were built in their community’s downtown, and many of America’s downtowns are plagued with blight and decay. If your church IS downtown, and if there is a Main Street Association or a similar downtown revitalization association, it behooves you and your church to be an active member.

Since most Main Street Associations are strapped for cash, most of them host fund raisers … sometimes lots of them. If you can stay off of the planning teams, you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches. However, DO plan on volunteering to help set up, take down, or serve in other ways during these events. And then make sure you’re intentionally mixing the public as much as possible, and make sure you’re representing your church, not just the Association. If you’ve done a good job at #1 above, this is pretty easy, since others will be doing the introductions: “Oh, have you met Pastor Kelly? Kelly’s at First Church and has been a part of Main Street for two years.”

4. Join Toastmasters

First let me say that I strongly advise against joining a service club (Optimists, Rotary, Lions, etc.). For one, if you’re doing the above, you don’t have time to do the work at a service club. And second, it seems like most service clubs are already clogged with clergy.

But I DO recommend joining a local Toastmasters International Club. There are a number of reasons for this. First, it’s not a service club, in the classic sense of the word. The only service they do as a club is help each other learn to be better communicators. Second, for whatever reason, clergy seem to avoid TM, so you have a good opportunity to be THE face of your church and of the faith as well. And third, I teach homiletics … and sadly, I rarely hear a pastor speak who couldn’t use a membership in TM for their own good, and for the sake of their congregations as well.

On a personal level, I love Toastmasters because it helps me hone my craft, especially since recent studies have shown that the main reason a visitor returns to a church is because of the excellence and biblical relevance of the preaching. I’ve been a professional public speaker for over thirty-five years, but I know I can always get better … bet you could too!

5. Teach an Adult Education Class

Community colleges, county extensions, university extensions, and the like offer adult education courses … and most are looking for excellent instructors who are able to teach an excellent skill. Like dancing. Or whittling. Or Italian Cooking. Or bicycle repair. Or computer 101.

Some are looking for instructors to teach educational subjects like creative writing, English grammar, basic math, algebra, or language skills.

And sometimes, in some communities, they’re looking for someone to teach comparative religion, intro to the Bible, etc.

In my opinion, you’re better off teaching basket weaving (a more difficult skill than you’d think) than a religion course, because most people attending a religion course are already spiritually spoken for. But whatever you can do to get yourself in front of people so they can get to know you on a personal level is a win-win.

6. Attend Community Events

Don’t just get yourself known, get out of your office and be seen whenever the community gathers. There may not be something going on every weekend, but even the smallest communities tend to do something a couple times a year. Sure, you can set up a booth for your church at the local arts show, but you don’t have to go that far to begin leveraging these events.

Just show up.

Hang out.

Stay awhile.

And network.

That means getting noticed. It means having conversations with as many people as you can.

The town where I serve has car shows, an arts festival, a music fete, a Christmas tree lighting, an Easter egg hunt, and plenty more. I try to make sure I attend as many as possible and it pays off. Most of the time, I’m the only clergy there (which was blatantly true when I attended the craft beer festival … with my appearance there, my reputation as a pastor for “real” people was sealed – the mayor still introduces me to people as the “Only pastor who had the guts to show up at the beer fest.”

One last note on community events. If your community has a school, then you’ll have plenty of events you can attend – even if you don’t have a child in the system. Head out to the football games and sit with the booster club. Attend the school plays and concerts. Support for the basketball team and root for the baseball team. Cheer on the runners and the javelin throwers at the track and field events. In other words, root, root, root for the home team!

7. Eat Out – Work Out

Finally, support your community by hanging out with it and spending your money in it. Frankly, your church should budget funding for you to each out a couple times a week in the community. But don’t just go to breakfast or lunch, be strategic about where you eat. And don’t forget to work off those extra calories by working out at the local gym.

When it comes to eating out, find out where your target audience or your community networkers eat. There are three breakfast haunts for networkers here in my community: a doughnut shop, an in-store restaurant at a grocery store, and a breakfast place. Two of the three are locally owned, so that’s where I tend to hang out most. But don’t just eat there once in awhile. To build relationships with the regulars, you have to become one of the regulars. For instance, I hit the doughnut shop (coffee only for me) every Wednesday morning at about 7. Be consistent and you’ll build relationships.

By the way, I’ve found in my community that there’s not a lot of point at hanging out at the coffee shop, even though it’s right across the street from the church. Even in these COVID days, there are more Bible studies and church staff meetings going on there than inside most church buildings (below is a picture!). So, I like to hang out at a local micro-brewery or at a local bar where I rarely see clergy, but get to spend time with waves of millennials.

Coffee Shop Bible Studies
There are more Bible studies going on at coffee shops than at churches anymore!

And of course, don’t forget to work off those extra calories at the gym. Same rules as your restaurant visits – be consistent about the days and times you attend so you become one of the regulars. When you do, you’ll have the opportunity to have great conversations.

So, there you have it. Seven places where you can spend time outside your office.

Where else have you found to hang out? Let us know by sharing in the Comments Section below.

How you network matters!

If you’re going to make a connection with those who are NOT a part of your church, you’ve got to find a way to reach out, have a conversation, and build a relationship.

Even if you’re an introvert!

Thankfully, the Pastor’s Get More Visitors Checklist gives you the tools to do exactly that.

Most pastors spend most of their time in their offices … at least in part because they don’t know what to do when they get out in public. Hopefully the post above has been helpful for that. You’ve got 7 things you can do!

But if you’re ready to get serious about connecting with potential visitors and getting them to walk though the doors of you church building on a Sunday morning, grab the Pastor’s Get More Visitors Checklist today. It’s free!