There’s an old saying that goes “Pastor, you can’t be faithful to the Great Commission if you’re stuck inside your office” (okay, so it’s not that old of a saying). But the truth is there nonetheless. We’ve found that pastors of turnaround churches (and larger, growing churches as well) spend less time in their office and more time with those outside the faith – and those faithful to rubbing shoulders with the unchurched do more baptisms than the average pastor.
But the number one question we get from pastors when we suggest they vacate their offices for most the week is how? Here are five secrets to getting out of the office (and into the places where you can make the most difference).
1. Ease Back Your Office Hours
Pastors of small churches should be spending 80 percent of their work time in the real world of the unchurched… and pastors of larger churches should be bouncing around the 50 percent mark. Since the average pastor in North America spends little to no time with the unchurched each week, most find those figures not only daunting, but impossible.
So don’t make the shift from office to Starbucks (or wherever you’re going to meet the unchurched) by taking one giant leap. Instead, start your week by scheduling a couple of hours out of the office to spend with unbelievers. Come to work on Tuesday at ten instead of eight o’clock and spend those two hours at the diner chatting with folks at the counter. Take an extended lunch on Wednesday and spend the extra hour at the local junior college’s student center. Spend Thursday evening at the food court in the mall (or at the local watering hole) and start a couple of conversations. Repeat next week and extend the time a little every month.
2. Hand Off as Many Admin Tasks as Possible
It’s just a guess, but I estimate that no fewer than 60 percent of the pastors reading this blog post are still involved in writing the weekly bulletin.
As more congregations join the twentieth century and add screen technology to their worship centers, there is a diminishing need for a bulletin at all. But let’s be honest, even if you’re still laboring under Gutenberg’s print world, the only ones who really need a bulletin are visitors – everyone else knows pretty well what comes after the prelude because the order of service hasn’t changed since the invention of the microwave oven.
Whether it’s getting out from underneath the bulletin, the newsletter, ordering more toner, or checking the answering machine, pastor, you have more important things to do than sit behind your computer and do Facebook updates (or any of these other simple “admin” tasks).
There are two ways to stop doing these tasks. The first is to make an announcement that you’ll not be doing ____ after this week, so if the congregation wants _____, someone else will need to step up. I’ve never NOT had someone step up to take over the bulletin when I announced I needed someone else to do it or else we’d be using a standard boilerplate bulletin the next week. (Boilerplate bulletins list the order of worship without details, for example: Prelude, Prayer, Hymn, Offering, Scripture Reading, Sermon, Hymn, Prayer – and the hymn page numbers, etc. are announced verbally.)
The second way is to be intentional about recruiting someone to take over. It’s more work, but a lot more gentle.
But however you do it, get out from under as much admin as possible and you’ll have more time to get out of the office.
3. Find at Least Three Effective Off-Site Hangouts
It won’t make any difference if you’ve handed off everything you shouldn’t be doing and cut your office hours to nubbins if you don’t have somewhere you want to go. I didn’t like going to the library back when I was doing church planting. It was too stuffy for good conversations. On the other hand, I loved going to Starbucks, sports bars, and Barnes and Noble. I didn’t have any problem getting out of the office – most of the time, I couldn’t wait.
You may find that you like hanging out at the high school ball games, the local college’s student center, or at the gym. The key here is to find at least three places you like going to where you can network with people outside of your church (or anybody’s church, for that matter). If you like going to these places, it won’t be hard to get there, but if you dread it, you’ll do anything to keep from going. So if you abhor going to McDonalds in the early morning to meet people, don’t go. Find somewhere else.
Lest I miss mentioning it, the most important word in this tip is effective. Far too many church leaders go places like Panera Bread to hang out because they have great wifi and the pastor can connect and get work done. The problem with Panera and similar places is that the seating isn’t made for networking. Most of the seating is in booths, and “dropping into a conversation” that’s happening in a booth just invites a “mind your own business” response. It’s not socially acceptable to drop in on random strangers who are dining in a booth. That’s why places like bars and coffee shops have open seating at tables and high tops – these invite cross table conversations. So measure how many conversations you’re having at your hangouts. If you’re not having at least a couple every time you go, then consider finding someplace that’s more open.
4. Practice the 4P Paradigm
Here are the “rules” for getting started with effective networking while you’re out:
- Proximity: You have to go somewhere that your target (unchurched) is hanging out. You may need to get creative in some settings. For instance, go to the football games and sit with the band boosters – they’re at every game and sit in pretty much the same seats, so you’ll get to know who’s who pretty quickly. Of course, coffee shops, malls, local watering holes, book stores, the library, etc. are possibilities. Go be where the people are.
- Predictable: Go to the same place at approximately the same time on the same day each week. Become one of the “regulars” and you’ll have a better chance of meeting folks who are regularly there. Familiarity breeds conversation. Help people recognize you by being seen in the same place regularly.
- Persistent: Don’t give up on a hangout until you’re sure it’s a dud. One of the pastors I coach hung out at the same coffee shop for over six months before he had a significant conversation with an unchurched person. Now the coffee shop is one of his most productive fishing pools for first-time guests. (On the other hand, you may need to change up the day and/or time to see if the issue is you’re missing your target audience.)
- ‘Proachable: There’s an old pastor’s joke amongst church consultants – “How do you get a pastor to grow a church? Take away their laptop.” If you’re “networking” but don’t look up from your book, phone, tablet, laptop, notepad, etc., you might as well stay in the office. Look up at people. Smile. Start conversations with the folks at the table next to you. Interact. That’s the point. You have to be approachable.
5. Join Something – Just Don’t Join a Service Club
I get a lot of pushback from many church pastors when I tell them to not join a service club. But pastor, you HAVE a service club that demands your time: your church. You simply don’t have time to do good things in the name of the Kiwanis. You need to be doing good things in the name of your church and the kingdom.
Join the Chamber of Commerce and network with local merchants (but don’t serve on the board). Head over to Toastmasters International and sharpen your speaking skills and network with others in business and industry. Join the golf club and refuse to golf with your church members – or to golf solo. Join the gym and DON’T take your iPod or headphones to listen to music so you can initiate conversations with other fitness folks. Join the local ski club, car club, writer’s club, whatever. Do something to make new friends.
There you are: five ways to get out of your office and hang out with the unchurched. This is a must if you’re going to be faithful to the Great Commission.
Question: How have you managed to get out of the office so you can network with the unchurched and unbelievers in your community? Share your tips in the Comments Section below.