“One of the common complaints I hear is churches wish their introverted pastors were friendlier and more approachable.”
One of the most common complaints I hear from churches is how they wish their introverted pastors were friendlier and more approachable.
The good news is, this can be very easily addressed without senior pastors running themselves into the ground.
Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years to help introverted pastors practice being more relational.
1. Don’t focus on friendliness.
Focus on displaying the fruit of the spirit. Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to “be super friendly and outgoing.” But we are commanded to be joyful, peaceful, patient and kind. The former is an unrealistic expectation for anyone, introverted or extroverted. It is perception based. Especially for introverted pastors, trying to play to people’s perceptions is a fool’s game. Focus instead on exuding the fruit of the spirit in every encounter you have.
2. “Many light touches, few deep touches.”
Years ago, Steve Sjogren, former pastor of the Cincinnati Vineyard and author of Conspiracy of Kindness, told me the way he survived being a senior pastor in a thriving, chaotic church was to be strategic about how often he’d do a “deep dive” with a person. His goal was to physically shake hands and hug as many individuals as possible on Sunday morning. Then, he limited the number of 30- to 90-minute, intensely volatile emotional encounters he had with people during the week where they shared their problems.
By adopting a strategy like this, it clarifies what you’re trying to do with people. It also creates healthy boundaries for yourself. Probably the best advice I’ve ever learned from Andy Stanley is, “Do for one what you wish you could do for all.” When we do that, eventually everyone feels the ripples of our love.
3. Smile when you preach.
The good news is that people can know their pastor, even if they never actually meet their pastor. Ninety percent of the kinds of complaints about “unfriendliness” we receive stems from how we come across when we preach. Believe me, most people don’t actually want to shake your hand and talk about last week’s game with you. Quite frankly, they’re busy, or intimated, or see no real need.
What is important is the perception that you are approachable if they need to approach you in the future. So help them out and smile. Watch yourself on video with the sound off and count the number of frowns versus the number of smiles. Be brutally honest with yourself. Then change your behavior.
I used to do this with a former worship pastor who never smiled. It just didn’t come naturally. I made him force himself to smile once during each song he led. After a while it became natural, and the friendly guy I knew off stage soon became the friendly guy everyone else knew on stage.
4. Have someone quiz you on people’s names.
Up until we reached 2,000 people in our church, I had a staff member bring pictures of people in our church to our staff meetings and quiz us each week. This is incredibly helpful if your church is in the 200, 400, 600 and 800 range.
Today, I focus on memorizing certain segments of people in the congregation. Knowing someone’s name is the clearest sign that you care. It’s certainly better than calling people, “Hey youuuuu…”
5. Make sure you have one pastor to every 100 to 150 congregants.
The day I changed my staff member’s titles from “director of” to “pastor of,” any complaints about my unfriendliness virtually went away.
Years ago, I was sharing with a retired pastor friend of mine the unrealistic pastoral care and relational pressures being placed on me. He wisely responded, “It could be because you’re the only person with the title ‘pastor’ in the church.” We were young. Staff were being created within the church and had little theological education (theological education is a huge deal for me). But they were pastors, and the moment I called them such (and accelerated their theological training), things changed overnight.
People need someone “official” they can turn to, and if you don’t have at least one pastor for every 100 to 150 congregants, you’ll feel the effects. There are certain universal truths about the way congregations work, and this is one of them.
6. Publicize where you’ll be after services, and be there to greet people, every week.
The people in the church I serve know that after each service I stand at the back of the room until the last person leaves. My goal is to be available to have a word with anyone who would like to do so.
When individuals come up and start crying because of a heavy burden, I immediately invite them to speak with our prayer team members who are standing right by me. For those who “must” talk to a pastor, I have at least one male and one female pastor (or trained volunteers) with me.
I would suggest you have a similar setup for your people. Having a male and female pastor, as well as a prayer team, available frees me up to meet new people and connect with regular attendees. Without this, I would inevitably be drawn into a single conversation that makes the other 15 people who are waiting want to leave.
7. Begin emails with “Hi ________.”
You’d be surprised how blunt you can be in an email. It’s hard to gauge emotion through short written communication. That’s just a fact. So as senior pastors, we need to be strategic about the way we communicate.
I always open the emails I send by writing “Hi” before I type the person’s name. That may seem insignificant, but trust me—it helps. I know how I feel when I receive an email that is addressed “Hi Brian” vs. “Brian,” and so I’ve always wanted to respond in kind.
My friend Rick Stedman always ends his emails by typing, “Your friend, Rick.” I occasionally do that, but that seems forced to me unless the situation is right. I have been doing it more and more, though. Rick would say he wants to be everyone’s friend, and he genuinely means it, so why not go ahead and say it? Good point.
8. Send one handwritten note a day.
Go to OvernightPrints.com and order a cheap set of personally designed cards so you can handwrite one note to someone every day. Few people send handwritten notes anymore, so it touches people when you send one.
My rule of thumb is that whenever I feel thankful for someone or blessed by their ministry, I want to let them know it. Have you ever been to a funeral and heard all these beautiful things people thought about a person, and then wondered if they ever actually shared those feelings with the person while they were alive? I don’t want to go to the grave with unexpressed gratitude in my heart. I want people that have blessed my life to know it immediately.