Some pastors are naturally approachable. They have a certain charisma that draws people. Other pastors draw in people like an open-casket viewing. People approach but with nervous hesitation. Most of us are somewhere in between these two extremes.
Your approachability as a pastor is not limited to Sunday mornings, but it’s an essential time when people will develop perceptions about you. For example, I’ve heard one comment over and over from people who meet me for the first time after I preach: “You’re way taller than I expected!” I don’t know what it is about the stage or pulpit, but apparently, people don’t pick up on my six-foot-two-and-three-quarters-frame. (The three-quarters is important because that makes me the same height as my little brother).
There are several theories about how follower perceptions—whether correct or not—affect the realities in which leaders operate. The cliché is true. Perception is reality. Good pastors know this. They understand preaching alone, doctrine alone, and vision alone are not enough. Some of the most naïve advice out there is “Just preach the Word.” It’s tantamount to telling a teacher, “Just teach good lessons.” Some of the worst teachers are the ones who are only there to dump knowledge. There is a relational aspect to leading. People have to trust you, believe you, and yes, like you. Obviously, not everyone will like you, but a segment of those you lead should!
Approachability is only one facet of leadership, but it’s an integral part of being a pastor. Your weekend worship experiences are a concentrated time, meaning you have the most people on campus for a short duration. It’s your chance to interact with your congregation and for others to see you interacting. Not everyone will talk to you, but many will see you talking and assume you can be approached.
If you are a lead pastor, there will be many wrong perceptions about you. It’s impossible to stop. People will formulate ideas about who you are, often pulling from ideals and experiences—good or bad— with previous pastors. These perceptions will be corrected over time as you interact with people. Church members communicate with other church members about your true personality. I certainly haven’t mastered the art, but I make an intentional effort on Sundays. Here are some things to consider.
Take the initiative. The most approachable pastors approach others first. You’re not being approachable if you wait on others to come to you! Get to the service early and walk around and talk to people. Interact with your church between worship experiences if you have multiple services. Stay afterward and hang out with those who are talking in the room.
Sit and stand in different areas of the worship space during worship. Don’t get into a rhythm of sitting in the same seat every week. If you have a balcony, then go up there and sing with everyone. Take a seat in the back row. Sit with different people every week. I try to move around in this way once a month.
“Help” the first impressions team. The greeters don’t need your help, but it’s a great place to meet a lot of people as they come into worship. Shake hands. Smile. Hand out worship guides. Help someone find a seat.
Have an extended conversation with an early arrival. Most people who are seated in a worship service early are guests. Spend five or ten minutes getting to know them. Ask for their contact information and follow up with them. Most guests will appreciate the personal interaction with a pastor.
Invite people to talk after the invitation. At the end of our services, we have a time where we invite people to respond. This response time has many different forms. We often pray together. We often call people to action. Though I don’t say it every week, I will let people know during the invitation that they are invited to talk with me or another pastor after the service. While people respond during the invitation time, far more respond afterward.
Your persona on Sunday morning is not the whole of who you are, but it’s often the main way church members form perceptions about you. So use the time strategically to become a more approachable pastor.