How to get referrals (Part 1: Pastors)

For this post, I tried thinking about how I’ve been getting referrals since starting my private practice in 2014. This thought exercise has inspired me to keep better track of my referral sources via spreadsheet. But for now, I have to rely on my best guesses from memory. I have some rough percentages to share with you:

  • Through pastors: 35%
  • Through other therapists: 20%
  • Through my clients: 20%
  • Through my podcasts: 15%
  • Through Psychology Today: 10%
  • Facebook Ads, Random flyers, other means: Nearly 0%

These percentages will differ from therapist to therapist. I plan to go through each of my percentages with you. Today I’d like to just focus on the top percentage – Pastors

As many of you know, I pastored for 8 years. 4 years with a youth group, and 4 years with an English Ministry, both stints at Korean churches. Over an 8 year period, I befriended dozens of pastors. I took classes with them in seminary, I collaborated with them at retreats and conferences, I played Halo with them at our pastors’ bachelor pad in Rowland Heights 🎮. Not only this, I had friends from college who went on to become pastors. And I get to meet other pastors through the pastors I already know. I cannot emphasize enough how significant it has been referral-wise to know pastors on a fraternally intimate level. 

Why are pastors an important referral source?

Each of these pastors shepherds anywhere from 15 people to 15,000 people. Oftentimes, congregants trust the recommendations of their pastor if they have a decent enough relationship. If a congregant approaches a pastor for a personal problem, the pastor may (1) counsel the problem themselves, (2) refer to a lay counselor within the church, or (3) refer out to a therapist they trust. Here’s the thing: if the pastor does not know and trust you, they will not refer people to you!

So how does a pastor get to know and trust you?

A cold call might work. You might find success if you email or call a pastor in your area and invite them to coffee/tea. It kind of depends on the willingness of the pastor. I have made cold calls before with pastors and established good relationships. This does not always translate into immediate increase in clients however. I think the client increase comes in complex forms, and the main thing is to establish, maintain and deepen pastor relationships.

SOLA Conference 2016

Speaking engagements at churches tend to bring immediate clients more often than not. The attendees listen to you teach on a topic that is important to them, and if they have benefitted from your teaching, you have earned enough trust for them to contact you for an appointment. The question is, how do you get a speaking engagement? I think it goes back to a pastor knowing and trusting you. They want to feel confident that what you teach will be good for their congregation, or else it will reflect poorly on them. Maybe for some of you, the bigger question is, can I overcome stage fright to do a speaking engagement at all!

Pastor/Therapist Networking Event 2017, held at Christ Central Southern California

Here’s an instant way for multiple pastors to get to know you in one sitting: a pastors/therapists networking event. I have set up several of these in the past in the Southern California area, and I look forward to setting up more. If you are in a different part of the country, I highly encourage you to try and set one up too! For sure, attending one of these events may mean having to drive more than you want, and probably to miss out on session revenue and/or family time. It’s a sacrifice. I believe it’s a sacrifice exponentially worth it. No cold calling needed. It’s just one 2 hour time block, plus driving time, to meet with multiple pastors. You can tell them directly what you specialize in, and answer any questions they may have. Face to face conversations are so crucial to building trust! 

Feed hungry pastors 🙂

Once you befriend a pastor, maintain and nurture the relationship. Ask them out to coffee periodically, ask them about their ministry, get to know them. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to serve their congregation better. Use discretion and keep healthy boundaries and meet in groups of 3 or more when possible if you are female and the pastor is male and married. Being beyond reproach never goes out of style!

Engage. Engage. Engage. I can then refer you to pastors!

Lastly, I’d love to be a referral resource for you as well. I would love to connect you with pastors. Because I know so many pastors, I get phone calls, emails or messages from them every week, asking me for therapist recommendations for this or that situation. I currently have a very small list of therapists that I refer them to with confidence. I have this confidence because I have gotten to know these therapists. I know their specialties, I know their personality. It feels so great when a pastor thanks me later for recommending a trusted therapist to them. They often tell me it was a great fit. And the only way I could have guessed it would be a great fit is if I really knew the therapist!


If you would like to become a go-to referral for a pastor who influences potentially hundreds of others, you have to do the hard work of trust building with that pastor. Try cold calling. Find speaking engagements. Jump on networking opportunities. Nurture pastoral relationships. Engage with our Facebook group and this blog so that I and others can get to know you and trust you more!

Here’s your chance to practice engaging

How have you gotten to know pastors better? Share an example of how pastor relationships have helped you get referrals!

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