How to Get Referrals from Churches | 4 of 5 | 05

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How to Get Referrals from Churches | 4 of 5 | 05

How do you market to churches? Where do you start? How do you establish relationships with churches?

In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok speaks with Whitney Owens about how to get referrals from churches and establishing relationships within churches.

Meet Whitney Owens

Whitney Ownens Faith In PracticeWhitney is a licensed professional counsellor and owns a growing group practice in Savannah, Georgia. Along with a wealth of experience managing a practice, she also has an extensive history working in a variety of clinical and religious settings, allowing her to specialize in consulting for faith-based practices and those wanting to connect with religious organizations.

In This Podcast


In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok speaks with Whitney Owens about how to get referrals from churches and establishing relationships within churches.


How do you market to churches?

First things first. Remember the relationship. Churches will refer you if they trust you and you do good work. You have to keep that relationship going. Have a relationship with the staff at the churches and the churches all keep in contact, and refer you whenever needed.


Where do you start?

Start with your own community first, if you have one. Talk to the pastors and ask how they go about their one-on-ones when someone is going through something and needs counseling. How are they currently referring people?

Afterward, you can consider other churches and communities and make those connections.


Establishing the relationships

After the first introductions, take them for lunch or coffee and form those relationships. Instead of talking all about what you can do, ask them how you can help them. Get them to value the idea of counseling outside of the church, too, and work together.

Explain how you make faith a part of your counseling. Keep that relationship going and keep working together with them. If things get quiet, follow up with them.

Another great way to establish those relationships is to get involved in events that are happening in the community to start those relationships or keep them going.


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Thanks For Listening!

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Podcast Transcription

Well, welcome back to the Practice of the Practice podcast. We are here today with Whitney Owens. How are you doing Whitney?
[WHITNEY]: I’m doing great. How are you?
[JOE]: I’m great. This Faith in Practice, a series that we’ve been doing has been awesome for people that are growing a faith-based practice. First, we talked about your ideal client, how to sketch out your ideal clients, so that was episode one. Episode two is all about your vision in your practice. In the previous one we talked about marketing and branding your faith-based practice and today probably the most common question I get is how to market to churches. So, unlock that church door for us. We start.
[WHITNEY]: Yes. I think in everything you do in marketing to churches, remember relationship; that they will refer to you if they trust you and they know that you do good work. So, you’re always going to keep that relationship going. It’s not about cold calls, dropping things off, it’s about having a relationship with the staff at that church. And that’s going to take you so far. And these churches, they’re all intermingled. You know this pastor talking to this pastor talking to this person. So, once you get a good name for yourself, you’re like wildfire. You’re going to church, church, church. So those relationships are so important.
[JOE]: So, if you don’t have a strong relationship with a new church, where do you start?
[WHITNEY]: Yes, start with your own community if you’re in one. Talk to your own pastor or your own staff and just kind of say, “Hey, how do you all handle when someone comes in in pain and needs counseling?” So how are they referring? Do they have someone they refer to? Is there may be a specialty that they’re looking for? Like, “Hey, when someone brings a teenager and I don’t know where to send them or a child and I don’t know someone who does play therapy,” or, I see a lot with churches, them needing someone to do grief work so, “Hey, where’s someone I can send for grief work or couples counseling too?”
So, starting in your own community. And once you kind of master that being able to consider other communities, other people that you know that are in churches. So, you might have a good friend, you might have, maybe your parents have a church that they go to saying, “Hey, can you connect me with them?” And making that connection. And then also we said this in the last episode, but your current clients, where are they attending church? You [inaudible 00:03:05] if possible, to meet with their pastor or to just call them on the phone. And then when they have other people that come up, they’re going to be sending those parishioners to you.
[JOE]: So if you attend a smaller church, would you recommend offering that pastor that you could see people in that church or like is there like a church size that if your church is under this amount, you probably shouldn’t pitch yourself to the pastor or just because of the dual relationship side?
[WHITNEY]: I mean, I do think that it’s important that you let them know what you’re doing because even in small ways they might reach out to you and say, “I have a person and I don’t know what to do with them,” and then you can kind of say, “Hey, I think they need a therapist, but I’m not the right fit for that.” So, you’re still able to help even in a small community and getting them somewhere else. so even when I first started, I had probably three therapists that I had in town that I could refer to. And so, I worked really closely with churches, probably around 500. So, large enough, but not ginormous. And so, but I worked directly with the teenagers, so I was not going to see any of the teenagers that I worked with at the church. So, I had about three therapists that I referred to for that. So, having some referrals ready for that, but then if your pastor knows you and that you do good work, well then, they’ve got a friend down the street, and then they’re telling them about you and they’re sending people. So, I think it’s still important that you get your name out. I think all pastors understand that dual relationship if you explain it to them.
[JOE]: Okay. And so, once you kind of start to meet some people in a church is it best to say, “Hey, I’m willing to do a talk or I’m willing to do, you know, talking to Bible study.” Is it, like what are the first kind of calls-to-action to those new relationships?
[WHITNEY]: Yes. I think the first thing, I do this with every first introduction, pastors, other people in the community is hangout. Like take them to lunch, get coffee with them and form that relationship. So, when I meet with a pastor for the first time, I’m saying, “How are you doing?” You know, not kind of saying, “Hey, here’s me. Here’s what I do.” Saying, “Where are you at? How can I help you? What are some of the problems that come into your office that you don’t know what to do with or who are the people that you’re finding yourself meeting more than twice with? And if you’re meeting with them more than twice, you don’t need to be meeting with them long-term.” Like those need to be going to a therapist because honestly, pastors have so much work that they’re doing. If they’re meeting one on one with their parishioners, they’re not going to get anywhere. And I kind of share that with them because that is a big part of what weighs on them is having to meet one on one with people all day long when they need to be preparing a sermon or going into the hospital or attending a funeral, that kind of thing. So, —
[JOE]: Yes, I think that I liked that you gave a structure to it. Like if they’re seeing you more than twice, then that’s when you should refer. It’s a good seed to plant in someone’s head. Do you feel like a lot of pastors still have that mindset of well, “I’m kind of trained in counseling. I should meet with a lot of people,” or are more of them willing to kind of refer out?
[WHITNEY]: Well I think you do see both, but I do feel unfortunate for the ones that think they have to keep seeing clients. And a lot of them want to keep things in-house, which kind of can get dicey. So yes, and honestly in their training, from what I understand, most seminaries are only training number one counseling course. And it’s not even like medical. It’s pastoral counseling. And it’s one class, it’s three hours and that’s it.
[JOE]: Yes. It does seem like it can quickly move from seeing a pastor to asking for prayers, to gossip. I mean like very quickly. So, educating pastors on it, how else do you educate pastors, because I think that’s sometimes the link that if a pastor understands the value of counseling outside of the church, that really opens the doors, if he or she or they are kind of referring out?
[WHITNEY]: Yes. And I think that’s why I kind of do that first meeting where I’m taking them to lunch because then it’s an extended time for us to chat. And so, once I kind of say to them, “Hey, you know, maybe you shouldn’t be meeting with them if it’s taking this much of your time and here’s where you maybe need to use your time.” And of course, they feel a lot of relief in that. Then I can explain to them, here’s why counseling can be helpful. Like this is all the training that I’ve had. Here’s how I make faith a part of what I do and then they can kind of have that assurance. I think it’s really important that we explain to them, because they’re going to ask you this. They want to know what your faith is and what you believe and how do you make that a part of your counseling. So being prepared to answer those questions with anyone in a religious setting is really, really important. And in affirming to them that if someone comes in with a really tough theological question, I’m not going to tackle that. I wasn’t trained in that. I’m trained in the clinical part. So, when you have a clinical issue, send to me. When there is a deep religious question, I’m sending back to you and we’re going to work together with this client. And they, Oh, they love that.
[JOE]: Yes. They get to tackle the things they want to tackle. So, —
[WHITNEY]: Yes. And then keeping that relationship, you know, you’re talking about that kind of the plan there. It’s like keeping that relationship going. So once I’ve met that first contact and we’ve had lunch or coffee and we’ve really gotten to know each other, keeping the ROI, being able to talk to them about the clients that they’re sending, but then following up with them, like, put it on your calendar or whatever you have to do that every six months or so I either send an email and say, “How’s it going? How’s your church doing? Anything going on that you need help with” Or I’m taking them to coffee again, or just stopping by and saying hello, but reminding them, “Hey, I’m still here,” so that when people come in, they’re remembering you.
[JOE]: Yes, I remember the pastor that married both my wife and I. I guess that’s how it works, you know, that we both get married. So, he was the one that probably referred the most to me right when I started out. And you know, I had known him since high school and then he married us and then we moved back to Traverse City. I had this part time practice and it was great to have that steady referral stream, but then he did talk to other pastors about my work. And one thing, and I’d love to hear if you’ve seen this, at least some of the churches locally were willing to pay for some of the sessions out of their, they had funds set aside for that sort of work for couples that, you know, in particular didn’t have any means to pay for counseling. Have you seen that be something that churches will often offer?
[WHITNEY]: So, some churches will pay maybe for the first number of sessions or they’ll offer six or four or whatever, and then after that, sometimes they’ll pay a portion. So, I’ve definitely seen that before. And I want to say you can be really creative. You know, we kind of were talking at the beginning about offering teachings. So, after we’re talking about this one on one, you know, getting them into your office, starting to think about how can I meet the needs of the church outside of that. So maybe you can teach a course on marriage or maybe you’re doing a seminar. Like one time I did a six to eight-week course on cognitive behavioral therapy from a Christian perspective and called it renew your mind, renew your life. And it was great. So being able to offer different kinds of things within the church to bring people in, it’s really helpful.
[JOE]: Yes. I had a pastor that was really forward thinking when I worked in Michigan’s upper peninsula; so super rural area. And he said, you know, information is information. If it’s good information I want to have it here. And so, he actually let us host a parenting class at the church and it wasn’t even a Christian parenting class. He just said, “I want to get people just in the walls of this church so they feel comfortable.” And he actually and his wife went through the parenting class too. So, it was awesome because this pastor is going through it, learning how to become a better parent, and then he’s having just regular conversations with people that were from his church, but then also people from the community. And so even though the curriculum I was teaching wasn’t even from a Christian perspective, some pastors are very open to just good information, good research for their congregation.
[WHITNEY]: Yes, I think that’s great. One of the best things, well one of the most unique and best things I think we’ve done as a practice is different, it was like a four-week series that we do in the spring. This is actually at my church on Saturday nights. So, from 4.30 to 6.00, all the couples come and we teach on a different topic. So, every series has a topic. So maybe, one of the most recent one we did was communication. We’ve done another on marriage, another on emotional intelligence with kids. So, they come for this teaching from 4.30 to 6.00, talk with one of our professional counselors, and then from six to eight they go on a date. And fortunately, our church is downtown. You can walk to so many great restaurants. And so, then they have the childcare available from 4.30 to eight. And so not only are you getting your people that are already at your church, but then that’s couples are inviting other couples because it’s only 10 bucks and you get childcare and you get to learn something great and you go on a date. Like, it’s all wonderful. So that’s always been a really big hit.
[JOE]: Yes, I love that. I love those creative kind of multilevel ideas where it’s like, “Yes, they’re getting the information and they’re getting a date and the kids are probably having a good time, you know, with whatever the youth ministry plans. So now, that’s so awesome. So, any other kind of final tips in regards to marketing to churches that you just want to make sure that people walk away with?
[WHITNEY]: Just remembering the value of relationship and really following up with people and not letting that slide. If they don’t hear from you, they’re not going to be thinking about you, they’re not going to be referring to you. And so constantly getting in their face in different kinds of ways. Be looking for events in the community where you think pastors might be so that you can say hello to them. That, it doesn’t necessarily have to be within the walls of their church. But if you’re seeing them out in the community, make an effort to be able to talk to them and have relationship.
[JOE]: Awesome. So, head on over to to see our most current resources for growing a faith-based practice. Tomorrow we’re going to be talking all about adding clinicians to your faith-based practice and kind of wrapping up this series. Whitney, we’ll talk more tomorrow.
[JOE]: Whitney, that was such a fun interview there. And we have a webinar coming up on November 12th, 2019 at two o’clock Eastern, one o’clock Central, 12 Mountain, and 11 Pacific. It’s all about Faith in Practice where you’re going to go deeper talking all about these issues, but then adding more, doing some Q&A. What sort of things are you excited about in regards to this webinar?
[WHITNEY]: Yes. Well I’m excited to answer your questions. I know that starting a practice and growing your practice is not only a lot of questions, but then when you’re specifically talking about how do I make my faith a part of that, we’re talking about a whole new world. So being able to kind of meet people where they are on that and specifically address this.