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Why networking is critical and how to do it

Networking with youth workersIt doesn’t matter the size of the town, I see the same thing in almost every place I visit: the body of Christ divided into different buildings only blocks apart. Typically, the lines of communication between these churches are frayed if they even exist at all.

Is that what Christ envisioned for his church?

Last month I met with a youth pastor in the Midwest before one of my training workshops. I asked him, “Have you made any contact with any of the other churches in this town? I passed three churches within a mile from here.”

“I used to know a guy at the Baptist church down the road,” he replied, “but he left and I’ve never met the new guy.”

Why is networking so difficult for most youth workers?

In all honesty, I haven’t met a lot of youth workers who are against networking as a principle. It’s like “eating healthy and exercising.” It’s a good practice, but hey, it’s difficult!

When I ask the typical youth worker if they know the youth pastor at the church down the street, then answer is usually, “no,” often followed by a rationalization of some sort.

“I’m new to this ministry and I wanted to get stuff settled here before I branch out.”

“I’m really concentrating on my own denomination right now before networking with other denominations.”

In other words, on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being high, networking is given about a priority 1 or 2.

Then an opportunity comes along to do a big event or a citywide training, something that would be waaaaaaaaaaaay easier if a network of churches went together and shares resources. Guess what happens then? The same youth worker (I’ve seen it literally 100 times) who had deemed networking a priority 1, is now frantically making phone calls, trying to make it priority 9 or 10 and having no luck.

More rationalization:

“I tried calling the Presbyterian guy down the street and he won’t even return my call.”

“I dropped a flyer off at the Methodist Church and they didn’t come to the event. They have no interest in reaching our city!”

Really? Let’s look at the situation. We don’t call someone for three years, and all of a sudden, in one week’s time we make 8 phone calls to local youth workers and none of them call back. We assume that it’s because they are rude or don’t care. Is it possibile that they are just giving our phone call a priority 1 or 2 like you did for the last three years?

The fact is, networking isn’t easy. It isn’t instantaneous and it usually isn’t successful when there are strings attached. In other words, networking is much like evangelism.

It’s not instantaneous

Networking is much more than one phone call. Networking isn’t something we can do just once a year. It takes time and commitment.

Years ago I made an effort networking with youth pastors in my area. It started with a phone call. Make that multiple phone calls. Then I usually invited them to lunch. That lunch turned into another lunch, which eventually turned into us working together on something — maybe a training or an event.

The process usually took months of phone calls, emails, and face-to-face contact. As time passed, trust was built. (Dare I compare networking to dating?)

Networking is much easier with no strings attached

Years ago I worked with a youth ministry that hosted monthly network lunches for youth pastors. Frequently a new youth worker would visit our lunch for the first time with a stack of flyers, announce his “vision for a new event to reach the city,” leave his flyers, and vanish, never to be seen again. Those of us who were regulars at these network lunches grew skeptical of these “Lone Rangers” who only showed up once hoping to recruit bodies for his/her event. The truth is, these one-hitters weren’t interested in building relationships with other ministers — they were working the room. And strings were attached.

If you need to start networking with other churches to do a big city-wide event, you’re too late. First, build the network with no strings attached. When you meet with another youth worker for lunch, don’t do it with a flyer in your pocket. Network first. Synergize for an event later.

My brother is a pastor in a town with a population of 368 (including the goat in the south field). His church hosts a vacation bible school every year, inviting all the local churches to come together and participate. During that week you’ll see Methodist, Baptist and Evangelical Free congregation members working hand in hand with the goal of reaching kids for Christ. This small town has 125+ kids come to this VBS every year with all the churches working together hand in hand.

Isn’t that the way it should be?

It can start with a phone call. “Hey Mike the Methodist, let me take you to lunch. No reason at all other than I’d like to meet you and get to know you.”

What about you?

  • Why is networking always given a low priority?
  • What are the biggest roadblocks to networking?
  • What are some successes you’ve had networking?

Your assignment for today: Call a youth worker at another local church in town and schedule lunch with them.

(Jonathan spends even more time discussing the ins and outs of networking in his award-winning book, “Getting Students to Show Up.”)


Posted on June 15, 2011

  • angelarines

    Networking is actually one of my top priorities upon arriving in a new ministry!
    Within a couple of months of starting at my current church, I was connected with a group of youth ministers from a variety of denominations. It is now a year later and I am now starting to work on making more connections denominationally as well.
    I just can't stress how important it is to me! So important to my mental and spiritual health, as well as my longevity in ministry! And I can't tell other youth minister enough how important this is for them too!!!

    • That's awesome! I totally agree with how important networking is. In our community local youth workers meet together every Tuesday morning to talk, share, pray, and link arms. It's great! I think it's one of those things you don't understand how important it is until you've experienced it.

  • Steve

    Jonathan is right on – networking is SO important! And a huge blessing too!

    There's a great group of youth pastors in my community that get together twice a month. One meeting is always at a local school where we spend an hour or so praying for students. The other meeting is at one of our churches where we have a devotional, share ministry ideas, talk about news/events we can all participate in and share prayer requests with each other. Both meetings are usually followed by going out to lunch for whoever can make it. A lot of great friendships have been made as a result which have led to a lot of joint efforts for events for students.

    When I hear about a student from my church going to another one of these churches with a friend, instead of fearing losing a student, I think, "I know they're in good hands whether they're here or there."

    It's great working together and I wish every youth pastor could have this kind of community.

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