Networking Before a Crisis

Crises Happen: Over the last two weeks we have seen the devastation caused by tropical storm Sandy.  In one neighborhood residents watched houses across the street burn to the ground as a six foot tidal surge left them trapped in their own home.  Two weeks later thousands of residents are homeless or without power.  Though most communities did not see this level of destruction, the potential of crisis is in every community.  They could range from a tragic death to a shooting rampage.  It is important for the church to be positioned to step in when it happens.

Preparing for Crises: Being a resident of the great state of Florida, preparation means being ready for that one hurricane that could obliterate us.  Because we never know what kind of crises our community will face, it is impossible to fully prepare ourselves with the adequate physical supplies.  Nevertheless, one way we can prepare for Crises is by letting people in your community know that you are there long before anything happens.  In other words when a crises occurs, you and your church are one of the first one called. 

Like the Serpent lifted up in the wilderness: After a time of crisis someone came up to me and said something that at first seemed strange and was clearly not theologically correct.  Basically they said this, “Pastor you are kind of like the serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness.  God has put you here up in front of us, and when we look to you we feel some hope.”  Those of you who know me probably get the serpent part, however the point is that I believe that God uses His people as beacons of hope in the middle chaos.  The question then is how can we position ourselves to be one to bring that hope?   I believe it is through networking long before the crises occurs.

Networking: The term “Networking” is used in numerous ways.  Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: The cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.”  When applied to the business context it refers to building and maintaining a list of contacts to promote your product.  If you are in sales that means you are on the constant look out for new people who may be interested in your product, or people who can connect you to someone who may be interested in your product.  

The Networking Pastor: I am sure there are many who are reluctant to see networking as a responsibility of a pastor and as a result it not generally a task they undertake.  On the other hand I would argue that networking is essential for a church planter.   Before I give you some suggestions on how to network, there are two important points that I need to mention.
  • Networking is not Evangelism.  Though I believe networking is a step in providing an opportunity to share the Gospel, its primary goal is developing relationships with people who are not in your church or present circle of relationships.
  • Networking is face to face.   There are clearly benefits to internet driven social networks, however the type of networking that I encourage you to do goes beyond that and is done through traditional interaction.   For people to fully trust you in a time of crises that need to experience you in person.

Tips for Networking:  There is a lot of helpful information available on the topic for networking.  Though written for business, they are applicable to the church or church planting context.  Here are a some of the  methods that I have used.
  1. Get out of your office.  This may seem like a no-brainier, but you cannot be an effective networker by spending all of your time in the office.  You have to be where the people are!
  2. Get out from behind the computer screen, I-Pad and phone.  A lot of guys like to hang out at the local coffee shop.  Just sitting in the corner of a coffee shop working or playing with your electronic device is not networking.  It actually may have a negative effect as you will be the weird guy who takes up valuable space.  At least get to know the baristas and be sure to tip well.  
  3. Join the Gym.  We pastor types are generally unhealthy and larger than we should be.  Join a local gym, get healthy and build some new relationships.  I can’t tell you how many relationships I built and maintained at the local YMCA.  One word of caution, learn gym etiquette before you get zealous and learn to recognize when a person doesn’t want to talk. 
  4. The Goal is to serve not sell.  Your primary goal is not to sell your preaching or the ministry of the church, it is to look for ways to serve the person you are talking too or the community. 
  5. Meet with key community leaders.   This can be done in several way, but the goal is to let them know you are there and available to serve.
  6. Coach. Coaching my son’s sports teams was a powerful networking tool.  
  7. Don’t expect anything.  Not everyone will like you, so expect people to ignore you or a look at you weird.  Don’t expect people to treat you any better just because you are pastor.  
  8. Be a good listener.   Don’t worry about what to say.  Remember this is not a sales pitch.  Master the art of listening and asking follow up questions.  You will be amazed at how people love to talk about themselves.

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