Building a network doesn’t happen on its own
I’m a people person. I thrive on hanging out with people, having fun with people, talking with people! My mom used to joke that when I was a child, I never met a stranger. As far as I was concerned, everyone was my friend.
So, when I moved to San Diego in 2001, it was a huge step for me. I moved clear across the country from Ohio. I didn’t know a single person in the state. Of the 36 million people that called California home, not one could be counted as a friend. I was nervous. Was it going to be like the first day at a new school? Were the “kids” going to be nice? Was California really a “bowl of fruits and nuts” like my friends said? I had no idea. All I knew was I needed to make friends and do it fast!
I was blessed to meet Steve Aguilar my first day in Carlsbad, CA. He was part of the crew that helped me move into the church parsonage. Steve was the California version of my best friend Jay. It was great. So, with the friend issue resolved I went straight to work!
Over the next several months I hung out with Steve and other friends from the church, and I worked. That was pretty much my life. I was single, so I could get away with hanging with friends and working all the time. Then, I went to a children’s ministry conference and realized I was missing something. I had an “ah-ha” moment while talking with a guy named Dave. I thought to myself, “Dave understands what I’m talking about, because he has the same issues.” And I realized one important fact—I wasn’t alone in this thing we call ministry. I looked around the room and felt a rush of relief. “My people! I’m home!”
I had a good friend base at the church and was being fulfilled socially. The problem was, I had no peers I had connected with. At the conference it became apparent that I was lacking interaction with others in children’s ministry. It was at that moment that I decided to build a ministry network.
Connecting with people at church is important. Connecting with your volunteers is important. Connecting with other leaders within your denomination is important. But if those are your only connections, you’re missing out.
We have a saying around my church: “One is too small a number for greatness.” It’s true! You cannot be at your best when you operate in a vacuum. Most of my best ideas came from some form of a collaborative effort with others. I’m not smart enough to think up all these things on my own—and you’re not either! Noted American historian, George Burton Adams, noted, “There’s no such thing as a ‘self-made’ man. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and our thoughts, as well as our success.”
We need other people! And we need to be with like-minded people. That’s why your kidmin network is so important. At some conferences, I’ve found it more beneficial to take someone out to lunch instead of sitting in a workshop. Being able to speak with a person who is going through the same issues, or even better a person who has figured out a solution, will serve your ministry better than anything else I can think of.
God did not create us to walk through ministry or life alone. We make the mistake of thinking that being a leader means you have to know everything and figure it out on your own. Learning from your own mistakes is good, but learning from someone else’s mistakes is better.
It’s always great to know what you need to do. But knowing what needs to be done does not always translate into knowing how to do it! Building a personal network of ministry contacts is actually not that hard. It does take time and effort, but it’s worth it in the long run.
Several years ago I read a great book by Keith Ferrazzi called Never Eat Alone. Ferrazzi details a proactive plan for connecting with others. I want to give you a couple of practical tips from the book and some suggestions of my own to help you create connections.
Plan it out!
Without a plan you won’t pursue a network. Without a plan, you’ll learn to make yourself content meeting folks as they come your way. But again, a ministry network does not build itself—you have to do some of the work!
Going to an event? Make a list. Who else is going to be there that you would like to meet? Get the conference schedule and workshop speakers and work from that! Call or email folks before you go to set up a side meeting. I love inviting people to breakfast at conferences and here’s why.
- Most folks don’t schedule breakfast meetings.
- Breakfast is inexpensive to buy for someone else.
- You don’t get bumped by other meetings that pop up.
To make this work, you have to be willing to make your schedule adjustable to the schedule of the people you want to meet.
Maybe you aren’t going to an event. That’s ok! There are all sorts of ways to connect with people beyond conferences. Who do you want to know? Make a list from the following questions:
- Who in your area would you like to meet? Maybe you don’t know their name; maybe you just know the church. Start there. Call the church and ask for the name.
- Who is someone you can learn from? It doesn’t have to be someone local to you. I have online connections I’ve never met face-to-face.
- Who’s on your bucket list? Who would you like to meet that you think is just too far beyond your reach?
Once you’ve got your list, it’s time to put it to work! Take the list and start calling, emailing, direct messaging on Twitter, contacting via Facebook and ask for a meeting. It might take time, but you’ll appreciate it.
You can meet anyone! It might take more effort to meet the President than to meet the children’s pastor down the street, but I think with enough time and effort, you could make it all the way through your list! I had one guy I wanted to meet and it took me six months, three cancelled lunches, and 180 miles of driving to finally do it. Was it worth it? Yep! I even got a free lunch out of the deal.
Work the existing networks!
The beauty of the information age is that so much of the effort has already been done for you! There are social networks* out there to help you find people who you should be connected with. CMConnect, Kidology, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN are just a few of the places you can find people to connect with. Join the network(s) and begin participating in the conversations going on!
(*For online networking let me make this suggestion—use your real name. “StarryEyedDucky77” may be cute, but no one knows who you are. Name recognition is important for online connection.)
In case you’ve missed me saying it already, a network will not build itself. You have to do the work. And you know what? The same is true for maintaining a network. You have to keep it up. How do you do that?
- When you think of someone, call them.
- Send cards to people at random.
- When you appreciate someone, send them a thank you card.
- Reply to Tweets.
- When you miss someone, email them a quick note.
- Send folks a text just to say “hi.”
- Comment on Facebook updates.
- Stay active in connecting!
You have to PING your network. When you ping your network, you are doing two things: (1) reminding people you are around and thinking of them, and (2) keeping the network connection alive!
Networking and connecting with other folks in children’s ministry has huge benefits for you as a minister and individual. Your network is your lifeline to information. It is because of networking (and the favor of God) that I have been blessed with some of the opportunities I’ve seen over the last several years.
My ministry network has grown and evolved. Network contacts have become friends. I have people to turn to for help. I have people to lift me up in prayer. I have a wealth of resources—just a phone call away. You can also. All you need to do is start reaching out to others and you’ll find people you never knew were just looking for the opportunity to connect.