.;;.;;.;;.;;.;;.;;.;;.;;.;;;);;.;;.;;.;;.;;.;;.;;.;;.;;;by Tim Keller, July 1992
Philosophy of Networking
“Networking” was originally a modern marketplace-jargon word, which refers to deliberate relationship building to meet business goals. I use it to mean a whole philosophy of ministry based on friendship evangelism.
For years, Christians have talked about “friendship evangelism” as opposed to methods such as “cold contact” evangelism (street evangelism, tract distribution, cold calling), “mass evangelism” (crusades, radio/TV broadcasts), or “visitation evangelism” (Evangelism Explosion). Friendship evangelism was always considered 1) informal, something that could not be affected much through leadership or programs, and 2) something that mainly only mature Christians did much. (Why? Because it took both courage and the ability to articulate the Gospel and field questions.) Therefore, friendship evangelism was only ever seen as a supplement to the REAL evangelism “programs”. Those programs were evangelistic services, or visitation evangelism courses, or broadcasts, and so on.
Why was friendship evangelism not seen as a REAL evangelism program? 1) Pastors could not program friendly evangelism, and thus felt powerless to affect it. 2) Friendship evangelism seemed elitist—something only for advanced Christians.
No research can prove this, but the more modern, the more secular, the more urbanized, and the newer the cities and communities, the more these traditional programs do not seem to bear fruit. Why? Most programs rely on the reception of the Gospel from a stranger. Either the crusade evangelist, or the trained “visitor”, or some other stranger must give the Gospel to the non-believer. As our modern society becomes more privatized, as neighborhoods disappear and people “cocoon”, the likelihood that people will listen to a stranger diminishes. Radio and TV evangelism do fit in better with modern culture, but the follow-up gap is severe. (How do you get the spiritually awakened through TV into a church? The problem with a privatized culture is that it creates people who are commitment-resistant. Radio and TV can do very little to turn the “decisions” into disciples.)
In response, many churches are discovering that the entire church can be based on a philosophy of networking. It is a complete retooling of the entire church’s ministry, giving every part an “outward” face, making virtually every ministry activity a friendship evangelism event. This means everything—worship, small group life, education, etc. This is to create a “corporate culture”. It can be supported by planning and ministry programs, it can be done by even (and by especially) the new believer. In fact, the new believer is critical, see below! A networking philosophy consists of the following parts or principles.
In an increasingly privatized, secularized society, we will find more and more that:
People will not listen to the Gospel from strangers—not those who come to their door, those who call them, mail them or advertise to them.
People will not be assimilated well through strangers who follow them up by coming to their doors either. Assimilation takes enormous energy if we assume that most visitors come without a good relationship to anyone in the church.
People will have to come a number of times to a program or service before even giving us their name in order to send them materials, i.e. a newsletter.
Principles of Networking
A networking church is developed primarily through cultivating a mindset, a collective attitude, and only secondarily through setting up programs. The key to networking is a partnership between newer/“grapevined” believers and mature believers. THE problem in evangelism is this: new believers have the connections and credibility with non-believers, but do not have the power to articulate. On the other hand, mature believers have the power to articulate, but no the place in the worldly “grapevines”. Example: to take an enemy-occupied town, we need both artillery, to smash a hole in the gate or walls, and infantry, to actually walk in and take the town. The worship/preaching is like the artillery, the relationships of members to their friends are the infantry. Without artillery, the new Christians may not even speak about his faith.
The critical event in networking is the internal “self-talk” that turns “comers” into “bringers”. The critical event in a networking church is when a Christian (and especially a new Christian) comes to a worship service, small group, or some other church ministry program and says to him or herself, “I have been talking to my non-Christian friends about Christ, and this is exactly what I have been trying to show them all along, but his does it far better than I can do it”. Or he might think, “I have been silent in my witness, but this will give me credibility as a Christian to my non-Christian friends, and therefore I now begin to feel the courage to reach out to them”. A Christian becomes a “bringer” when two things happen: a) the internal thinking mentioned above occurs in response to the service, and b) the Christian brings a non-Christian or non-churched person who wants to come back! That experience confirms the “bringer” behavior and turns it into a habit. A bringer will use the church as a plausibility structure to reach out to his or her web-network. In a networking church, you must be either a seeker, a bringer, or a cell leader (follow up) or YOU ARE DEADWEIGHT!
The cultivation of this “mindset” of networking. There must be an atmosphere of expectation that every member will always have 2-4 people in the “incubator”, a force field in which people that are being prayed for, given literature, brought to church or other events. How is this mindset cultivated?
Brainstorm with the potential bringers the needs of their non-believing friends and colleagues. Make a list of their most basic needs, interests, hopes, fears, idols, aspirations, frustrations, dilemmas, prejudices, sins and strengths. (Make a list under each of these headings! Reflect in a disciplined way.)
Preach and present in every service and ministry so that both Christians and non-Christians are always intentionally challenged and addressed. Then be certain that the great truths of the faith are always brought into connection with the unbeliever’s heart, that the Gospel is used to answer the questions they are asking. If you don’t know how to do it, get books, tapes, etc. Evangelistic preaching is a “dynamic”.
First, you must preach as if skeptics, agnostics, etc. are there, and if you do, they soon will be, they will be brought. This may mean at first you must do a lot of reading and listening through the media to the issues non-Christians struggle with.
As a result, you will be talking to more non-Christians, listening to their objections, areas of confusion, and so on. The evangelistic appointments will then,
Have a shaping influence on your preaching, making it more evangelistically effective. You must always preach, thinking about the kinds of non-Christians you have spoken to as you study your texts and prepare your sermons. If you are talking to non-Christians constantly, the answers you give them will sink in and appear in your preaching. Only if you are talking constantly to non-Christians will your preaching address them and only if you address them will people bring them and only if they are brought will you meet them. And so on!
Modeling by the leadership. Your officers and leaders should all have an “incubator”. They should be constantly talking about their incubators in non-condescending terms. It should be evident to all that they are regular “bringers”, always working on and praying for people in their web networks. It may even be important to screen officer candidates for the presence of the “networking mindset”.
Kingdom-centered prayer. Your prayer meetings must be first of all oriented toward your “incubators”, seeking to push the boundaries of the kingdom outward over your community. See C. John Miller’s Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, Chapter 7, on the difference between frontline prayer and maintenance prayer meetings.
Tools for networking evangelism should be everywhere—handout pamphlets, books, and tapes. A serious networking church would develop its own tracts and tools designed specifically for the kinds of needs and questions its “incubator” people have. If the tools are not being used, get others!
A constant variety of visitor-seeking evens such as “Friendship Sundays”. But if the networking philosophy sinks in, Friendship Sundays become obsolete.
Continually evaluate all programs ruthlessly: are they BOTH challenging Christians AND non-Christians? Are both kinds of people regularly present? Are they both being kept interested?
The modes of networking. There are four basic kinds of “web networks”: familial, geographical (neighborhood), vocational (career/school associates) and relational (friends not necessarily in the other networks). In urban areas, the latter two are more important; in rural areas the first two are more important. It depends! Different networking-evangelism events can be oriented to one or the other. Example: geographically based evening small groups are better for winning familial and geographical networks. But workday breakfast and lunch events in business districts are better for the latter two networks, etc.
The process of networking. Networking is a commitment to “process evangelism”. Most of the other programs of evangelism are “crisis” oriented, usually bringing the person to a decision very quickly—through the signing of cards or through the praying of a sinner’s prayer. Research shows that a) the more varied ways a person hears the Gospel, and b) the more often a person hears the Gospel before making a commitment, the better the comprehension, the less likely of “reversion” to the world. Many people simply have “process personalities”—they will never come to faith if they are pushed. They need to come in stages.