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Network with People and Institutions in the Community

Network with people and institutions in the community:

Networking is the exchange of information, ideas and resources with key persons and institutions in the community. (See chap. 7 of Churches That Make a Difference.) The community study and networking go hand in hand: through the community assessment process, you will discover good prospects for networking; and as you network, you will gain more insights about the community. While the information you gain from networking interviews is useful for preparing the community study report, the process of networking does not stop when the report is done. Networking is an ongoing, long term project..

The goal of networking is to build relationships, to scout out potential allies, and to let others know about your church, while gathering information about the community and ministry opportunities. Networking also builds the church's reputation as an entity that cares about the community's needs and respects others. Networking is vital to the larger goal of vision discernment and holistic ministry development.

Targets for networking include other churches (and non-Christian houses of worship); social service agencies; schools; police; social security and welfare offices; real estate agents; businesses; health clinics; foundations; and public officials. Focus on "anchor institutions" that play a key role in shaping community life and providing stability. Also become acquainted with key individuals in the community: gatekeepers, caretakers, flak-catchers, and brokers. Offer to take people out to lunch, arrange to meet for coffee, or ask for a tour of their facilities-and leave a packet of information about your church.

As a clearer picture emerges of the kinds of holistic ministry your church may undertake, pay special attention to potential ministry partners - programs your church could come alongside and support; sources of client referrals, volunteers or funds for your own programs; coalitions your church should join; people who can provide special expertise; churches to team up with.

Another fruit of networking is the development of relationships with members of the community who can walk with your congregation as you learn about the community and lay the groundwork for outreach activities (see the Community Leadership Team). These relationships help to build the community's trust and sense of investment in the church's ministry, while providing valuable "insider" input and access. The relationships forged through networking help to ensure that the church engages in holistic ministry with, not simply to, the community. (See "building bridges between church and community".)

The pastor and other church leaders may want to join the community assessment group in networking. Whenever possible, try to link church leaders with people in the community according to their area of ministry. The youth group leader, for example, could connect with public school principals and teachers, the director of the local Boys and Girls Club, and people associated with the juvenile court system.

Keep track of your networking contacts and any promises for follow-up or ideas for potential partnerships.