by Beth Morrison
Networking is a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest. Networking involves individuals forming mutually supportive relationships. It is, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups or institutions, specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” It is adding value to peoples’ lives. People within our frame of reference have skills and competencies that we don’t have, so we are able to help each other.
Today, many social networking sites are available, as well as those dedicated to Children’s Ministry. These are important, even if one does not participate in the forums, to learn from and to ask questions of veterans in ministry. Other options include the ability to post available items that you no longer need. Many ministries with smaller resources have been tremendously blessed by this option. However, it is also important to network within a smaller, face-to-face framework. Children’s Ministry is a relational business. Networking among individuals in children’s ministry in our own community is especially crucial. God did not intend for us to minister alone. We are connected as the body of Christ. Networking is a valuable way to make those connections, to share information, and to learn from each other. It is the place to mentor those new to the ministry, to welcome those new to the community.
What would cause you to leave an already too busy work schedule to attend a monthly meeting? Often fellow church staff members do not understand the isolation children’s leaders feel. The strong bond and camaraderie that we gain from networking if formed among those of us with like minds and ministries. The support from those walking the same journey, understanding the same joys and sorrows, recruitment and security issues is invaluable. It becomes a genuine give-and-take relationship with each church ministry as we learn from the other. You can gather best practices, lessons learned, and build a ministry family outside your own church, as well as keep abreast of new trends, what’s worked and what hasn’t, open positions, and more.
We meet monthly throughout the school year for lunch, prayer and a program. Time is valuable so it is critical to make the time together worthwhile. As we have gotten to know each other, we can better encourage and pray for our various ministries. If an individual has a question about a method or process, they can contact one of our members for assistance. Hands-on networking has also proven worthwhile. This gives them to opportunity to observe different aspects of a different ministry. Cold calls work, but having a face to go with that call provides an open avenue for all of us. Our network also prays about how we can serve each other by loaning equipment, sharing curriculum, stage sets, etc. Why re-invent the wheel? We can use and learn from each other to make our ministries better for the kingdom of God and use our resources wisely.
Our current meeting format was established two years ago. Working from a small list of churches provided by a former networking group, we simply emailed the children’s ministry directors or pastors to determine the best day to meet. This was and has been our largest obstacle. We ultimately took a consensus vote and chose a day, knowing that it would not work for everyone. The next step was choosing the place (s) to meet. Our church had hosted it in the past and others asked if we would continue to do that. Two other ministries have hosted, which was a benefit in seeing other environments.
Hosting the meeting is relatively simple. An email is sent two weeks prior to our meeting requesting an RSVP; this helps us know how much food to order. We charge a minimal per person; my church underwrites the rest. Prior to the meeting, we have determined who the speaker will be with suggestions from either the group members or from an outside source. Two of our best meetings happened when testimonies were shared by our members. It was a precious time and a wonderful way to enter into a deeper lever with each other.
Our network is primarily made up of children’s pastors and directors, but also includes several Christian businesses that are also looking for ways to network. A group of ladies from a publishing company that works specifically with churches led one meeting, asking us questions and opinions on various aspects of children’s ministry and curriculum. This greatly benefitted them in ways they could take back and develop. Another time we invited several businesses to attend, a small ministry expo of sorts. This was a great way for contacts to be made for both groups.
The most important thing we expressed to our group initially was that our network did not belong to my church just because it was initiated and meets there. Our network is made of all of us with equal input. We made it clear to each other that we were not in competition, that we were all serving Christ and striving to bring children and families to Him. I believe this set the tone and has allowed us to be real with each other, sharing our hurts as well as our praises, all for the glory of the Lord.
While many secular networks are focused on employment, we have not crossed that bridge. If a church has an opening they are welcome to announce it, but it has not been set up as the place or time for individuals to see new positions. Of course, as relationships are built, this may come about naturally, but it is not currently the focus of our group.
Prayer is such an important part of our lives that we attempt to incorporate it at each meeting. We pray as a group and at our tables; for each other when someone is hurting and for our various ministries. Prayer requests are sent out to our members on weeks when we are not meeting and throughout the summer months. This enables us to keep in touch on an on-going basis and continue the relationships we have formed.
We can survive and function without networking, but does that suffice? Does it become all about “us” and “our” ministry or is it kingdom work? Are we F.A.T. – Faithful, Approachable and Teachable? Our desire is to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” in all aspects of our ministries, including your relationships with those we serve alongside. May the Lord bless you as you reach out to learn from and bless others.
Editor’s Note: Not sure if you have a network group in your area? Check out the INCM Circle Builder Networking Community, which includes groups from all over the country.
Beth Morrison is currently the Director of Children’s Ministries at Woodmen Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs, CO. Prior to that she served as Early Childhood Director at Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, TN. For several years she was the Event Planner for the International Network of Children’s Ministry. She is grandmother to four precious grandchildren (with another on the way!). Her passion is to partner with parents and work with them to learn how to be the spiritual heads of their homes.