Stepping into the Community: A Networking Strategy

Learn to use the principle of "Networks" to engage your church members with the surrounding community.

Two years ago, our senior staff began wrestling with an issue that we all had been feeling. There was a general sense among us that in an increasingly unchurched culture, it would be harder and harder to get people to just “show up for church.” We have a great inviting culture at The Journey, but there would be more and more people who wouldn’t even consider coming on a Sunday morning an option (at least initially).

Some years ago, we read and then resonated with a phrase that we heard in Andy Stanley’s book, 7 Practices of Effective Ministry, where he said you need to think “steps not programs.” We have constantly evaluated ministry based on that premise. And two years ago, although we had roughly 50 percent of our people in Journey Groups (eight to 12 people studying the Bible together), there was a sense that for many it was too big of a step to go from Sunday gatherings to a group.

We also looked at the cultural context we live in: smaller communities, a regional church between those communities, high school loyalties, a growing culture of volunteerism, and we live in an area where most people grew up here and have stayed here.

We began to develop a strategy we were calling Networks. We started with four regional serving Networks in our community: Norton Shores, Fruitport, Tri-Cities and North. We used school colors in their logos. The plan was to have these Networks begin serving in the local community in which they lived.

We believed that it would be a much easier step into the life of the church if we were asking people to serve and make a difference in the community in which they lived. We also anticipated that you could invite friends to serve with you whether they attended The Journey or not. We also believed that once there, they probably would know someone else that was there because of the tight-knit communities. Having a couple relationships would make it easier to take a next step into the life of the church and into a group.

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Ron Furgerson is a contributor to