In preparation for a six week series at East Lanier I read through Keller’s piece on evangelism entitled, Evangelism throug Networking. Below are the principles of Networking. 

Principles of Networking

A networking church is developed primarily through cultivating a mindset, a collective attitude and onlysecondarily through setting up programs.

1. The key to networking: 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 not 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 Christian may not even speak about his faith.

2. The critical event in networking: 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, a small group, or some other church ministry program and says to him or herself: “I have been actively talking to my non-Christian friends about Christ, and this is exactly what I have been trying to show and say to them all along, but this does it far better than I can do it.” OR “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 confi rms 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!

3. 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?a). 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, strengths. (Make a list under each of these headings! Reflect in a disciplined way.) b). 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. of those who are. 

Evangelistic preaching is a “dynamic”: i.) First, you must preach as if skeptics, agnostics, etc. are there, and if you do, they will soon be there-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. ii.) 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, iii.) 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!

c). 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”.d). 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.e). Tools for networking evangelism should be everywhere — handout pamphlets, books, 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 taken and using get others!f). A constant variety of visitor-seeking events such as “Friendship Sundays”. But if the networking philosophy sinks in, Friendship Sundays become obsolete.g). 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?

4. The modes of networking,There are four basic kinds of “web networks”: familial, geographical (neighborhood), vocational (career/school associates), relational (friends not necessarily in the other networks).In urban areas, the latter two are more important; in rural areas the fi rst two are more important. It depends! And 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.

5. The process of networkingNetworking 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.

In a networking philosophy:a). It is expected that the non-Christian will be exposed to the gospel at least several times on the way to commitment. There is real opportunity afforded regularly for seekers to “cross the line into faith” and make a commitment, but there is never great pressure put on the will to “decide NOW”.b). There are lots of opportunities for the seeker to list his/her questions and concerns, and for those issues to be addressed honestly. Question and answer times, appointments over lunch, reading sequences, etc. can afford this.