ETWORKING is “making contact and exchanging information with other people, groups, and institutions to develop mutually beneficial relationships, or to access and share information.” While the term has been widely used in business, especially in technology, it is a relatively new term for the church.
The principle behind networking is each of us can accomplish more when we are in partnership with others. Networkers are too busy to “reinvent the wheel,” so they collaborate with others to accomplish a common goal. Those who network are scarcely concerned about who gets the credit; they are preoccupied with the accomplishment of an agreed-upon task.
Regarding the Great Commission, USA Missions (now USA/Canada Missions) has been engaged in the networking concept for some time. Examples are our strategic partnership agreements with Operation Christmas Child (Samaritan’s Purse), My Hope with Billy Graham, and Global Institute for Ministry and Training (GIMT).
Operation Christmas Child provides Christmas shoeboxes filled with gifts to underprivileged children; My Hope produces materials believers can use to conduct nonconfrontational witness opportunities in their homes; GIMT trains Christians how to share Christ with their Muslim neighbors. Rather than opening offices in our headquarters and seeking to fund and develop these kinds of outreaches, we have chosen to challenge our pastors and churches to network with these ministries.
Mission North America is the USA/Canada side of the Division of World Evangelization. In MNA we consider ourselves to be a functioning internal network of Church of God ministries. Consisting of seven entities—Black Ministries, Hispanic Ministries, Marketplace Ministries (personal evangelism), Men and Women of Action, Ministry to the Military, Multicultural Ministries, and USA Missions—we are united, under the leadership of J. David Stephens (our divisional director), to fulfill the Great Commission. While maintaining our primary objective of making disciples, we engage in planting and revitalizing churches, developing leaders at the state and local level, offering ministry resources, providing humanitarian relief, and evangelizing the lost.
The ministries of MNA do not only network with each other. Each entity also networks with various denominations; social and governmental agencies; and national, state, and local ministries and associations to facilitate the fulfillment of the Great Commission. From associations that train church planters to immigration services and relief agencies, we are continually networking with others for the sharing of ideas and resources for making disciples.
If we are to realize the fulfillment of Christ’s command, networking at all levels of ministry is essential. For example, in my most recent pastorate, we found ourselves overworked and underfunded every Thanksgiving and Christmas trying to provide food for needy families. We discovered there was a social agency in our community already doing this, and we learned they were feeding some of the same families we were feeding.
After much prayer and thought, we discontinued our food distribution, began making donations from our church to support the community program, and enlisted volunteers from our church to assist the social agency. This helped meet a critical need while avoiding duplication, and allowed our members the opportunity to actively live out their faith as they networked with the community.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a church in a major metropolitan area where the pastor had not been able to realize good growth of his English-speaking Anglo congregation that is located in a changing neighborhood. After a season of prayer and contemplation, the congregation rejected the notion of abandoning the community and relocating to a “more acceptable” location. Instead, the pastor and lay leadership began to interact with the multiple ethnic groups in their community.
Over time, the pastor networked with scores of people groups in the vicinity of his under-occupied facility, discovering struggling house churches and small groups meeting in less-than-desirable situations. The end result of his networking experiment is five congregations (Anglo, Jamaican, Hispanic, Ukrainian, and Filipino) sharing a once-almost-empty house of worship with ministry activities taking place virtually every day of the week, and each group making disciples, thus expanding the kingdom of God.
General Overseer Tim Hill says the Great Commission is too great a task for any one person, church, or denomination to accomplish alone. Surely, it is a doable assignment, or else our Lord would not have commanded us to do it.
The Joshua Project (joshuaproject.net/countries/US) estimates there are 482 distinct people groups in the United States, with 83 of those groups (10.7 million people) virtually unreached with the Gospel! (A people group is defined as “an ethno-linguistic group with a self-identity that is shared by all the members”). These statistics remind us joining hearts and resources with others is essential to finishing the Great Commission.
It can be argued that the Church of God, from its inception, has had an excellent structure built right for the first stages of networking. We are denominationally subdivided into districts, comprised of clusters of local congregations. Would it not be exciting to rather see these as networks (connoting action, activity) rather than districts (ecclesiastical structures)?
Imagine what could happen if a group of local churches decided that rather than compete with one another, they would complete one another by networking together to advance the cause of Christ.
What could happen if a cluster of congregations networked their personnel and resources to plant a new church across town or in the next city, or to conduct unified city or community outreach ministries and events? What could happen if nobody cared who got the credit, but cared only that Jesus got the glory?
What could happen if we allowed our territorial lines to blur and recognized, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him” (Ps. 24:1 NLT)? What could happen if we were minded to jointly build Christ’s kingdom?
It has been said everyone that you meet knows something you don’t; and in the words of Elizabeth Jane Howard, “Call it a clan, call it a tribe, call it a network, call it a family. Whatever you call it, you need one!”
Solomon declared, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. . . . Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:9-10, 12 NKJV).
The FINISH Commitment is too exhaustive and too exhausting for lone rangers. It can only be completed through partnerships and Kingdom-mindedness. Someone has said, “If you’re not networking, you’re not working.” Helen Keller stated, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
James E. Cossey is a former editor in chief of Church of God Publications, and former editor of the Church of God Evangel. Since 2012, he has served in the Division of World Evangelization/USA Missions, currently as special projects coordinator.
From January, 2017