Enhance Your Networking Skills

I was gonna give this article the cheeky title of Networking In Ministry Without Getting Fired. This is because networking is often viewed negatively or even sinful. But it is the opposite. It is positive and can grow your ministry. And if you neglect this tool in your toolbox, you will not develop into the person God has called you to be.

I’m gonna give you nine tips to help yourself network and two tips to help others network.

Let’s jump in and talk about enhancing your networking skills.

Networking should aid and equip you AND your organization. If it is all one sided then you’re doing it wrong. If all the benefits are only for the organization then you as an individual will never grow and develop. Not good. And if all the benefits are just for you personally, then your organization might start to feel a little jaded. Again, not good. There is a natural overlap here so your networking should build your personal and organizational platforms.

When I first started networking I did it all wrong. I reached out to people in organizations that were ten times as big as mine. I experience one of two problems by trying to reach the top of the ladder. Either one, I couldn’t reach it cause no one got back to me. Or two, I did reach the top of the ladder and connected with someone, but their insights and suggestions were so advanced that I couldn’t put them into practice. This is why you need to reach out to people one or two steps up the ladder from where you are at. These people are currently doing your next step. The majority of what they share will be actionable information.

When you ask to speak with someone suggest their commute. This is because it’s convenient. And even if someone doesn’t have a commute because they are working from home, the suggestion alone lets them know you want to honor their time. Always ask what times work for them instead of offering times that work for you. If you make it convenient you increase the success rate.

When you ask to speak with someone only ask for ten minutes. Most people can spare ten minutes to talk. But here’s the secret. If you come into the conversation with thoughtful questions, and do a half decent job at listening, the conversation will go longer than ten minutes. I’ve done this hundreds of times and the same scenario plays itself out. Towards the end of the ten minutes, I explain I’ve got more questions but will wrap things up to respect their time. The person then counters by offering more time.

Fifteen years ago I transitioned from working in TV to working in a church. I was the Creative Arts Pastor at a church of a thousand people but I had no idea what I was doing. I wanted to connect with peers but was having a hard time. I went to the staff webpage of larger churches looking for my counterpart, but most only had the Lead Pastor listed. So I went to LinkedIn, searched for the church, clicked “see all employees.” I found who I was looking for and connected with them. This method was a little tedious but it yielded incredible results cause I found exactly who I was looking for.

You may be hesitant to network because you falsely believe you have nothing to offer the other person. But here’s the deal, you do have something to offer. You can offer gratitude, “I would really appreciate ten minutes of your time”. You can offer recognition, “You are a thought leader and I would love to learn from you”. In a ministry context, you can offer spiritual support. A pastor from an impoverished country reached out to me for coaching. They couldn’t pay for my services but they offered to pray for them. He said, if you talk with me for one hour, I’ll pray for you for one hour. How could I say no to an offer like that? Remember, you have a lot to offer.

Everyone is vain. Even Mother Teresa was. Ok, maybe Mother Teresa didn’t struggle with vanity issues, but I know the majority of us do. Most of us think we are pretty awesome. And we should because we are. So use this to your advantage when networking by appealing to people’s vanity. When you reach out to someone for help, it’s because you think they are helpful. Make sure to communicate that. Tell them how awesome they are and how much you can’t wait to learn from them. Sing their praises and they will share their best practices. Talk them up and they will talk to you. Give them hype and they will give you help.

Thanking those you network with goes a long way to fostering your relationship. A great way to say thanks is a gift card. Someone did this for me once, and it immediately doubled the amount of time and effort I was willing to pour into them. Giving a $15 Starbucks gift card to a networked relationship is one of the cheapest and most impactful ways to professionally invest in yourself. Do not let the power of saying thanks pass you by. Buy a gift card today and send it along to a recently developed relationship.

One of my professional yearly traditions is sending thank you notes to mentors I’ve gained through networking over the years. My mentors appreciate receiving these notes and I get a kick out of writing them. Saying thanks to old relationships does two powerful things for you. One, it keeps you humble because you’re reminded of how you started. And two, it helps you chart your progress by seeing how far you’ve come. So say thanks to new and old relationships birthed out of networking.

So I just gave you nine tips on how to help yourself network. Now let me give you two tips on how to help others network.

If you’ve asked to learn from others then you need to do the same for others. You might not be at the point in your career where others are approaching you. Don’t let this stop you. Reach out and give back. One way is to identify someone outside of your organization and pour into them. It might come off a little insulting and prideful to approach someone with “I think you need help. And I think I’m the person best equipped to give it” so your gonna have to wordsmith this a bit. Another way to give back is to join a professional group on Facebook and LinkedIn and then start dispensing wisdom like your Pez machine.

Author of Hero Maker, Warren Bird, once explained that he never goes anywhere alone. Whenever he speaks at conferences or consults with organizations he always invites someone to join him. He brings someone along to learn from the experience, connect with others and enhance their networking skills. Warren is my hero. He doesn’t just worry about advancing himself, he actively looks to advance others by living out the title of his book, Hero Maker. There will always be someone less experienced than you. Figure out who that is and how to help them along.

Networking is a valuable tool for continual professional development. When done poorly, it comes off as self centered. When done well, it adds value to yourself and the person you are networking with.