As a church planter, you are a missionary to your community. And part of the work of every missionary is understanding the culture they serve. Community networking is one of the best ways to experience the culture.
Demographic reports and community history websites are one of the best places to start, especially if you haven’t landed permanently in your new community. As soon as possible, though, you should start meeting with school principals, mayors, other pastors, leaders of nonprofits, etc. You will find most doors wide open when you approach these civic influencers as a student wanting to learn more about the real needs of your community.
Where to Start Community Networking
If you’re not sure where to start, be sure to do these two things:
Meet with school counselors. They have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the homes and in the kids’ lives. They have access to stats like how many kids are on the reduced lunch program. Unfortunately, they will have important insight into the most desperate issues in your community.
Go for a police ride along. Go out in the late afternoon so you can experience both the day environment and the night environment; or go on two shorter ride-alongs and hit one of each. Ask the officers lots of questions. They will also have insight into needs in your community that others may not be willing to talk about or even admit.
The Most Important Question
Go into every networking meeting with 3 or 4 stock questions to ask, like, “What are this community’s greatest strengths/assets?” and, “What is this community’s biggest unmet need?”
But the most important question to ask is, “Who else should I be talking to (and would you introduce me)?” From there, you simply follow where all the relational connections take you.