Getting Connected RevUp

Some pastors seem to have the knack of knowing who to contact in their local community when they need to. I have sat in awe of different pastors sharing stories of how ministry and other events in the life of a church have unfolded. This ability to “network” seemed to be a key aspect of pastoral ministry, yet there appeared to be no place to learn these skills. A journey to the local bookstore, and the local library offered no joy in providing some material in learning the skills of networking. Thinking it might make an interesting topic for a RevUp, I rang Geoff Pound, who then invited me to organise it!

The best way to learn about networking was to ask those who did it well, so I turned to three people whose networking skills I knew to be well-honed: Geoff Leslie, pastor of our Koondrook-Barham church, Lindsay Smith, pastor of our Keilor church, and Ian Smith, pastor of Thornbury Church of Christ. It was important that these people reflect a diversity of settings, so that it might be shown how networking skills are adapted to different settings. Each was invited to share something of their church situation, and the ways in which networking was both an outworking of their approach and how it impacted their ministry.

My first conversation with Geoff Leslie was an eye-opener, as Geoff had no idea what I meant by the term “networking”. It was clear at the outset that there is something about networking which is dynamic, rather than formal in learning.

The day began with each of these church leaders sharing their story:

A Rural Setting for Ministry

Geoff related the setting for ministry: Koondrook and Barham are twin cities on the Victoria-NSW border. 600 people live in Koondrook and 1200 in Barham. He noted that rural communities are multilayered, due to that fact that, in large part, everyone knows everyone else. Geoff is known as a local pastor, a parent of school-children, and through his musical involvement in a theatre group, among other things. Consequently there is a strong sense of community – of knowing and being known. Geoff indicated that a range of strategies had brought varying degrees of success. Geoff began with doorknocking (“ I don¹t know that it worked”) but with his wife Debbie and some of the church folk involved themselves in the local musical theatre group, where a lot of contacts have been made. This lead to the church running its own musical in 1998 which a number of the theatre group joined in.

There has been a large degree of experimentation involved in the ministry: different things have been tried, some for little obvious gain, some for short-term benefit, others on an ongoing basis. One of the current strategies will need to be reviewed shortly because the government has opened up a larger alternative.

Writing in the local paper has allowed Geoff to establish links with people he has never met, many of whom never darken the door of a church, but consider Geoff as their pastor by virtue of his weekly column. Others have entered the church just to see what it is like.
Twice a year the church holds its service in the local hotel during the Country Music Stampede, picking up the theme of the “Gospel Hour”. Locals sit at the pokies and ‘participate’ in the service. This door opened when Geoff noticed the “Gospel Hour” previously featured artists whose gospel music consisted of “Old Shep” and like music.

Geoff’s pastoral oversight extends to a number of smaller churches, which has generated ideas for different settings. At Gannewarra family fun nights were held to reach local families which the local community has now assumed responsibility for. Approaches have been made from other denominations to connect in with what is happening. There has been some cooperative effort in café church, a local shop front, and in computer skills.

An Inner-City Church

Ian Smith pastors in Thornbury – a multicultural area with some 45 nationalities, where about 30% of the population is transient (moving within two years). The area is also facing the impact of gentrification. Some of the locals bought their homes in the 1920s for £210 which are currently worth half a million dollars. Pressure from developers on the elderly to  move have been great. One developer said to an elderly member of the church, “You are too old. You are taking up room. You should be in a nursing home”. Support from the Darebin Council, which will defer the rates for over 65s until death, when they are paid from the estate (interest free), gives people the right to live out their lives with dignity.

Thornbury church began in 1931. Ian arrived 12 months ago, following an interim ministry by Len Lewis, which followed a difficult period in the church’s life. Ian expressed deep appreciation for Len’s leadership. Ian began his time at Thornbury by ringing every other Christian minister I could find in the directory and spent four weeks sitting around having cups of tea with them all. Following this, Ian visited the Council in order to identify every ethnic, welfare and community group he could, then wrote to all 140 of them, visiting the 30 that responded. In addition, Ian spent hours walking up and down High Street, engaging in conversation with local shopkeepers and business owners.

Ian has spent time revitalising the Thornbury Interchurch Council, which resulted in a Good Friday procession, which involved each church community walking to a central park with a cross, followed by an hour in the park doing the stations of the cross together in three languages. Over 600 from the local community joined in with requests for more languages to be involved next year.

Ian has been invited to be the church representative on the Poverty Watch Action group in the City of Darebin, as well as with the mayor starting up an interfaith dialogue with the seven Orthodox churches, the 42 Christian churches, the three eastern sects and the two Muslim communities to work together on community welfare and justice issues.

The church is also working on remodeling its facilities to better reflect the current setting for ministry, rather than the original context in which the buildings were erected.

An Outer-Suburban Growth Corridor

When Lindsay Smith went to Keilor, the church worshipped in rented school rooms, having no buildings of its own in a very multicultural area. The church itself comprises a wide range of theological traditions. Whereas Geoff Leslie began by doorknocking homes, and Ian Smith by walking up High Street, Lindsay began in the car – driving around the local area. He noticed an factory being demolished, and was able to buy the frame for a much-reduced price, spending all the church savings in one hit! The next forays into the community were through social issues: the application for a 24-hour gaming permit by a local hotel, then an application for a brothel in the local community. This involvement lead to an invitation to conduct a chapel service for the new council.

Having been called to build a home for the church, attention was turned back to this challenge. Initial quotes for the building as planned were for $1.75m. A reappraisal of the building plan halved this, but the church believed it could do even better, predicated on a belief that God provides in response to prayer.

Lindsay detailed some of the ways he had seen provision through his life, exploits which included fitting and selling seat belts and windscreen washers to Whitley students (including the current BUV President, who vouched for the quality of the work), his experience in PNG and at Kew and Rowville – adapting skills he learned from his father. He told of the purchase of the Baxter Administration wing for $3000 on proviso that it could be moved in quickly. They brought it to Rowville in 55 minutes, with the help of a member of the church whose contacts proved invaluable.
At Keilor, Lindsay continued to adapt these skills, building contacts with local businesses, and referring people to them with instructions to let them know that “Lindsay sent me”. Other provision was made through the closure of CIG, the Kambrook Computer Complex, and Holly’s at Kmart. Through a church secretary who “knows everyone in the Western Suburbs”, they were able to save 33% off the price of the bricks. The details of provision are staggering – a testament to the power of prayer and a willingness to build contacts in the local community. Some was given, some came through church folk giving their time in return, and some through the church folk working in catering and other ventures. Spare resources were utilized: the church lets its parking space to local truckies, which even opens doors for ministry!

Lindsay explained some of the underlying principles:
    * Share your experience with your people.
    * Make the church service a “Show and Tell” exercise when appropriate.
    * Give God the full credit.
    * Encourage your people to walk around with their eyes open.
    * Get a Treasurer who will trust you.
    * Thank the Lord daily for resourcefulness.


A time for questions followed, in which expression was given to the reasons behind the approach of the pastors. In each case, there was a strong sense of God at work through all being done – an incarnational sense of ministry, and seeking to make sense of what that meant in their relative settings. When asked where the skills for networking in this way had been learned, Lindsay, Geoff and Ian all referred to people they had watched and learned from, coupled with a grappling with the implications of ministry in their context.

Some theological frameworks for Networking

It seemed to me that we need to recognise the theological frameworks for networking in ministry. Within days of the initial conversation with Geoff about this RevUp, I twice encountered the story of J H Goble, Baptist pastor for whom the city erected a monument in Williamstown for his contribution to the community in many capacities, including mayor. Joseph Goble saw his involvement in the local community as part of his pastoral ministry.

How do we learn Networking Skills?

Some Personal Attitudes

I have found that attitude is a key to good networkers. Here are some of the attitudes I have noted:

Some Good Networking Tips

Building a sense of ‘local community’ in your own church

We have tried at Rosanna to build a sense of our connectedness with our local community in a number of ways. One important way is through our prayer life. We pray for:
    * local leaders and organisations
    * local streets and suburbs. At one point we hung “street signs” from the local area from the ceiling of the church and placed suburb labels on the walls of the church to remind us of the community around us.
    * local churches. I am often heard to say that the health of our church is inextricably linked to the health of our sister churches in the area. There is a link also between the health of the churches and the health of the wider community.
    * local events

Asking local people to share their story with the church also helps the church appreciate what is happening around the community.

Similarly, asking church folk to share their involvement in community organisations helps build a connection between faith and community involvement. Geoff Leslie indicated that this was not as easy as it sounds. People in churches don’t often see their involvement in community organisations as part of their faith journey, and may be threatened by such a notion. It therefore is a challenge to present and nurture a model of faith which embraces all of life.

The possibilities are endless.....

BUT we need to be careful. It is easy to listen to someone else’s efforts and try to duplicate them. We need to look at the seed, not the tree. What gave birth to the ministry stories shared today is the skills in networking: the listening, talking, meeting, and sharing. Out of those conversations came the ideas for ministry which have been shared. Networking is as individual as you are, and as your local community. That’s where it begins.

- Gary Heard

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