Over the past few weeks I have been privileged to attend some local networking meetings arranged by local youth workers. When I receive such a call I jump at the opportunity and attend with great anticipation of meeting youth workers who gather together for a common goal – youth ministry. It’s wonderful to sit in and hear what’s happening in various youth groups, to hear passion and to hear passion rekindled, to hear best practices, to share commonalities in struggles and so on.
There are great advantages to networking! But as the newbie in the group there are a few things that I have learned about being the new person at a networking group:
You are the new person. During the gathering always remember you are the new person in the group. There are going to be conversations that you are going to be totally clueless about and jokes that you just won’t find funny because you were not at the last meeting. This is part of being new! It’s not that they are trying to exclude you. Be patient and you will come to understand the conversation and will be able to share your wisdom.
Don’t come with preconceived ideas. You may have been part of a networking group prior to the one you have been asked to join that mostly functioned different than the new one. Each area will host a networking meeting differently and you need to be open to that. You can’t expect this new group to function the same way, talk about the same things and eat the same food. That’s not reality. So come open minded, with no expectations and you will have less chance of being disappointed.
Don’t speak too much. Take time to soak in the conversation and comment when you think it is appropriate. Don’t dominate the conversation. In situations like this it is better to listen more and get a feel for things than it is to talk and be overbearing. You are there to learn about what’s happening in your area regarding youth ministry. Sit and listen.
Make a good connection with at least one person. Networking groups vary in size from 8-15 people so it would be very hard to meet everyone on a personal level. So make sure during your time there that you make at least one close connection to someone in the group. Whether that is the person sitting beside you or across the room, take the time to zone in on one person, introduce yourself and get past the generality of ministry in conversation.
Make a commitment. Determine prior to going how many times you want to attend in order to give this networking group a fair shot. My suggestion would be no less than 5 times. It might just take that long for you to feel at home and be a productive part of the conversation. If after 5 gatherings you still don’t feel connected, it’s time to reexamine your expectations even though it’s been suggested that you come without any. Reexamine your goals for networking and move on or begin to slowly make some change.
Never talk badly. If the gatherings are not what you expected don’t talk badly about this to other youth pastors in your area. This is a lack of integrity on your part. If you don’t like the group, give it some time, look deep into yourself and see if the problem does not lie with you before you talk badly about your new networking group. If you don’t like your group after 5 sessions, express to the group that is not what you had in mind, share your views and leave with integrity.
It is very important that you keep connected to fellow youth workers in your area, whether paid or volunteer. They can be a tremendous source of encouragement, prayer and comfort. Networking is a fun and easy way to always be reminded that “I am not alone.”