The energy was electric as we walked the streets of Washington DC, probably walking the same streets as Abraham Lincoln and other legends had walked, with the same sense of anticipation, the same stirring hope of changing the world.
Over the past two years, we have gathered IRL (online term for "In Real Life") several times in several differents cities, with smaller groups of us meeting up beyond that.
It all started just two years ago, when a new friend Mark sought me out at a large Christian conference in Atlanta. It was quite amazing to think he wanted to talk to me amongst the thousands of leaders gathered, but that is how friendships start.
A follow up call later and an idea was born for a secret facebook group pulling together the gifted social media directors for most of the major denominations in the US. We decided to include some additional nonprofits that were having national influence as well. So many good people to choose from. Ultimately, I believe the people who are in are supposed to be there.
Our first gathering in LA felt like a bunch of close friends who hadn't seen each other in a decade. We were like giddy school girls. The chance to hang out with people like ourselves, who understood where we were coming from was like oxygen to a weary soul.
Each friend in that group is at the top of their game. They are individually influencing hundreds of thousands of people, or even millions. Collectively, we are a voice online for the global Church. But no one knows our names. We are the men and women behind the curtain, speaking truth and life online. Publishing the gospel one tweet at a time.
Perhaps, one of the most game changing lessons I've learned from this group of friends, is the value of friendship over networking.
You see, for years, I've been terrified of becoming something I didn't want to become. Not one to turn down coffee or a meal, I've met all over the Twin Cities with godly and influential pastors and leaders. But several of these leaders have scared me. While they have been greatly used of God, they exhibited characteristics I never wanted to become.
Maybe you've met people like them? While they are doing a great work, they don't seem to notice anyone else is doing a great work besides themselves.
You are delighted to accept their invite for lunch or dinner, and share what God is doing in your life, but the meeting always somehow turns out to be about how you can serve their vision. After you leave, you question whether or not they even heard anything about where God has you.
Thanks to this group, I feel like I've uncovered a powerful treasure, an antidote of sorts, to this uber-networking-mentality. Something that can change the game; turn it on it's head. Here are some ideas of how you can think different and implement this into your groups, networks, meetings and friendships:
1. Get together for the sake of friendship, not networking
Networkers look for ways to build their rolodex. Friends look for ways to build memories.
Networkers want to see what they can get. Friends look for ways to give.
Networkers can't wait to share their stories. Friends can't wait to hear your stories.
Networkers bring an agenda. Friends leave their agenda at home.
Networkers always need a reason to meet. Friends meet for no other reason but friendship.
Networkers build their own little kingdom. Friends build God's kingdom.
2. Let people know you care, without a hook
When you send a thank you card, email, tweet to people, just say thanks. Don't follow up with another "ask" of how they can support you, or join with your "movement". There are times to build the movement, but mainly we should look for ways to build people. A thank you note with a follow up hook becomes a hook, not a thank you. The thank you gets washed out with the tide of networking, which claims it's victims daily.
3. Stop asking people to help you and start asking how you can help them
Don't get me wrong, there are key moments to ask people to join you, to support you, to work for you, but those should be rare, appropriate moments. If you go around asking everyone how they can "get on board" all the time, you are probably over-doing it. Instead, ask people how you can help them. Or even better, just get together, listen, care, show respect, act out authentic, selfless love. This will probably draw more people to "join you" than networking ever will produce for you.
4. Stop waiting for everyone to comment on your facebook post, and start commenting on their posts
This is even more practical, and maybe even too close for comfort. I've heard too many people who feel "exhausted" by facebook, but are probably just tired of hearing about everyone else's life, and longing to be heard more themselves. Our selfishness gets in the way of this, but instead of waiting for friends to validate you, be a person who generously validates others. Favorite tweets, comment on people's posts, comment on facebook posts, and tell them how much you genuinely care and are excited for their lives.
5. Regularly check in with friends when you don't have something to ask from them
The challenge for our crazy busy, hyper-productive world is that we typically only have time for people when we need something from them urgently. So we check-in, always only with a request. The needed solution is to check-in with friends and "contacts" on a facebook message, or card in the mail, or text just to say hi and show you care, and tell them you hope they are doing amazing. This will be a great start. Let's try to re-direct our lives this way, and see how it works!