The power of network mapping

network mapping

I am convinced that one of the most essential skills Christians can develop is to chart their relational networks. This simple exercise enables you to see yourself as God’s partner, messenger and co-worker in what he is doing in the lives of people you know. Try strengthening your spiritual muscles with Network Mapping.

Individuals and groups have discovered new power and ministry opportunities through Network Mapping. This foundational exercise is part of InterVarsity’s chapter planting handbook, Start Something New.

Here are some reasons why mapping your relationships is important:

Network Mapping Inspires People

Usually, after ten minutes of drawing our relational networks, we are surprised by how many people we know in each of the places we frequently connect with. When two or more people sit down together to map their combined networks, it is even more exciting. They begin to see how they can partner together to reach a significant population. It’s not hard for a few friends to come up with over 100 names in just a few minutes. Few things can so quickly reveal your immediate mission field!

It’s Insightful

A chart with a bunch of places and names suddenly becomes very useful when you start asking some questions about the people you have connected with. When using these questions, I like to use different colored pens to circle, underline or highlight different groupings of people so I can get a visual sense of where the spiritual activity and potential lies:

  • Who is already a follower of Jesus and therefore a potential partner in reaching others in a network? When can you ask them to add their names to your Network Map?
  • Who seems open or interested in exploring who Jesus is, and what it means to follow him? What would be a natural next step for them?
  • Who knows you are a Christian? Who knows why you are a Christian (because you have explained it to them)?
  • Who have you invited to something?
  • Looking over the whole map, where do you see the most spiritual potential?
  • Which people in your networks are strong connectors to further networks?

It’s a Spiritual Act

With these insights, your Network Map can become a great tool for prayer. It’s easy to pick a place, a grouping of people or an observation you have made and pray for the people God has placed in your life. Some deeper questions you should ask God when you pray:

  • What do you want me/us to see here?
  • Why have you placed these particular people in our lives?
  • Is there a place or a people group you want to send us to?
  • What is your vision for these people? What do you want to see happen among them?
  • What have you given us that we should pass on to them?
  • What do we need to do to prepare ourselves? Is there an attitude, a skill or some knowledge we need to be effective? Is there something we need to repent of, or let go?

This is the real power of a Network Map. It helps you to see what God himself is up to. You start to see all the people in your life as part of something wonderful God is doing. You can see yourself as God’s partner, messenger and co-worker. We are beginning to “lift up our eyes” to see “the field is ripe for harvest” (John 4:35).

It Transforms Discipleship

Once you have created your Network Map, you can teach others to do it. By the simple act of helping them map their networks and praying for God’s vision, you are developing the missional muscles of other Christians. There is nothing more potent or practical in a discipleship relationship.

If you lead a small group Bible study, you can use poster paper, or sticky notes on a wall (I have even seen groups use 3×5 cards connected with yarn to visualize their combined networks). Use anything that helps the group identify the people God has placed in their lives and discern what the group can do next to partner with God. It is the first major step to help a small group gain a tangible sense of its mission. As the group members identify where God is moving, they can start to intentionally engage the right networks.

It Elevates the Mundane

Network Maps help us identify where God is already at work in all the places we live and work and study every day. It takes our place in the world seriously—it assumes God has ordained our current situation, and looks with expectancy that he has good things prepared for us to do in these places. As we learn how to recognize the Spirit’s movement all around us and cooperate with him in our familiar environment, we begin to fulfill our calling in life. God is transforming us, and impacting the world around us.

It’s Time to Try It

Why not take the first step in becoming a world-changer right now? All you need is a blank piece of paper and a pen (or a few colored pens if you have them). Write your name in the middle. Then name the places (outside your Christian group or church) where you interact with people on a fairly frequent basis. Next, start writing down names of people you know around each of those places.

The First Step in Multiplying Small Groups

Network Mapping is a great first step to help small groups multiply. Here’s why: the group can discern who has the relational networks and where God is moving. They can then make wise decisions about how to begin intentionally reaching out to the right networks. They may decide to send a couple members of the group to launch a new group, while the original group supports their efforts. This is a much better way to begin multiplying than simply deciding to split down the middle and try to create two separate smaller groups that have no vision propelling them forward.

Try Networking Mapping as a powerful tool to start something new for Jesus!

Shawn Young serves as InterVarsity’s National Director of Chapter Planting.