Nexus and Edge Hub People as Missionary Candidate Recommenders
We need more workers. Because there are not enough workers in the harvest. To find missionaries, who are often 1-in-10,000 believers, requires recommenders.
How might we find ‘mission magnets’ within individual churches? Decentralized networking theory holds one potential clue you might try. Over the past several years I have studied decentralized networks (‘swarms’) exhaustively. One of the most important things about a ‘swarm’ is the ability to scale into a large, loosely-organized networks.
Swarms and other forms of decentralized networks are built on top of natural human relational webs. These webs are usually created by two kinds of connections: ‘strong’ and ‘weak.’ A ‘strong’ connection is a deep, personal connection, such as a parent, sibling, spouse, or very close friend. A ‘weak’ connection is more of a collegial or irregular connection, such as a work colleague, a friend at church, or other acquaintance. (‘Very weak’ connections can be followers on social media.)
Most people have at maximum about 10 to 15 ‘strong’ connection ‘slots,’ and these are typically taken up by parents, siblings, spouses, children, and a few close friends. Some people, on the other hand, have a large number of ‘weak’ connections—some of which take up ‘strong’ slots, and some of which go beyond. These people are ‘hubs’: they are the ones who connect with a lot of different and varied people, often in different networks. (There is some correlation to introversion vs. extroversion, but not much; I am a major introvert and yet I have hundreds of ‘weak’ connections to many people and networks across multiple industries.)
Hub people make swarms and relational networks work. If you think about the famous ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ idea (that we are all just six relational steps from anyone on the planet), most of those ‘steps’ are hubs. (For example, if you’re reading this, you can get probably get to me via email. And once to me, you can take one more ‘connective’ step to any of about 100 different field networks in the world, covering every continent. I am not saying this to boast, but to illustrate how ‘hub’ people significantly shrink the social distance between individuals in vastly different geographic locations.) Hub people may not have ‘deep’ relationships with the people they are connected to. This is more of the ‘I know a guy’ variety.
How does this enter into the issue of mobilization? One way to find ‘missionary magnets’ is to look for people who stand as ‘hubs’ at the nexus or connecting points either inside networks (such as very large churches) or on the fringe between one network and another.
‘Hubs’ may be people who just seem to know everyone. Or, they may be people in group leadership. They may serve as deacons or elders, and know a lot about the families within a particular group. They may be ministry leaders who go out from the church to other locations, or who work with other churches. They may be pulling together networks of multiple churches or multiple small groups.
The interesting thing about a ‘hub’ person that impacts mission: they are typically almost intuitively focused on the transition from one group to another. They may transfer information, or may make introductions, or may lead people from one group to another group. They may cross-pollinate ideas, vision, and best practices. But what is key for us: they know who serves which group, and which individuals are most likely to be interested in crossing boundaries.
The missionary or apostolic task is to cross boundaries—to go from those who have the Gospel to those who do not. Hub people can connect you to other hubs, and eventually you will find ‘hubs’ that are on the ‘edge’ between the the Christian and non-Christian world. (You can expect ‘hub’ people on the ‘edge’ boundaries to be decidedly different in outlook, attitude, and perhaps even appearance than people who are on the ‘deep interior’ of Christianity.) Learning to identify hubs and leap from hub to hub could potentially lead you to deep pools of potential candidates. Here’s some thoughts about you can identify them:
1. Ask someone in the organization (church, agency, business) who knows people of a certain category. The precise category doesn’t matter. You’re looking for are people who are ‘hubs’ within a category, which means they know lots of people in it.
2. Ask the potential ‘hub’ if they know people of that category outside their organizational environment. For example, they may know artist-types in the church, but do they know artist types in other churches? This is a ‘nexus’ kind of hub, connecting multiple organizations.
3. Ask if they know people of another, possibly related category. If they know artist-types, do they know construction types? Or musicians? Or accountants? Or science-types who can help with special effects? Or people who do hospitality work, or cater events? This is indicative of a ‘hub’ that spans multiple categories. This type of person is still a ‘nexus’ within a large category, but is more likely to be an ‘edge’ hub, connecting outside the Christian world.
4. Ask if they know people of a particular category in the non-Christian world. This is the clearest definition of what I’m terming an ‘edge’ hub, bridging into the world outside the church.
5. Ask if they know believers who have been interested in connecting with them to minister to non-Christians. It is unlikely they will know many, but you are now closer to your ‘1-in-10,000’ person.
Hubs of any sort (but especially ‘edge’ hubs) are worth getting to know. Connections and relationships with these individuals will bring you information and viewpoints that you won’t otherwise come into contact with. Hubs also play a vetting role: they decide what information they are going to pass on. Most importantly, hubs will be connecting points for you into other worlds, and could identify potential missionary candidates. So start asking around, and finding people you should have coffee (or a soda!) with.
Granovetter, Mark. “The strength of weak ties.” American Journal of Sociology 78:6 (1973). Cited over 30,000 times.
Granovetter, Mark. “The strength of weak ties: a network theory revisited.” Sociological Theory 1 (1983).
Easley, David. “Strong and weak ties.” Chapter 3 of Networks, Crowds and Markets. 2010. PDF.
De Meo, Pasquale, & others. “On Facebook, most ties are weak.” Communications of the ACM 57:11 (2014).
Brown, Eileen. “Strong and weak ties: why your weak ties matter.” Social Media Today (2011).
Morgan, Jacob. “Why every employee should be building weak ties at work.” Forbes (2014). Good explanatory graphics.
Lehrer, Jonah. “Weak ties, Twitter and Revolution.” Wired (2010).