As a Sending Church, does it matter who you partner with? Pretty easy question, right? Of course it matters! However, as mission leaders, we often struggle to decide exactly who we should and should not partner with.
There are a lot of factors that determine your church’s list of ministry partners. Many of us inherited partnerships from previous leaders. Sometimes key influencers in the church will let you know who they think you should partner with. We often end up having so many partners that we cannot serve them well or develop an effective and sound strategy around them for our church.
One of the biggest challenges I have faced in the area of partnerships is jumping in too early. I am a possibility thinker, and when I visit a new place, I sometimes get overzealous. I get caught up in the moment. I love the place, the culture, the food, and even the coffee. I enjoy being around the people on the ground, and I like what I am hearing from the potential partner, so I ended up saying yes before I’ve really had time to think and pray through the partnership.
I’ve learned over the years that I need something to help me process and assess potential partnerships, which is why I developed the partnership grid.
I’ve learned over the years that I need something to help me process and assess potential partnerships.
Why Do You Need a Grid?
A few years back, I was tasked with establishing a new partnership for our local church. I knew the general area our church wanted to target. I had a great contact on the ground. I planned the vision trip and had a trusted friend show me around a bit in that country. Along the way, this friend wanted to introduce me to about ten different partners. Oh no! I’ll probably end up liking all of them. Time to get the MOUs ready.
I knew going into the trip that we were going to be moving fast and meeting quite a few national partners, and I knew I needed a way to process the information I would gather along the way. I wanted to formulate a grid that I could use to visually record my conversations with the national partners. I wanted to be sure I was asking the same questions to each partner. I also wanted to be sure I could remember who was who and who was doing what. To help me do this, I made a list of questions in Excel and created a tab for each partner.
After each visit I would write down some notes, and then at night I would spend a little time reflecting on the visits and putting them on our grid. That would lead to something like this:
Prayer & the Holy Spirit
Has the Lord given you a sense of direction and affirmation towards the partnership?
Does their work line up with your church's mission convictions?
You’ll notice that “Prayer & the Holy Spirit” is at the top of my grid. This alone would be the most important factor, but I found having a list of questions that I could look at side by side when evaluating the potential was super helpful. I did not set it up so that whoever got the most check marks or had the highest total would win; it was simply a way for me to decide on some important questions to ask based on the needs of our church.
We have a worksheet available for Upstream Members called the Partnership Grid. It includes a list of questions a church could consider asking their potential partners. There is also space for you to make those questions your own, to rate partnerships, and to make notes when meeting with partners. This resource is available on our Upstream File Share. It’s free for members and $1.99 for non-members.
Best Practices for Developing Partnerships
This past summer, The Upstream Collective held our first Partnership Cohort. Through our time together, I believe I identified some best practices for discovering and solidifying partnerships. (We will be doing another of these cohorts in Summer 2022. You can find more information here.
Discovering partnerships. Start by working through your church’s existing partnerships. Do any of them rise to the top as partnerships you want to invest in more deeply? Next, connect with people you trust to get a list of potential partners. This could include (but isn’t limited to) people in your church, your network, or your denomination. This is a process the Upstream team would love to help you with. Reach out to the Upstream team if you are looking to develop new partnerships.
Start with a video call. This may be obvious, but don’t jump into doing a vision trip until you have done the initial work of talking to the worker(s) over video. Decide from your partnership grid what questions to ask to get a sense of whether or not you want to continue pursuing this partnership. Have as many of these types of calls as possible. Be clear with the worker about next steps, but be careful not to make any promises on these calls.
Take your time. Do not rush. Pray. Seek the Spirit’s guidance. Talk to other people the worker(s) are already partnering with. They can give you insight into how the partnership is going and (hopefully) affirm the potential partner.
Bring someone else alongside you in the decision-making process. Try not to make a partnership commitment in isolation. Bring on another person from your church who can be involved in making the decision. Doing so will help keep you honest, plus, if you move on someday, there is a better chance the partnership can endure the leadership transition.
Start small and build the partnership. If possible, do not make a financial commitment at the beginning of the relationship. Bringing a short-term team is often a great first step. It can provide an opportunity for your church to plug in with them a bit, and it will help create some ownership among other members of your congregation.
Consider the length of the partnership. I do not recommend having open-ended partnerships. They usually fizzle out after a few years if you do not have some parameters set at the beginning. While the goal is always to develop long-term partnerships, we recommend starting out with a two- or three-year commitment and evaluating the partnership each year. Churches and organizations often have ministry A.D.D. and end up frequently moving their attention to other areas. Establishing a renewable end date can be helpful in keeping the momentum going.
Decide how you will measure success and communicate this clearly to them. Your partners should know what your church values and how it defines healthy partnerships and successful ministry. If you don’t share these metrics with your partners, then you’re setting them up to fail to meet your expectations.
We often think of a partnership as a one-way relationship, but working together for mutual benefit is the very essence of partnering.
Determine what benefits your church may receive out of the partnership. We often think of a partnership as a one-way relationship, but working together for mutual benefit is the very essence of partnering. Your national partners can often help your church in amazing ways, especially if we are willing to learn from them. Here are some questions you can consider as you’re establishing new partnerships:
How can this partner train your church to understand more about the culture they are working in and the people they are trying to reach?
Is there an opportunity for them to come to you and help your church with a short-term project in your area?
Does this partnership provide a pathway for sending long-term team members from your church?
Over the next few weeks, we will highlight more resources on building partnerships. In our next post, we will talk about the importance of building partnerships in order to proactively care for your Sent Ones. We will also give tips in next week’s blog on creating a Memorandum of Understanding with those you decide to partner with.
Larry is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Upstream Collective. He and his family have lived in Europe for nearly twenty years, where he has served in a variety of strategy and leadership roles. Prior to moving to Europe, he was a church planter and pastor in the US. He is a co-author of Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission, The First 30 Daze: Practical Encouragement for Living Abroad Intentionally, and The MarketSpace: Essential Relationships Between the Sending Church, Marketplace Worker, and Missionary Team.