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How to Choose the Right Partners

“We seek partnership with your church in reaching souls with the Word of God in …” If you’ve led your church in missions engagement, you probably have received a similar email from someone requesting that your church partner with them. You know you need to partner, but with whom? What does effective partnering look like? How do churches choose the right partners?

Asking good questions might be the best place to start. Your questions should flow out of your missions convictions and strategies, which allow you to consider partnership needs and requests. The answers will pave the way toward making sound, informed decisions in choosing the right partners.

1. What’s the motivation for partnering?

Do you desire to partner to advance your kingdom or God’s Kingdom? That’s a hard-hitting question, but why partner at all if you get this wrong? Every place you work in, every person you work with, and every action you take should reflect a desire to see the nations know and worship Jesus Christ our King! But you know that already!

Back to the question, though: why are you seeking to partner? Are you looking to add capacity? Are you looking to move into a new area of ministry or a piece of geography? Do you need to make a deeper commitment to an area you’re already involved in? Answering these questions will help guide you to identify potential partners and position you to make informed decisions. Perhaps your church has never been involved in church planting but wants to move toward partnering to start churches. If so, you’ll want to reach out to church planting organizations as you search for partners. Maybe you want to extend your reach in a particular city, but your current partners only focus on a small area. You’ll want to explore who is involved in the area God is leading you to move toward. As you think about your motivation, lean toward strategic decisions rather than expedient ones.

2. What about fit?

As you consider potential partners, think about fit. Does the ministry focus and purpose mesh with yours? If your church prioritizes mission decisions based on geography, consider partnership options that favor your part of the world. Are they experts in your focus city or country, or are they generalists? Is your church passionate about Bible distribution? Think through potential partners who know how to get Scripture into the hands of those who don’t have it. If you are engaging a people group made up of primarily oral communicators, look for a partner who can supply God’s Word in a digital format.

It’s better to be like-minded than not when deciding on your partners, so decide what your non-negotiables are and vet your possible partners accordingly.

Consider who you are as a church. Is your church ministry in a seminary town with ties to various mission organizations? Are there business people or skilled workers in your faith family that could work anywhere? Explore partners that specialize in marketplace ministry and take advantage of their expertise. What are the dominant skill sets present in your church? If numerous medical workers are in the church, consider partners who can help you leverage those skills.

Doctrinally, is the potential partner a good fit? Sometimes, it might be acceptable to partner with someone who holds different doctrinal positions than you. It’s better to be like-minded than not when deciding on your partners, so decide what your non-negotiables are and vet your possible partners accordingly. Your denominational sending agencies might be your best option, so make sure you are in touch with them.

3. What existing relationships do you have?

Many times, you already know your future partners. It’s a good practice to explore options among relationships that are already in place. Thinking along relational lines will help guide your decision making. If you’re a missions leader, think about who you already know you can contact about possible partnerships. Maybe you aren’t aware of potential partners but you know a counterpart at another church. Contact that friend and ask them to help you consider options and connect you accordingly. There likely is already a level of understanding and trust that will help as you forge new partnerships.

What about your sent ones? You’ve already invested in their development and now their care as well. Why not forge a partnership with them? Are there former missionaries involved in your ministry that can help you think through partnership options? They possess skills, experience, contacts, and knowledge you can leverage. For example, I have a colleague at my church who served with his family in Eastern Europe. We are considering a partnership in the city they lived and ministered in because of their experience. Take advantage of your relationships!

4. Is there a mutual benefit for both organizations?

What needs does your potential partner have, and how can you meet them? Perhaps the need of the day is broad and bold gospel-sharing, and the partner on the ground is looking for a large number of volunteers to help meet that need. Can you provide equipped volunteers that help the partner in evangelism? There may be a significant community of people from a particular part of the world in your community, and a potential field partner can help you reach and disciple them. We studied the demographics of our community and found many people from South Asia living in our neighborhoods. We began looking for a partnership in South Asia to serve the people in our community better. Our experience in South Asia has enhanced our ministry at home, and we have been able to extend the ministry of our field partner! Partnership is a two-way street. As we know from Ecclesiastes 4, we are better together!

You are part of the global church. Value your partners. Enjoy what God does through your partnerships as you serve in the Great Commission together.

Finally, consider some words of caution and encouragement as you explore potential partnerships:

  • Avoid partnerships that foster paternalism and create dependency.

  • Partner in response to a request, when possible, rather than invite yourself into someone’s ministry.

  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the partnership once a year.

  • Make time-bound commitments that work for you and your partner.

  • Pray. Ask the Lord to guide you to partners.

Remember, you are part of the global church. Value your partners. Enjoy what God does through your partnerships as you serve in the Great Commission together.

 

Bruce Mewbourne (DMin in Church Planting and Missions from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) has worked in international missions and pastoral ministry since 1994. He served with his wife, Belinda, and their two children in France through the International Mission Board. Bruce currently serves as Pastor of Sending at Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA.

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