Six Principles for Partnerships Between Large and Small Churches

This post first appeared at the RPM Ministries blog as part of their series on large churches.

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Having been a part of both large and small churches, I have seen the tremendous potential of large and small churches working together. There can be great benefit when churches join forces and the combined effort can result in a greater impact for the cause of Christ. Not all joint efforts, however, are healthy partnerships. For a partnership between large and small churches to be successful, there must be active participation, contribution and benefit for all churches involved. Too often, attempts to partner with one another fail—not for lack of good intentions, but because they were never a true partnership to begin with. Here are a few factors to consider when large and small churches work together.

1. True partnership includes all partners from the early stages. For a true partnership between large and small churches to take place, partners should be invited to the table at the earliest stages of goal setting, concept development, and planning. Too often, churches approach partnerships with most or all of the details already worked out and expect the “partner” church to just sign on to their idea. Smaller churches develop a plan and approach larger churches to provide funds, personnel, or other resources. Larger churches develop what they think will be best for all involved and invite small churches to participate in their already developed grand plan. The arrangement, if it moves forward, ends up being nothing more than participation. Healthy partnerships seek to involve others from as early as possible in the process. All partners have a stake in the project. All partners have ownership and “buy in” to the results of the project. Further, real bonding can take place between the leaders and participants of the two churches because the project is jointly owned.

2. True partnership affirms the value of contributions from all partners. This principle goes with the first one. One of the motivations for including partners in the planning stages is recognizing the valuable contributions to be made. It is all too easy for small churches to see large church partners as merely a source of revenue or resources. In the process, they fail to value the knowledge, expertise, experience, or leadership resources available to them from the larger church. Likewise, many gifted and knowledgeable people have been called by God to serve in small churches. Large churches can make the mistake of acting as paternalistic benefactors and miss the valuable contributions that small churches and their members can provide. Instead, large and small church partners should affirm one another as they work together in kingdom ministry. Such affirmations must be genuine and not insincere or patronizing. Recognizing the value of each partner is not about making superficial adulations, but of truly assessing and acknowledging one another’s unique gifts and strengths and expecting each partner to bring those gifts to the table (see Rom 12:3-8 and 1 Cor 12-13).

This principle applies to financial contributions as well. The Bible affirms the value of large and small gifts and proportional contribution (see, e.g., 2 Cor 8-9; Luke 21:1-4). Smaller churches should not be made to feel less valuable or that they have less ownership in the project because they are able to give less overall. At the same time, small churches should be expected to participate financially, even when resources are meager.  The best partnerships occur when all partners have “skin in the game” and are giving sacrificially to kingdom work.

3. True partnership is authentic and transparent. Whenever churches join forces, there are always desired outcomes that partners hope will result from working together. There are many sound motivations for partnership between large and small churches and the benefits for both parties can be considerable. One should expect that each church will seek to benefit from the relationship. Problems arise, however, when the desire to be true partners is disingenuous or when a church and its leadership hides its true intentions. Faulty motives and hidden agendas undermine the project and destroy fellowship. Small and large churches alike should be honest with each other when entering partnerships and maintain open and honest communication throughout the relationship.

Partnerships can also bring conflict. Sometimes the goals of each church will be in opposition to one another. Other times, misunderstandings occur. Too easily our sin natures can rise to the surface. Most conflicts can be resolved, but only when church leaders are open and honest with one another. Hidden resentments are toxic to relationship and ongoing partnership between churches.

4. True partnership recognizes the concerns of all parties and works to address those concerns. When large and small churches work together, it is important for each partner to see things from the other’s point of view. While the missional goals for the project may be the same, large and small churches will have individual concerns about the partnership that should not be overlooked. Large churches, for example, may be concerned about their “brand” in the community and how the partnership will further or hinder their influence. Likewise, small churches may be concerned that the project will promote only the larger church and not be seen as a true partnership. Both in the planning process and after the partnership is underway, leaders must continue to listen to one another and address the concerns of each party. Leaders of each partnering church should be willing to voice their own concerns as they arise and be conscious of the concerns of the other partners. Ignoring others’ concerns or minimizing them as illegitimate, unimportant, or unspiritual only hurts the relationship. Indeed, not all concerns are equally valid, but they must be addressed if true partnership is to occur. The best partnerships seek the benefit of all as they ultimately do “kingdom” work.

5. True partnership is win/win/WIN. Often you will hear from one or both partners the desire to be “kingdom minded.” This is a good thing. Just be sure if you’re going to use that phrase that you are not using it as a leveraging tool to get your own way. Small churches must not demand assistance from larger churches nor should larger churches insist that small churches kowtow to their grand visions, all in the name of “kingdom” work. To be kingdom-minded, rather, means that we recognize that we are all playing for the same team. God’s kingdom is made up of both large and small communities of faith as they walk in obedience to the Great Commission.

If it is indeed true that we are cooperating, not competing, then such partnerships should result in a win/win/WIN scenario: Where there is mutual benefit for both small and large church partners and the result is kingdom advance. You cannot be kingdom minded and exploitive at the same time. To be kingdom minded, we must care for spiritual growth and needs of the members of the body that are present in both the large and small churches involved.  All partners should “win.” At the same time, we must aim for gospel growth and impact on the community. The final “WIN” for our partnerships is that through our joint efforts we advance the gospel, make disciples in obedience to the Great Commission, and bring glory to God.

6. Effective kingdom partnerships seek to glorify God alone. True Kingdom partnership requires that we put away our pride, our selfish ambition, and our desire for name recognition so that God’s kingdom is advanced and the glory goes to Him alone. True partnerships cannot occur when we are preoccupied with our status, our church brand, or our denominational clout. We must leave our “egos” and “logos” at the door. Even as we work hard to create a true partnership for the benefit of all, there comes a time where we put all our personal agendas aside and pursue the purposes of God. Notwithstanding everything I’ve stated in the previous points, true kingdom partnership requires personal sacrifice.

The call is not for one partner to be a doormat for the other, but for all partners to prayerfully give up their personal agendas and desire to make a name for themselves for the glorious cause of taking the gospel to the nations. No selfish ambition, just a passion to see the lost found and God’s kingdom come. True kingdom partnerships between large and small churches will be about glorifying God and making His Son known. That means I must forsake glory for myself and my church. Sometimes, the only benefit I and my church will receive is seeing lives changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the end, we must remember that our churches partner together not to advance our own names, but His name.

Conclusion

I pray that more large and small churches will pursue working together. When approached the right way, large and small church partners can each benefit and see spiritual and numerical growth. Such partnerships also testify to the unifying power of the gospel. Partnerships are visible reminders to the world that Christianity is not about factions and tribes, but about the person and work of Jesus Christ. Partnerships are visible reminders to believers that we are one people of God, serving together as brothers and sisters for the cause of Christ. Effective partnerships between large and small churches advance the kingdom of God and bring glory to His name. Let us pursue such partnerships as we make Christ known in our communities and around the world.

 

 

Comments

  1. Dave Miller says

    We’ve been more prone to lobbing bombs at one another.

    Had a large church pastor tell me that small churches were basically useless (not making this up).

    Have heard plenty of smaller church leaders question the integrity and commitment of the “megachurches”.

    We have to find a way to see ourselves in partnership, not competition.

  2. Todd Benkert says

    I often find myself in the role of apologist for both small and large churches. I believe that partnership is the biblical model and work to find ways that churches both large and small may partner together in ministry. In the SBC, the dividing line between large and small churches may be bigger than that of Calvinist and Traditional/non-Calvinist churches. More small/large church partnerships will help bridge that gap. For such partnerships to be effective, will take intentional and thoughtful effort.

    I say, Let’s work together for the advance of His Name!

  3. William Carpenter says

    Thanks, as one concerned with seeing healthy partnerships between large and small churches I think this article hits the nail on the head. I also think this issue has a greater dividing line in the SBC than the other debates. It shouldn’t.

    • Dave Miller says

      There is truth there, William.

      I still think ol’ Calvin marks the biggest line, but the big/small is another significant fracture area. And the young/old is pretty big too.

  4. Christiane says

    ‘Size’ of a Church?

    “It is of great importance that we leave the world of measurements behind when we speak about the life of the Spirit.”

    (Henri Nouwen)

  5. says

    I pastor a small church and would like to know what kinds of things go on in a partnership. I’ve heard of this but don’t know anything about it. I have a couple of friends who pastor large churches in the area and was considering approaching them about some sort of partnership, but I don’t even know what to ask for or expect. Any help at all would be appreciated. Just don’t know where to start.

    • Dave Miller says

      Problem with such partnerships is that they often become one-sided. The big church gives, the smaller church receives. Not sure how you get past that.

      • Doug Hibbard says

        The issue here is developing partnerships that recognize both measurable and immeasurable contribution. The bigger churches have more money, more people, etc. so they look like they are contributing.

        The question becomes “What do small churches bring that the big churches need?” And that’s a tougher one–one that we at our small church consistently ask, and that I ask as a small church pastor. Truth is, those of you who pastor big churches (over 100) can live without us, can run the SBC without us, but we can’t do it all ourselves.

        So we end up feeling like unwanted siblings–no contribution to make, and therefore no real influence, and it just goes downhill. I’ve seen several smaller churches in my region drop back to nominal SBC participation with that type of feeling “They don’t need us, and they don’t want us, so let’s go away.”

        It’s a running challenge for the whole organization.

        Even more of one for one-on-one partnerships. I’d love to see small rural churches (like mine) partner individually with bigger churches to strengthen the small churches so we don’t lose them as area economies plummet, but I don’t see what we have to offer in return (not that bigger churches would want, though I do love my small church and don’t know that I would ever want to go big church again.)

        • Todd Benkert says

          I think it’s unfair to assume that Large churches do not value small churches. That has not been my experience at all. More often, I see large churches willing to partner while our pride, inferiority complexes, and isolationist tendencies get in the way. The “they don’t need us, and they don’t want us” mentality is self-defeating and hinders fellowship.

          • Dale Pugh says

            It’s always unfair to assume anything. But the practical working out of a thing is the proof of it. You say that you see large churches willing to partner. As a small church pastor, I don’t.

            I don’t feel inferior, or proud, or isolationist at all. What I see is a tendency on the part of the larger church to become paternalistic. The larger church pastor is seen as more capable, better equipped, more successful; but he isn’t. He and the large church seem to take the “I know what you need to do” approach, and that just ain’t happening for me. He’s the person called to the larger church role while I’m called to serve in small churches as a bivocational pastor. I could be where he is if I’d made different career choices along the way, but I didn’t.

            So, maybe a follow-up post is in order. Give some practical suggestions, case studies, or something like that to show what can be done and how it can work between the two churches. The principles you give above are fine, but where’s the application? What can be done? Who’s doing it? What are some projects to pursue? How do we avoid the pitfalls along the way?

  6. Dave Miller says

    For the record, we’ve had attempted partnerships between different sized churches for centuries – called associations. Not sure how to make those more effective.

    • Todd Benkert says

      Some associations are quite effective — the most important factor, IMO, is a willingness/desire to work together.

    • Todd Benkert says

      Also, Dave, my essay is addressing more direct partnerships between individual churches (though similar principals might be applied to associational work).