Maybe you’ve heard the word “partnership” floating around church planting circles, or noticed that we have a page devoted to church planting partnerships on the Multiply Vineyard website, but you’re not sure what a church planting partnership actually is. Well, here’s your answer: A partnership is a group of people and churches working together to accomplish more than any one of them could have on their own.
The Vineyard has been using a partnership model in international and cross-cultural missions for years. For a clear explanation of how partnerships work, Multiply Vineyard spoke with Jim Pool, a Vineyard pastor and a leaders in the Vineyard partnership with Ethiopia. He said that a partnership “really is an organizational principle for doing trans-locally what Paul talks about in 1 Cor 12.14 [“Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many”]. Ultimately, and optimally, a partnership will not just be a group of people working together to go at something, but they’ll be working together with the people they are serving or reaching out to.
So for example, the Ethiopia partnership Jim is working on includes five churches in the U.S., two in Scandinavia, and one in South Africa working with Ethiopian leaders in eleven established churches and several newer church plants within Ethiopia. Rather than any one of those churches operating alone, they bring their combined resources, time, money, and experience to see God’s kingdom flourish and multiply on the ground in Ethiopia.
There are a few advantages to this model. First, we avoid simply imposing our will and our way of doing things on the area we are trying to reach by working cooperatively with the local people there. Second, partnerships make it possible for individuals and churches of all sizes to get involved. Many people and communities share the burden.
But beyond concentrating more energy and resources toward church planting and missions, a partnership model also protects the ministry from failing when one of the contributing churches goes through a tough time at home. Despite the best planning, churches go through occasional periods of struggle or confusion—a change in leadership, a pastor’s child falling sick, a building project, or any number of other scenarios—that deflect care and resources away from the mission. If only one church is backing a mission or church plant, even a little hiccup at home can spell major trouble or even death to the developing ministry on the field. In a partnership, on the other hand, other churches can pick up the slack when one member of the partnership has a problem arise that keeps it from contributing for a while.
So in the Ethiopian partnership, even though Pool’s church went through significant change and upheaval, and even though one of the primary Ethiopian leaders’ time was taken up with another major project, the partnership has continued to flourish, because of the continued work and support of the other churches and leaders, both in Ethiopia and internationally.
This has proved to be so helpful that the Vineyard movement has adopted partnerships as it’s main model for missions. Recently, interest in using this model for planting churches within the United States, as well, has been growing. There aren’t many of them yet, but there is no reason several churches with a similar vision for an area or culture can’t get together and form a partnership.
One domestic church planting partnership that has come together recently is the partnership for Small Town USA. The team consists of six pastors from around the US who are committed to doing kingdom work in small towns and rural areas around America. Small towns often get overlooked—it’s easy to focus on urban centers because they are big and full of people. But Jesus is passionate about small towns and rural settings just as much as he is about cities, because there are people in them, and Jesus cares passionately for people, no matter where they live. So while he calls many of us to densely populated urban areas, he calls many others to reach out to smaller and more out-of-the-way places.
Luke Geraty is one of the members of the small town partnership (he is actually a contributor to our blog. He has posted several excellent articles on the experiences particular to small town church planting. The church where he is a pastor joined the Vineyard a little over a year ago and has been part of the small town partnership since then. We asked him to talk about his involvement with the partnership and about his experiences in small town America. He said that when he joined the partnership,
“It was encouraging to know that there were other Vineyard pastors who were struggling through the same things I was, or had already struggled through it. They shared their heart for small-town USA, and having pastored in a church now for almost 8 or 9 years in a small rural community, I’m passionate about that. I heard them speaking and said, ‘hey, these guys understand my dilemmas, my challenges as a pastor.’ Challenges like how to be missional and contextual in a rural community. Small town church planting was different than what I learned in seminary—seminary seems to assume that pastors will end up in urban areas, and all the theology and practice we are taught is geared toward that.”
The small town partnership’s goals are to help churches strategically work together to plant churches in small town USA, and to equip, empower, and resource church planters who are heading into rural communities. Ministry in small towns, in particular, really benefits from a partnership model, because individual churches in small towns tend to have fewer people and less money. They can’t really afford to send out a big church-planting team from a single church in the same way a church from a larger area with more people could.
One of the results of this partnership is that, within the larger context of Small Town USA, three pastors, including Geraty, from rural Wisconsin have banded together to move forward in planting a church in another small town nearby. Instead of one church multiplying itself in a new church plant, the three of them are working to produce a new church as a joint effort. The three of them are meeting to strategically plan, visit the community, and pray. They will all contribute funds toward the eventual church plant, and are using each other’s different strengths to complement each other and round out the team in a way that none of them would have been able to alone.
Ultimately, the purpose of the Small Town partnership, or of any partnership, for that matter, is to see more churches and healthier churches being planted everywhere. We want to provide the best training and support possible to people who venture in to all kinds of territory to plant churches there.
Is there a region or a people group on your heart? Maybe you’ve started seeing immigrants from Bangladesh or Somalia, and you’d like to reach out to that growing community in the US. Or maybe you’re passionate about planting a church inside the beltway in Washington D.C., or in urban Detroit, or Hollywood, and you want to connect with other church communities and leaders who have the same passion and heart.
Or perhaps there is an area near you where you would like to see a healthy Vineyard church take root, but you don’t have the ability to send out a team from your community right now. Maybe there are some other churches in your region that have the same vision. Maybe you should start talking to the other Vineyard pastors in your region and see if there’s something you’d like to start working on together.
Either way, you should definitely contact the Multiply Vineyard team. Let us know what places and people you are longing to see reached with the kingdom of God. First of all, we can start praying with you. Second, we can connect you to others who may share your vision and get a conversation started. Just email us at [email protected]. There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” If you’ve got vision but not a plan to achieve it, maybe a partnership is what you’ve been looking for. Let’s work together to go far.