I have often been asked about what I’ve learned as a church planter and whether we should have church plant partners or not. When people ask about my church planting story: “If you had it to do all over again, would you partner with an organization to plant a church or would you go it alone?”
I spent five years fundraising for, training for, launching, leading and pastoring a church plant in the city of San Francisco. There are several lessons I learned along the way; lessons from failure, lessons from success and lessons from reflection. As I reflected on this question of partnerships, the one thing I do know is that there is not a one-size-fits-all answer.
My initial purpose for partnering with an organization in planting a church was two-fold:
- I needed money to make this dream of planting a church in the second most expensive city in the country a reality.
- I didn’t want to walk this journey alone. Church planting is an extremely lonely endeavor (perhaps one of the realities we blind ourselves to the most) and I was terrified as I stared at this reality.
My two criteria for partnering with organizations (money and relationship) were motivated out of fear. This is a terrible motivator for partnership.
The partnership relationship is a very important thing for a church planter, especially for the nondenominational church planter. There has been a rise in church planting networks around the country, from Ecclesia to NewThing to Acts 29, etc., mainly to fill the void of the denominational structure lacking for the nondenominational church planter. This is a good thing.
However, when looking for partnership, one must begin to look beyond money and relationship as the sole criteria because, let’s be honest: Every organization has money and offers a level of relationship. This will not distinguish an organization, nor will it set you up for a positive and lasting partnership.
There are four criteria that I would recommend investigating when answering for yourself the question of partnership:
1. Do your church plant partner’s core values align?
This is the single most important question you can ask because first, it requires that you, the planter, have done the work of identifying your own core values. As a church planter, it’s important that you are planting the church that God has called you to plant, to birth the vision He has placed on your heart. It is all too easy, especially in the throes of church planting, to never identify your own core values and instead adopt the core values of the organization you have chosen to partner with.
Second, as your partnership grows, an alignment of core values will create a greater sense of unity and possibility moving forward. If your values are not aligned, you are only inviting strife and challenge down the road, perhaps even at a crucial moment. When I say core values, I’m not speaking of the church’s core values, but rather your core values. At this stage in planting, there are no church core values (at least there shouldn’t be; there is no church yet). Therefore, you have to align personally with the organization you’re partnering with.
Ultimately, the organization is looking to partner with you, not your church. (This is a blurred line that can create some challenges down the road if your values are not in alignment.) If you haven’t yet concretely identified your own core values, I’d recommend checking out Kouzes + Posner’s Leadership Challenge Values Cards set. It’s a tremendously valuable exercise that will help you discover your core values.
2. What’s in it for the church plant partner?
The second question you need to ask is, what’s in it for them? I know that we want to believe that church planting organizations are altruistic and simply want to give you money and make you successful, but that’s not the case, fully. Church planting organizations have people to answer to, investors, partners, etc. For me, one of the benefits to the organizations we partnered with was saying they planted a church in San Francisco. This was a benefit, it looked good in fundraising letters, it showed a commitment to urban planting, etc.
However, this was not the primary benefit. Most organizations have a “pay it forward” agreement that is written into their contract. You need to know what is being asked of you and your church moving forward. Some organizations require you to give 10 percent of your offerings for the next 10 years; others ask for 13 percent for 12 years, while others ask for a “partnership fee” which can range from $5,000/year on up for the lifetime of your partnership. It’s important that you know what the organization is asking in return, that you’re comfortable with it, and that you can fulfill that agreement. (I would add, don’t be afraid to negotiate the “pay it forward” to something you can be comfortable with, that you can fulfill and that won’t hamper your vision.)