Partnering well: Serving the Sending Church in return

I almost didn’t plant, and the reason was money. It’s embarrassing but true. I vividly remember touring a major urban city and the sinking feeling in my stomach as I listened to the prices for apartments and the potential cost to plant a church in an urban context. I remember thinking there is no way this can be done—it will simply cost too much. To add insult to injury, I heard from pastors who said they were done with church planting because they felt burned by church planters who just wanted their money. I started noticing that there was a perception by existing churches that planters saw partnerships as one-way, transactional relationships. While this perception could be a real barrier for us, our team was committed to overcome it.

In the New Testament letters, we see glimpses of partnerships that were transformational rather than transactional (Philippians 1:4,4:16; 2 Corinthians 11:8,9). We decided that if we were going to step out in faith to plant a church, we were going to develop these kinds of transformational partnerships.

Over the last two years, we have been on a journey to create partnerships that impact both communities as well. We have found transformational partnerships are two-way streets flowing with information, inspiration and invitation. Our team has been successful on this journey because of an invaluable team member named Jason Hodges. His passion and leadership have paved the way for the transformational partnerships we are experiencing.

We stopped thinking in reports and began thinking in relationships. We regularly communicate with our partners through monthly newsletters, phone calls, hand written notes and recorded videos of the stats, stories and struggles that are present in our lives. In our age of information overload, we have to go beyond the inbox if we are going to communicate effectively. This means we are very intentional about producing high-quality videos, so the leaders in our partnering churches can share what we are seeing here on ground with their congregations. We are not just partnering with a church leader but with the church, so we want to make sure we produce material that is aimed for all–not just the leadership. Finally, Jason regularly makes phone calls to ask our partner churches this one question: How can we invest in and serve you? We have found this attitude sets us up to create dynamic transformational partnerships.

Jesus taught that the heart follows the treasure. This is true for institutions as well as individuals. When we ask a church to invest their time and money in a church plant, we are taking on a holy responsibility of stewarding their heart for the gospel. While the partnering churches are asking stewardship questions around their money and time, we ask stewardship questions around how we are inspiring passion for the gospel mission.

I believe church planting is the kingdom of God’s research and development lab (see Acts 15). We have the privilege of pioneering and testing missionary practices for the shifting culture we are all living in. The discoveries we make through our successes and failures need to flow back to our partners. We have found our successes and failures to be a source of inspiration to our partnering churches.

Last year, under Jason’s leadership, we saw over 400 people come and serve our community. We love mission teams. We want every person who has ever been a part of fueling God’s work here to come and physically walk around. We determined that a mission trip’s success isn’t just what occurs in our community but what happens in theirs as a result of being in ours. That means we proactively create mission experiences around our community and church’s needs with an eye toward how this can benefit our partners as they head home. Here are some of our best practices to serving your partners:

1. Proactive planning: Everyone wins when we are looking ahead to plan the “whens” of mission teams.

2. Detailed preparation: While many say, “The devil is in the details,” we think it is in fact God who is in the details. We honor Him and our partners by providing clarity.

3. Intentional over-communication: We seek to answer their questions before they even ask them.

Remember church planting is a multiplying kingdom investment that every existing church can make. We as planters have the responsibility to foster that transformational potential by exchanging information, inspiration and invitation.

Published February 23, 2017