Pounding the Pavement: Finding the Right Ministry Partnerships
As our programs expand, needs grow, and budgets shrink, ministry leaders are forced to reexamine ambitious goals that stretch beyond available resources and sometimes abilities.
Partnerships are essential as organizations seek sustainable solutions for their ministries, open doors to new networks and leverage assets that increase capacity. The myth is that community-based organizations don’t need help, however, most entities desire strong partnerships and need the help of churches that have their hands on the pulse of the people.
In 2009 and again in 2012, one of the most powerful examples of successful partnerships I can share from experience, came from working with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) for their Youth Gathering in New Orleans LA. 35,000 youth descending on the city to serve, disciple, fellowship and worship. I was charged with the task, along with a team, to secure mission projects for 10,000 youth. It would have been impossible without folks willing to roll up their sleeves and take the journey with us. We prayed together, toiled together and were deliberate in connecting and building trust toward a common goal. We were able to make an impact that still resonates in the community today.
The prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:10 reminds us to ask for what we want, surrender to God and He will supply our needs. As we think of how to expand our territory, we must constantly discern God’s will for our work. When we are in tune with God, He leads us in the direction to seek people and opportunities that are beneficial to our ministries. Yes, God is in the blessing business! Once you acknowledge that all of your help comes from Him, all other things will truly be added to you, including placing you in new circles of leadership. When you pray, pray for God to place open hearts, willing spirits and people who are called to serve in your pathway. Prayer and holy listening reminds us to be intentional, remain good stewards and keeps us disciplined as we navigate our surroundings.
There is a time to pray and a time to take it to the streets.
Ministry leaders must think as a social entrepreneur. More than a pastor, lay leader or youth worker, we have all been charged to go out, solve problems, effect social change and build powerful networks for social disruption. Isn’t that what we have been commissioned to do – disrupt the status quo plagued with despair and transform the world with a message of hope? Social entrepreneurs are experts at telling their story. They know the landscape, understand the complexities of the community and have revolutionary ideas that spark innovation. As you begin to connect your ministry with potential collaborators, remember that your objective is to shape the intangible into the relatable. When sharing the work of your organization, talk about the lives you have touched but also share data that emphasizes the impact of your work. When you are visible, you build trust and that is the key ingredient to attracting genuine interest of prospective partners. Attend community and networking events that offer opportunities share a testimony of a person you have served. Invite civic organizations to your facilities, give tours of your program space and host open houses that allow them to meet your constituents. People don’t support organizations, they support people.
In 2009 our youth organization partnered with the ELCA Youth Gathering, we conducted surveys with over 1,500 volunteers in a rural community in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. After 3 days and 2,250 volunteer hours, we were able to gather information to support our programming and received data that prompted a revision and ministry overhaul. We seized the opportunity to “pound the pavement” and meet neighbors, share our ministry goals and invite people join our efforts. We heard about the struggles of a community fighting to rebuild their homes, frustrated from a poor quality of life and a people silenced by a bureaucratic gridlock. We prayed, listened and comforted our neighbors; we even helped a resident to change a flat tire. We were with the people and they were with us. Partnerships operate best when each person understands the mission, are driven by a common passion and are selfless in their efforts to transform lives.
Identifying the right partnership is a process that requires the spiritual fruits especially patience, tolerance and self-control. It can take weeks, months or years to nurture partnerships and develop healthy relationships for kingdom building. Better Together: Discovering the Dynamic Results of Cooperation written by Paul Fleischmann shares the ‘partnering continuum’ model, which spans from low risk low intensity partnerships to high risk high intensity partnerships. Once organizations identify a common interests, next is to classify the type of partnership you will engage in:
- Connecting is the first step to building a relationship. It begins with learning and visioning together.
- Cooperating evolves when both parties join efforts on small or minor projects together, increasing risk but still functioning separately with a common objectives.
- Coordinating partnerships show a healthy progress to forming relationships which are more formal, and although not binding, includes minimal structure and commitment.
- Collaboration is the final stage in the partnership continuum where organizations are fully invested with a common mission. Collaborating partnerships are high risk, require processes for decision-making and involve comprehensive methods to planning projects.
Viable partnerships eliminate duplication, strengthen organizational capacity, are mutually beneficial and take unique approaches to meeting social needs.
When casting the net we sometimes overlook the members within our congregation.
Churches possess human capital, an asset that is immeasurable and priceless. Don’t underestimate the resources in your own congregation. You’ll be surprised how broad and wide their networks expand outside the church walls. The same members of our Christian family who attend Sunday school, bible study and choir rehearsal are board members, executives, parliamentarians and leadership donors for major institutions. Communities of Shalom located at Drew University teaches leaders shaping new faith-based initiatives to engage the entire community in “prophetic imagination”. Shalom Zone training teach visionaries how to tap into the abilities that reside within their mission zones, an asset-based method of community development mobilizing an entire area or region of stakeholders with untapped gifts and abilities.
Whether your collective efforts are relational, programmatic or organizational in the “partnership continuum”, evaluate your progress together and reflect on areas to improve and grow for the long haul. Partnerships with a long-term vision and shared purpose keep pushing with the end mind, a journey embarked together with perseverance and determination ensured to reap immeasurable results. We are indeed stronger when united. Let us be encouraged by the words of Christ Jesus in Ephesians 4:16 as we go forward in mission,
“from him the whole body joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
Sabrina Short is a community organizer, writer and ministry consultant specializing in community outreach and engagement. She has over 15 years experience in nonprofits and has been recognized both nationally and locally for her work with youth around social justice and youth-led community organizing. She continues to work with faith communities speaking, teaching and leading initiatives that give voice to the underserved.
Mrs. Short is a member of Thomas United Methodist Church in Kenner, Louisiana, the wife of United Methodist Pastor, Rev. Kaseem Short and a mother of one son, Justice.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.