Paul Stevenson, Director for Homeless Prevention at the charity Bethany Christian Trust, explores how churches can build strong partnerships that leverage the great gifts God has given them.
Partnerships open up so many opportunities for churches to reach new communities, expand their work, access expertise, release funding and unlock resources.
But great partnerships don’t happen by chance.
Here at Bethany Christian Trust, we work within a number of local communities by partnering with churches to end homelessness in Scotland. Our work focuses on three core streams: Crisis Intervention, Homelessness Prevention, and Housing and Support.
These streams contain a range of services, from emergency accommodation to community drop-ins, supported flats and befriending people, as well as community arts projects and mentoring people leaving prison.
Partnerships come in different sizes
Churches often partner with us as they feel called to respond to a need that they are witnessing within the geographic location of their church or within the city where they live.
Some church partners have large congregations and a number of volunteers willing to get involved in Bethany’s existing work or together develop something new.
Some medium-sized churches who contact us have a vision. However, they might not have the knowledge or resources to do all that they desire or feel that God is calling them to.
This is where a partnership can create synergy. What can be achieved is greater than the sum of each participant’s contributions and there’s “a good return for their labour” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).
When partnerships occur between churches and external organisations, wisdom, experience, and understanding can be shared, increasing awareness of each other’s work.
At Bethany, we are very thankful for all of our church partners who vary in how they support us.
Some provide space in their building for activities to occur especially in locations where community buildings are scarce.
For others, their financial contribution is key and many others prayerfully engage with the work to see it flourish.
When you’re considering partnering with an organisation, it’s always beneficial to consider what your values and culture are. You’ll then be in a position to assess what or who a suitable partner organisation would be.
By sharing compatible and complementary values and culture, the direction of the work is more likely to stay on course. Together you can stick to agreed shared goals with all parties in agreement.
The journey of partnership may still have some bumps, but these will hopefully be smoothed out as grace is exercised and we continue to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Pray, encourage, give
As a partnership develops, Philippians provides us with at least three principles that can be applied to help us achieve success.
· Praying (Phil 1:19) both individually and corporately.
· Encouraging (Phil 2:29) including opportunities to share at church services with videos or interviews.
· Giving (Phil 4:10) both freely in offerings but also in the fulfilment of any agreed financial arrangements promptly.
In my experience, great church partnerships can be described as curious, considerate, consistent, confident, and creative.
Being curious about each other’s lives is the cornerstone for building relationships from which conversations can flow around wider strategies and what people are hearing from God.
Considerate communication, both verbal and written, aids a consistent approach where confident partners work together with an openness to developing creative approaches as the work progresses.
A partnership is so much more than a written agreement. However, formalised written agreements can be helpful.
When entering into a partnership it’s important that everyone knows where they stand.
It’s important that this is not just the decision of the leadership but that there is the support of the congregation as well.
Otherwise, the lifespan of partnerships are potentially limited to the tenure of the leadership that pursued them.
Formalised agreements clarify details such as who is responsible for what including health and safety, finances and safeguarding including protecting vulnerable groups checks for volunteers.
A single side of A4 with four sections is all that’s required and should roughly cover the following points:
- An introductory paragraph explaining how the partnership came about.
- Bullet points outling the commitments of the church.
- Confirmation from the partner of what they are committing to.
- Dated signatures from the church and partner/s representatives
Successful long-term partnerships are built around: clear expectations, frequent reviews, and yearly updates.
By everyone delivering on what they commit to, the partnership will be strengthened and trust built not just between the partners but with the people you’re seeking to serve.
The length of time required to finalise an initial partnership agreement can vary depending upon where agreement needs to be sought from both within the church and the proposed partner organisation.
However long it takes, this is time well spent. When people are clear what is expected and feel ownership of the project, success is more likely.
Don’t force it
A partnership that is forced through a congregation may not have the longevity and potential benefits that it could have if the foundations are not meticulously laid.
By laying firm foundations there will be both short- and long-term gains as the partnership is nurtured to grow, develops unhindered and flourishes to fulfil the intended mission.
As you look ahead to the future and the vision God has placed on your heart, spend time considering.
- Where could a new partnership benefit the ministry of your church?
- What existing partnership could be strengthened and how could you and your church do this?
Paul Stevenson has worked for Bethany Christian Trust for almost 15 years and is currently the Director of Homelessness Prevention with a remit for overseeing Community Development & Support work in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness. This includes a variety of activities that seek to increase community cohesion, provide opportunities for recovery from addictions and befriending and mentoring people through changes in their lives. He loves seeing staff, volunteers and congregations becoming trusted individuals in the lives of people who had previously lacked hope.