What I Learned as a Church Planter: To Partner or Not To Partner

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This post has been republished by the Exponential Network
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I have often been asked 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 5 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:

  1. I needed money to make this dream of planting a church in the second most expensive city in the country a reality.
  2. 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 non-denominational church planter. There has been a rise in church planting networks around the country fro Ecclesia to NewThing to Acts 29 to Arc, etc, mainly to fill the void of the denominational structure lacking for the non-denominational 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 4 criteria that I would recommend investigating when answering for yourself the question of partnership.

  1. Do your core values align? This is the sing-most important question for the planter to ask. First because it requires that you, the planter, have done the work of identifying your own core values. As a church planter it is important that you are planting the church that Go has called you to plant, to birth the vision he has placed on your heart. It is all to easy, especially in the throws 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. Secondly, 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 them? 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 the organizations we partnered with received 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% of your offerings for the next 10 years, others ask for 13% for 12 years, 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.)

  3. What is expected of you? This is a two-fold question, first what is expected of your time and secondly what are the metrics of success and expectations for your plant.

    As a church planter your sole focus should be on the church that God has called you to plant. The organizations role should be to support you however they can. Different organizations have different expectations and demands on your time and you need to be familiar with those expectations up front. These, demands/expectations are not a bad thing. The motivations behind them are good, whether they are training exercises of sorts, meetings that discuss the future of the organization, networking opportunities, etc. However, if you are expected to leave your city for these sorts of events more than 4 times a year it is more than likely to much. It will drag on you and it will drag on your congregation. Be sure to take that into account, your schedule as a church planter is already going to be hectic and to add in one more thing can be a tipping point towards burnout.

    As for the expectation of success, you need to know the scorecard the organization is playing with. This will dictate what their expectations are of you and you will need to play by their scorecard. So you need to agree with it. If you are wanting to start a different church than is typical for that organization then there could be a challenge down the road for you. I would recommend talking with them up front about their scorecard, asking whether they would be willing to toss their scorecard aside for the vision of the church that you have, and then offering them a replacement scorecard they can use to evaluate you with.

  4. What do other people say about that organization? When it’s all said and done, you need to ask others about the reputation and reliability of the organization. Don’t simply ask those who have successfully planted with that organization but also those whose church plants didn’t make it. You will gain a wealth of information and stories, you’ll hear the frustrations and the positives, and this will help you gain a clearer picture of what partnership with that organization will look like, and perhaps how they have learned from past failings. Remember it’s important to ask specifics, and be sure to ask question that stem from your concerns.

Remember, partnering with an organization is a two-way street. You are not only courting them but they should be courting you as well. Don’t allow the fear of money and the loneliness of planting be the motivators for partnering with an organization. You need to make sure you have a good fit.

If I had it to do all over again, I would still partner with an organization or two to plant a church. I believe in partnership and I believe in the synergy and momentum that partnership provides. I would, however, enter differently into those partnerships and as a result I believe the partnership would not only be more beneficial for all involved but more successful.

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§ 4 Responses to What I Learned as a Church Planter: To Partner or Not To Partner"

  • What I Learned as a Church Planter: To Partner or Not To Partner | Exponential says:

    […] post What I Learned as a Church Planter: To Partner or Not To Partner appeared first on aaron […]

  • tan balili says:

    Hi
    Your postings resonate a lot in my heart. I now know what to do. im still trying to figure out if i would do it solo or with a partner again, Im a filipino church planter and have pted 3 churches in the bay area.

  • What Aaron Monts Learned as a Church Planter: Don’t Let Go of Your Vision | Exponential says:

    […] fundraising on your part. It did for me, but it was definitely worth it. Refer back to the post To Partner or not to Partner.) I spent the first 6 months exegeting the city, learning as much as I could about our neighborhood […]

  • bishnu pandey says:

    Dear Sir.
    Greetings to you from Nepal. I will requesting to you visit and give church planting training for our Church may God bless you.
    Pastor bishnu

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