Strategy & Marketing

Why Can’t Churches and Other Christian Organizations Work Together?

I’m in South Africa speaking at the African Christian Media Conference, and one of the biggest questions leaders in this country face is how to partner to make a greater impact in the culture. Getting churches, ministries, nonprofits and similar organizations to join together to launch a nationwide campaign – particularly in the media – is a challenge everywhere. But that challenge isn’t new.

The Bible charts the story of leaders like Moses, David, Paul, and even Jesus struggling to unite the people of their time. After all, one of the last prayers of Jesus was for believers to be united as one. But today, trying to get major media (and other) ministries and/or churches to cooperate for a great cause is nearly impossible. To change that situation, here’s a list of reasons why it’s difficult, and a list of recommendations that will make that type of cooperation more likely to happen:

Reasons Church and Ministry Cooperation is a Challenge:

1) Many leaders consider cooperation more like competition.  They worry that joining together with other churches or ministries may cost them church members or donors. We often criticize this, but the bottom line is that it’s true. Like it or not, it’s a big reason that keeps us from cooperating.

2) People and organizations are called to different things (which is a good thing.) It’s understandable that getting organizations with vastly different missions find it difficult to work together. So don’t get bent out of shape when you pitch Focus on the Family an idea for a campaign to reach business leaders. Because after all, their focus is on the family.

3) Nobody gets as excited about your ideas as you do.  No matter how awesome you may believe your idea is – or whether or not it’s from God – don’t be surprised when others don’t catch the same vision. We’re human. Deal with it.

4) We need to understand the limitations of large churches, ministries, and nonprofits.  The truth is, major organizations can’t turn on a dime. They have large numbers of employees, programs and strategic plans already in motion. As a result, they are geared toward the goal of completing their mission, not yours. Even when they’re open to your idea, it often takes a vast effort for them to make it happen.

So considering these obstacles, here’s a list of recommendations for creating partnerships with churches and ministry organizations:

1) Show each organization how it’s a “win” for them.  For them to get involved means they’ll invest funding, time, personnel, resources or results. So it’s natural that they would want to know, “What’s in it for them?” Show them how involvement in the campaign will help them generate donations, publicity, good exposure, new relationships, etc. Without helping them find some kind of win, it will be difficult to get their interest.

2) Invest in the pitch. It’s not unusual for major advertising agencies to spend $30,000-$100,000 pitching to potential clients. They create spec TV commercials, print ads, radio spots, websites, and more. They want to give the potential client a vision for what will happen if they partner with this agency. We don’t have to spend that kind of money, but we do need to bring examples of how the campaign will work, and what will happen as a result. If it’s important, do your homework, be prepared, and cast a powerful vision.

3) Play to their strengths.  Make sure each partner organization will be used in the area of their strength. Every church and ministry has strengths and weaknesses. As you plan, know what each media platform does best, and when you decide the roles of the campaign, make sure each ministry partner is positioned to showcase their gifts and talents.

4) Bring something to the table.  Never ask other organizations to partner unless you’re willing to risk something as well. They want to see that you’re invested in the outcome, so be sure to bring something to the party.

5) Think in terms of outcomes.  For decades, Bible Societies raised millions of dollars to print Bibles. But I’ve had my African friends show me warehouses in Africa where thousands of Bibles sit rotting because the surrounding community was illiterate. Today, Bible Societies know that donors aren’t just interested in printing Bibles, they’re interested in how many are actually engaging with the Bible. So when you approach ministry organizations, make sure you’re talking in terms of outcomes of the project, not just the project itself.

6) Make sure you’ve done everything you can by yourself before you ask for help.  Partner organizations want to see you’ve explored the issues, attempted to make change happen, and learned from the experience. That experience with the issue will help get their attention.

7) Be a strong leader.  Pastors and ministry leaders are more likely to follow another leader they respect.

8) Finally, be realistic.  Sometimes you’ll have a great idea and a brilliant campaign, and you still won’t get traction from potential ministry partners. In those cases, don’t be angry, frustrated, or give up. Remember that God has done incredible things through a single person or team so keep trying. In spite of the uncooperative children of Israel, Moses still believed God and kept moving. Some of the greatest filmmakers, writers, musicians, thinkers, and leaders throughout history have been turned down, criticized, and rejected. But they never gave up, kept on listening to God, and amazing things happened.

There’s no question that if we could lay down our fears and skepticism, and join together in partnership, a united Church could make an incredible impact in the culture. So this is an important discussion worth having. Pass this post around to pastors and ministry leaders, as well as creative and media professionals. Comment below on other ideas that would help encourage partnership between churches and ministries.

Who knows what could happen if we were willing to risk partnering with others?

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  1. You’ve identified some very practical reasons, Phil. The unspoken barrier that trumps them all is religion itself. The beliefs of spiritual authority and submission prevent leaders from laterally joining a cause unless it falls within the vision of their governing affiliation.

  2. How did Jesus know we’d be wrestling with this issue all these centuries later? I think you’ve created a great list here, Phil, with some excellent advice. For me, your first point resonates the most. Competition for resources often trumps cooperation. We’ve grown up hearing about scarcity. “The world’s population doesn’t have enough… (fill in the blank – food, water, oil, land).” I think that when we believe that resources (donors, volunteers, etc.) are scarce, it fosters a spirit of fear. Fear leads us into a desire to control outcomes. We’re wired to “win” rather than “lose” even when it involves the best intentions and ideas of those we “defeat”. Whenever and wherever the “Fear Factor” is greater than the “Love Factor” we’ll foster environments of competition rather than cooperation. So what do we do to cast out fear? (Hmmm… Seems that perfect love has something to do with that.). One of Jesus’ most renown miracles was taking two fish and five loaves and MULTIPLYING them (and everyone ate that day.) No one got fat but everyone got fed. Why do we find it hard to risk giving everything to that God? Why does our fear of scarcity overpower our belief in abundance? Every day, most of us need to confess that we’re individually, corporately, nationally, and spiritually part of that problem and pray for God to give us the courage to become sacrificial. (so, I guess my contribution is that we need to pray a lot more!)

    (Ronald J. Sider has a great book that takes a look at some of these themes: RICH CHRISTIANS IN AN AGE OF HUNGER: MOVING FROM AFFLUENCE TO GENEROSITY. It’s worth checking out.)

    1. Really great thought Kim. We seem to err either on the side of the “prosperity gospel” or go to the other extreme where we think we need to live in poverty and (as you say) “scarcity.” If we could find the right balance, the results would be incredible.

    2. Kim, Wow! What an awesome perspective… I would like to also add to the “Pray a lot more” solution. I believe prayer, or lack there of, is a problem. Because every failure in life is a prayer failure. But the other end to that is the lack of Faith. The day we are able to submit our lives to God and only focus on accomplishing the things he wants us to accomplish, only then, will we be in position to clearly hear from him and have the faith and confidence needed to believe his way on how we will truly advance His kingdom the way He designed for us to do it. Until then, we will always battle the voice of the Holy Spirit with ambition. The thing about ambition that people don’t realize is that ambition can over power the voice of the Holy Spirit and make the assignment that greater than the source… For years, ambition has replaced the “How to” of God’s will with logic and opportunity. (see the story of King Solomon). Doing good is not the same as doing God. It’s important not to replace God with the blessing/vision he has given you. Just because it came from God, does not mean that it’s a valid substitute for God.

      So I guess what I’m trying to say is, as long as we are mixing God and self, we are simply “doing” God with a motive of personal gain and God will not increase ones ego.

      I would also like to reference a book that has helped me understand the power of obedience and how it becomes easier without personal, subconscious, motives. This is a book I found written by Greg Powe called “The Quality of Obedience”. I found it on the site listed below.. its a short read, but man… You will be blessed!

  3. I think sometimes the words get in the way. From what I see in Scripture what we often call ‘non-profits’ could be called churches and hopefully what we call ‘churches’ are not for profit and ‘ministries’ are churches and not for profit… basically all these gatherings of followers of the Messiah are churches but with different emphases. We have created these divisions which are actually unhelpful.

    And ‘leader’ is another word. Jesus was never called leader and preferred ‘teacher’. There is a saying that is attributed to a number of people: ‘Bad leaders lead from the back, good leaders lead from the front and of truly great leaders they say we did it ourselves’. Jesus empowered his apprentices to do it themselves. Modernist ‘strong’ leaders tend to be good but not great in that saying.

    I agree with partnership. It is fellowship in action. But it can also be a radical distraction. Better to allow the Holy Spirit to being about apparently serendipitous connections than to struggle with forcing a bad fit.

    1. Except that non profit is simply a tax word. The less money that goes to Uncle Sam, the more of it that can be used in the communities.

  4. Very good post, Phil.

    A few years ago I read an insightful history book about ADOLPH HITLER. History shows he was very manipulative about having different internal groups across his Third Reich fighting & hating each other. So much so that they were constantly at war group vs group, leader against leader, constantly plotting overthrows, revenge and back-stabbing. Hitler was asked by a top confidant WHY he not only allowed such brutal in-fighting, but also promoted it? His answer was sage: “I allow it because I believe that if they’re fighting each other, they’re not fighting me or trying to overthrow my leadership. I’m safe; they’re in peril.”

    The enemy uses, I believe, the same approach. There is little threat to the enemy if Christians are always fighting each other…and divided. Jesus knew this very well.

    1. Yes, I agree. It’s getting a bit tiring hearing people go after churches, blame them, without any ownership of their own unforgiveness. It’s tiring reading websites of churches that appear to be in competition.

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