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Seven Essentials To Creating Ministry Partnerships That Last

by Nate Smoyer

When you hear the word partnerships you likely have an idea what a partnership is. You might think of the arrangement between Michael Jordan and Nike. The NFL and Fox Sports. Google and SpaceX. The restaurant your uncle and aunt own and operate.

Partnerships can be a powerful way for you to leverage your limited resources in ministry for the purpose of serving others.

I’ve been creating partnerships for 15 years, and I’ve learned many lessons the hard way. I’ve worked on partnerships with nonprofits, local governments, churches, major publishers, best-selling authors, and I continue to work new partnerships for Beacon Ads—an advertising marketplace for Christian-focused advertisers.

Partnerships don’t have to be painful or confusing. They don’t have to be costly or consuming. If you approach partnerships with the right tools and mindset, your community will benefit greater by your efforts.

Here are seven essentials to creating lasting partnerships in ministry.

  1. Trust who you work with. This sounds so simple and basic, but it’s absolutely fundamental. If you don’t trust who you work with, you will only leave yourself vulnerable to unnecessary liabilities. Partnerships in ministry can be as simple as working with restaurants to pick up leftover foods to feed the hungry. Trust must exist on both sides so that each party handles their commitments. Ensuring trust will generally increase the level of commitment from both parties, making your partnership stronger.
  1. Articulate the purpose or reason for the partnership. This will actually help enhance your mutual trust. Being able to communicate to your team and to the partner what the purpose of the partnership is allows each party to remain focused in working together. When churches look to host glow stations (well lit zones with adult supervision) throughout the neighborhoods every Halloween, many call on their local fire department to help by powering bright lights. The purpose of the partnership is clear: foster safe areas for families during the night of Halloween in a central location or throughout the community. Knowing your purpose in partnering will allow you to stay on track to achieve your objectives.
  1. Set clear and measurable expectations. As someone who started wheeling and dealing over 15 years ago on a public/private partnership, I have experienced the pain many times of when results fall short of expectations. The most painful times were when I had one set of expectations and the partner had another. Perhaps your ministry is looking to host a conference for couples. You choose to partner with a few companies to help cover the expense of the event. Then the day of the conference comes and you’re thrilled with attendance, but the sponsors thought the crowd was going to be twice as large. Mega bummer! Setting clear and measurable expectations upfront will help you avoid ambiguity of results and ease the pain if results fall short.
  1. Create a written, actionable plan. I can’t emphasize this one enough. Over the course of meetings, phone calls, and Google Hangouts, both parties will inevitably keep notes—but different notes! Should you just assume both sides captured everything talked about and continue without a written plan, you may find yourself confused on what went wrong. Consider ministries that pick up or drop off supplies. If a shipment is missed or someone fails to keep to a schedule, this could negatively impact the constituents your partnership aims to help. Create a written and actionable plan both you and your partner agree upon.
  1. Follow through on your commitments. Have you ever volunteered for youth ministry? Have you ever committed to being a greeter on Sunday? These are mini-partnerships; but they are in fact a partnership. When volunteers don’t show up, it leaves others scrambling to fill roles. When you’re considering partnering with other organizations or event organizers, you need to be committed to following through on your word. This includes post event wrap-ups and evaluations. A partnership can still be a success if the numbers fall short, so long as both parties remain committed to improving the results. Follow through on your commitments to the end so you may see your greatest potential output. 
  1. Leave money on the table. I don’t mean this literally, although if you decide to leave dollar bills on a table that may attract a crowd. In partnerships, we’re often focused on our internal objective. Part of your ministry may be selling books as your primary source of funding. In this case, you decide to partner with another publisher on distribution, possibly a digital provider of the content such as Logos Bible Software, and an event promoter to put on a speaking tour. In the midst of all of this, the aim is to travel giving talks based on the book. The talks then will spur conversations and small groups centered on that book. The sales of that book are then what provide for other ministry activities. Resist the urge to squeeze every bit out of your partners when negotiating royalties, speakers’ fees, and other financial items. Leave money on the table and others will actively seek partnerships with you in the future.
  1. Pray. Tips, keys, hints and tricks are all good for accomplishing our objectives. However, let us not leave out our Lord. When you’re considering a partnership, whether with other Christian ministries or local government, seek the blessing of God on your partnerships. Pray for clarity, protection, guidance and grace.

Here are the actionable steps to consider for your future partnerships:

  1. Trust who you work with.
  2. Articulate the purpose or reason for the partnership.
  3. Set clear and measurable expectations.
  4. Create a written actionable plan.
  5. Follow through on your commitments.
  6. Leave money on the table.
  7. Pray.

In ministry, we need to be sure we’re stewarding the resources God has blessed us with as best as we know how. Partnerships, when effectively implemented, allow you to leverage personnel, finances, and other resources so that the ministry may reach it’s greatest potential.

Have a tip for partnerships? Tweet me at @NateSmoyer.

Nate Smoyer oversees partnership marketing and advertising at Faithlife as well as sales and marketing for BeaconAds.com. His passions include marketing tech, reading, and riding BMX. He’s an active member of a young adult’s ministry called Ekklesia in Bellingham, WA.

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