A New Kind of Big (church)

Here is a fundamental problem in churches: self-sufficiency. Or instead of self-sufficiency, maybe we should say “omni-competency.” Or perhaps “empire building.” What I’m getting at is the sense that each church, in each community, no matter how far apart or close together those churches are … each church thinks it has to do everything, by itself, on its own, and find budget and time to do it all — on its own.

But Chip Sweney, with Kitti Murray, have now produced a pastorally-informed and pastorally-suggestive book that challenges this mindset. Their book, New Kind of Big, A: How Churches of Any Size Can Partner to Transform Communities, calls churches to collaborate, to partner, and to work together along common missional goals. Costs can be shared, volunteers and labor can be shared, ministries can be shared … and what happens?

Let’s pause right here: What is your local church doing with other churches? How much cooperation is there in your community between churches? Even more: Are there church with whom you could partner?

The church, in the whole community, makes an impact though one might not know “which church” did what or which church gets the credit.

Another way of saying this is that you don’t have to be a megachurch to partner together enough to put together the resources to be a church of big influence in a local community. Chip Sweney is at Perimeter Church in Atlanta and is part of Unite!, an organization of more than 150 churches.

Together, they’ve coordinated over 6000 volunteers from more than 60 churches. Unite! has partnered to deliver 30 welcome baskets, repaired things at a dozen homes, gave away thousands of Bibles and delivered 800 “encourage a teacher” baskets … 20 block parties in low-income apartment communities and worked on 65 food drives that collected 2500 pounds of food.

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  • JoeyS

    Wow. I will buy this….after Christmas.

    I don’t get angry very easily but churches who refuse to partner with other churches and instead do ministry in-spite of other churches gives rise to some anger within me. It happens so often in my context and it is difficult to know what to do beyond moan. Moaning is rarely productive.

  • Ben Wheaton

    Was there any evangelism done? How did these partnerships spread the gospel?

  • Ben Wheaton

    Oops…I missed the part about the thousands of Bibles given out. Well done–for everything!

  • Ellen H.

    Finally. Bless them. 🙂

  • Jim

    Our little church has been a part of Unite! here in Atlanta. One of the the things I love about Perimeter Church, which is a very large church, is how open they are to churches to join together in these efforts. The Unite! efforts not only transcend denominational lines but also racial, ethic and social class lines. It is a wonderful ministry that has drawn together people on particular week-ends to make a huge community contribution but has also sponsored many efforts in the public schools, the prisons and among families.

    Chip Sweeney is one of the finest guys you will ever meet and his efforts, along with all the efforts of the staff at Perimeter, as well as other churches together in our greater Atlanta community have been monumental.

    I encourage all churches, large and small, to pick up this book and “go thou and do likewise!”

  • T

    Amen! I’m so glad to see this book; it’s shooting to the top of my wish list.

  • Taylor G

    Every church thinks they have to do it all because usually they think the other churches aren’t doing ministry correctly.

  • I LOVE this idea! I think this is the way the church SHOULD be, not in our little enclaves, competing for more consumers. I feel, sometimes, like we’re in a spiritual ratings battle. “Come to OUR church, we have speaker X and he has published Y books on spirituality”. “Come to our church! Come as you are! We’re more welcoming than those OTHER churches”. The consumerist mindset when it comes to marketing churches sickens me. You know the old 1940’s movie “Miracle on 34th Street”? What if we do like Macy’s there? If we don’t have the resource to help someone where they are, why can’t we be in partnership with other churches so we can know where the resource is?

    There is one sticking point: We’re still stuck in “Our theology is the ONLY right theology and those other churches will lead you astray.” I know of a situation in my current experience. For YEARS our church has partnered with another community church for various outreach efforts and in our Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving services. This year, there’s a wrench in the works. We have a woman as a pastor. This other church has a problem with that. Now, suddenly, they don’t want to come to our Christmas Eve service, or our Thanksgiving service next year and they are even questioning some of our other joint involvements. This is where this idea of community unity of churches falls down: our own pride that, somehow, OUR church has it right and everyone else is wrong.

    This is a GREAT idea… but practically speaking, it’s going to be VERY hard to tear down some of those old strongholds of sectarianism.

  • Clay Knick

    Our area (Winchester, VA) has churches hosting and/or sponsoring a homeless shelter in the host churches on a rotating basis during the winter. Each host church take a week and volunteers from the host church and sponsoring churches do many things to make it work. We work closely with the Presbyterian Church around the block from us by providing meals, volunteers, etc.

  • This was the notion that became a core value of Xaris – instead of creating and branding our own programs, we’ve chosen to work alongside churches as well as secular agencies that are already doing ‘good’ in the community. It is poor ‘stewardship’ to create a new administrative structure for something already being well done down the street. Christians often complain about big government, but if one actually took the Christian church as a whole, I wonder how much unnecessary overhead we have that keeps us from doing much more good within the world.

  • KDV

    When I spoke to the pastor of the church I was attending about working with other churches, the response I got was “in my experience, that doesn’t ever work.” I was deeply saddened by this outlook. This post gives me hope that there are many others out there who don’t care if “it never works” and are willing to try. Something comes to mind about a prayer by someone asking that his followers would be one…

  • This is one of the original concepts behind the movement/tradition in which I am a pastor, the United Methodist Church. As a pastor with one foot in mainline culture via the UMC and one foot in Evangelicalism via the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition, I have found it interesting that concepts/practices like churches connecting for shared/collaborative ministry and multi-site churches are looked upon as new and innovative when those core concepts were and are part of the UMC’s approach to ministry.

    That said, I hope the new iterations of these do not drift toward the problems that over-bureaucratizing has produced in our denomination. If so, perhaps they can harness the power of these concepts that the first 100 years or so of Methodism in America did.

  • Anna

    Very nice! Last year several churches of many different denominations (and our local synagogue) in my community began partnering up to provide indoor shelter for our many homeless during the cold months. Each church takes a week to host homeless people from 7pm to 7am, providing a safe, warm place to sleep, along with dinner and breakfast. The shelters in our town were just overwhelmed, so it’s exciting that so many churches in our community were willing to work together (also with trained personnel) to do this.

  • Anna

    Aaah, I should have read further upthread. Clay Knick already mentioned the program.

  • As a small non-denominational missional church in our city, we can’t do it all. But because we partner with Anglican, Presbyterian and Baptist churches in commonality of mission, we are each able to have a greater impact in God’s mission to the community and see His kingdom expanded.

  • Will definitely order this book. It’s a similar concept our church has initiated in our neighborhood here in Fort Wayne. Six other churches have been partnering with us to serve the neighborhood. Our city also has a strong Associated Churches program that has over 150 churches involved that run a great food bank system for the county, help for young moms, and a new partnership with local schools. Very exciting stuff. We’re currently working to increase the local effectiveness of our neighborhood coalition, but also expand the number of churches involved with Associated.

  • How does one “do evangelism” Ben?

  • I had tried this, unsuccessfully for years. As the one working to bring them together, there was always suspicion about my motives and intentions. It was disheartening to deal with. Then when the economy went into recession I had to seek other work (other than serving congregations as a consultant). It would seem that now, when money is tight, sharing resources and teaming up together would be an especially helpful thing to do.

    Some of the suspicion I had to deal with came from the denominations I was working with. When working with Lutherans, my Mennonite colleagues wondered if I was going over to the dark side. When working with Presbyterians, some of them wondered if my free-will theology would sully them. The suspicions go on. But my experience with denominational churches leads me to assume that the same would take place among community churches, bible churches, non-denominational churches as well.

    Thanks for the heads up on the strategy for making the reign of God known and visible – “they will know you are my disciples by the love you have one for another.”

  • It’s a little easier to accomplish without all the conventional wrapping (special building, professional clergy, drive to swell attendance and membership…).

  • Matt Flinner

    Our congregation is a part of a mission partnership with six other churches who support mission work in Mongolia. We have been doing this for about 16 years and have seen the church in Mongolia grow. It has been very exciting for us as a congregation. No way we could have done it alone.

  • DRT

    Thanks Clay and Anna, I like seeing folks doing stuff like that in VA. I have not seen that here.

  • Laura Flanders

    I have forever been perplexed as to why church people cannot join the efforts of non-profits in their cities? Other than Bill in #10, no one brought this up. Do we partner only with other churches or should we also cooperate with non-Christian non-profits? I know of many in my city who do such wonderful work. People, made in the image of God (who may not know they are so) doing work that many Christians would not do.

  • This Spring myself and another pastor of a local church started a gathering of Christians (not just leaders) who live and/or worship in our neighbourhood, the West End. Once a month we meet (fairly informally) to pray and share stories. We’ve also begun to collaborate and partner in creative ways. It is really very beautiful, seeing Baptists, Mennonites, Anglicans, Presbyterians, etc. who share life in the inner city, connect for the purpose of being One.Body in the neighbourhood. We are called the West End Christian Collective.

  • ao

    A huge impediment to partnering up for ministry that I’ve experienced is doctrinal differences. Churches within my tradition refuse to partner with the church down the street because it’ll mean that we condone their “doctrinal errors.” Thankfully, I know that doctrinal differences aren’t as much of a barrier outside my tradition, but from what I understand, it still tends to be a barrier. Very sad.

  • People have been pursuing this approach for some years in Newham, East London, England. It is really worth it. The empire spirit is clearly at work in the church with this self-sufficiency. Small is in fact beautiful – such congregations can get access where the large ones cannot, particularly in ministering to hurting people.
    See http://www.transformnewham.com

  • Don

    We’ve been doing that on a smaller scale for a couple of years with M-4 (4 churches of Montecito) and with our Pastor for Gospel Action who has identified over 40 missiOnal partnerships with our congregation. It really works!!

  • Dan jones

    The Riverside (IL) Covenant of Churches just had there 25th Annv. of doing this. Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian, etc have joined together in several ways to serve their communities there.

  • Lisa

    We’ve done this in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. It’s called Hope South Florida. And its a cooperative between churches, the community and government to offer services to the homeless of our area. If anyone is from our area, look us up on Facebook or visit http://www.hopesouthflorida.org !

  • I think this is what Jesus was praying for in John 17, that we should all be ONE