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Why should our church pursue a partnership with a dying church?



Why is partnership so important to the health of the Body of Christ? More specifically, why is partnership so important when it comes to helping a dying church experience new health, hope, and vitality? Maybe this story can help paint a picture for why partnership is so critical…


During the summer of 1904 an unlikely partnership was formed at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. The summer was unusually hot and people were searching the fair for something to help cool them off. A vendor named Arnold had just what they were looking for… ice cream. People lined up for what seemed like miles to get some of his cool and satisfying ice cream but there was one problem. Arnold was not prepared for the demand and ran out of paper bowls. Next to Arnold’s ice cream booth was a man named Ernest, a pastry chef, who was making a Persian wafer desert. Ernest also had a problem, his pastry was not selling. He noticed the problem Arnold was having and took some warm pastry and rolled it into a cone shape. He then went over and showed Arnold how the cone could hold a scoop of the ice cream. On that hot day during the World’s Fair in St Louis the wafer ice cream cone was born because a partnership was formed.[1]


This is a beautiful picture of true partnership. Working together in order to produce something far greater than that which we could produce by ourselves. Arnold and Ernest had no idea that they would change the way people around the world would forever eat and enjoy ice-cream. All because of partnership.

Whenever I think of Arnold and Ernest, I can’t help but think to myself, “If partnership could have that kind of world impact for the sake of ice-cream, what kind of world impact could we as churches have partnering together in the power of Christ for the sake of the Gospel?” Just imagine the kind of Gospel-advancing, life-changing, community-transforming impact we could see in our world if we as churches got serious about coming alongside and partnering with one another? Working together to see God bring dying congregations back to life for His glory through replanting? This is the power of partnership. This is what the Lord calls each of us as individuals and congregations to be part of. Let’s consider four key reasons why partnership with declining congregations is not only needed, but is in fact not optional for those of us who belong to Jesus.


Reason #1. Partnership is biblical.


Simply put, churches must partner with one another because God has said so in his Word. Partnership is ultimately God’s idea! We see this all throughout Scripture. As one writer puts it,


Partnership is an often overlooked, yet vitally important aspect of New Testament Christianity. Although the ministry of Paul and other prominent New Testament leaders was in some ways unique and, therefore, in some ways unrepeatable, the pattern of partnership is repeatable. God still provides suitably gifted people to facilitate such partnerships today. Paul used the word, "partnership," to describe both church leaders and churches working together:


  • As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. (2 Cor. 8:23)


  • I thank my God in all my remembrance of you…because of your partnership in the gospel. (Phil. 1:3-5) [2]


It is true that throughout history, and specifically in the pages of Scripture, we see that partnership happened between individuals and churches, as well as churches and other churches. “They helped each other out in terms of doctrine and practice (Acts 8:14-25; Gal. 3), they relocated leaders to strengthen other situations (Acts 11:19-23, 25-26, 12:25, 16:1-3), they sent individuals and teams on short-term strengthening visits (Acts 11:27, 19:21-22; 1 Cor. 4:15-17; Phil. 2:19-29; 2 Tim. 1:18), they sent money to help each other and bless the wider society (Acts 11:28-30), and they helped advance the gospel together and plant churches (Rom. 15:24; 2 Cor. 10:15-16).”[3] It ought to be our great desire and joy to follow the lead of Scripture and seek partnership with other congregations in these same ways today.


Reason #2: Partnership helps bring needed encouragement and hope to a dying church.


When a healthy church partners with a dying church, God brings encouragement to his people. Typically, when you step inside a struggling church, you will encounter folks who have been serving for years and are tired. Many have probably lost passion and zeal. It’s not that they desire to be dispassionate about the Lord, the church, and the lost. It’s just that they’ve been going so hard for so long that they’re simply worn out. It’s been a difficult season for that church, and likely the season has been a long one. This congregation needs encouragement - lots of loving encouragement that can come uniquely through partnership with other congregations.


God’s people in dying churches also need hope. Many times these churches have lost hope. As a result, they have lost their passion for what the Lord can do in and through their congregation. They need to be loved and encouraged by other partner churches in such a way that they begin to believe the truth that God is about to do something great in and through them! They need hope. They need hope to believe that God is just getting started with them! Partnership with other churches can help bring this kind of needed hope to a replant.


Reason #3: Partnership helps to fight territorialism between churches.


There's no place for territorialism in the Kingdom of God. I hope you believe this. Sadly, territorialism is all too common. Some pastors and congregations get territorial about their church, feeling threatened by other congregations in their community. What we need are more and more churches that don't get territorial. Churches that purposefully fight territorialism through intentional partnership with other churches, specifically those that are struggling and declining.


The truth is, as churches, we are always better together! Radical cooperation between churches is needed now more than ever. In fact, this type of "church to church" cooperation is a core, convictional value shared by many in the Gen-X and Millennial generations who are now members of, or leading, congregations throughout our country and world. The value of building THE Kingdom rather than MY kingdom ("my church's kingdom”) is a huge value in younger generations and in many of the fastest growing, most healthy church planting networks. In fact, and much has been written on this, churches are far healthier when they are working tightly with other churches. Dying churches need other churches to help them become what they cannot become on their own. Jesus calls us to work together to make Him famous and it should be a joy to do so! No lone rangers here. As both individuals and churches, we need one another. The mission field is too hard.

Reason #4: Partnership with a dying church can help restore a Gospel witness to a community in need of Jesus.


Sadly, all too often declining churches have become “non-factors” in their communities. Where perhaps at one time this church was a central hub serving various needs in the community, they have, sadly, become nothing more than an eyesore to those in the neighborhood. I have visited with non-believers in different cities who would just as soon see dying churches in their neighborhoods disappear and become restaurants or apartment complexes than for them to remain as they are -- non-factors in the neighborhood. This must never be. In fact, the thought of this should break our hearts! How desperately neighborhoods all across our country need these declining churches to be replanted and become lighthouses for Jesus once again. Replanted churches serve as a source of true hope and encouragement, love and healing for people in their communities. The lost and the broken in these communities need the church, simply because they need Jesus. Partnership can help restore a Gospel witness.


The bottom line is that we as churches are BETTER together! Millions in our cities and around the world need to be reached with the Gospel. Thousands of dying churches need encouragement and assistance from other congregations that partnership provides. This is a good thing. This is a beautiful thing. Partnership is a God-honoring thing. The question is: Will you and I pursue it?


To learn more about how your church can come alongside and partner with a dying congregation, check out the book, Pathways to Partnership. This book is designed to give you and your church practical ideas and tools for how to pursue a healthy partnership with a struggling church in need of help and encouragement. Get the book HERE.



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[1] Bret Bone, “Power in Partnering,” 8/27/2012, Sermoncentral.com, accessed November 15, 2017, https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermoncentral--stories-intercession-83980?+ref=TextIllustrationSerps. [2] Advance, “The Power of Partnership,” Advancemovement.com, accessed November 15, 2017, http://www.advancemovement.com/about/2-the-power-of-partnership/.

[3] Ibid.

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