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Fostering Effective Community Partnerships

By Bryan Tener

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Leading a congregation toward engaging its community offers space for meaningful connections and growth in discipleship. It can be an important part of a transformative journey in relationships with local organizations, people, and the community.

Congregations are in a unique position to work for collaboration within the community to expand outreach and deepen discipleship. However, not every congregation has adequate resources or a limitless supply of money, expertise, or people. That’s probably a good thing. This recognition of limits can also be an acknowledgment of possibilities, potential, and opportunities. Building partnerships in the community with other organizations, nonprofits, schools, and other faith communities provides the chance to cultivate community and deepen knowledge about the community. People experience complex issues and challenges that require diverse resources to help navigate those challenges.

A nonprofit may discover that there is a gap between what it provides and what is needed. For example, a nonprofit may offer job training for single parents, but it may not be able to offer childcare. That gap in services would make it difficult for a single parent to attend training. Through connecting with others in the community, the church could work to fill that gap. It could serve as a bridge for relationships, support, and/or resources needed. In the long term, partnerships could become more coordinated to offer services and fulfill needs on several fronts. Other organizations, churches, and nonprofits aren’t in competition. These are all places where God is accomplishing God’s work in the world, using gifts and strengths from multiple people and groups.

The foundation of an effective community ministry is the formation of strategic partnerships with local service organizations. These alliances enable congregations to extend their reach beyond the church's doors. By leveraging the strengths and resources of other organizations, the church and community can address the needs of individuals and families and live into Christ’s call to serve. However, not every organization is a good fit for a partnership. All partners need to have a holistic approach toward caring for those experiencing poverty, the desire to build relationships of trust and accountability, and an understanding that the community is stronger and the people are served more effectively through collaborative work. Often, nonprofits are already doing great work and may be able to offer care in ways that the church cannot. But the church can come alongside and offer care in ways that support the work of the nonprofit. Congregations working alongside other churches and nonprofit organizations can lead to innovative solutions and a bigger network for those receiving help and support.

Building community partnerships is an integral part of living out the gospel's call to service. The church is uniquely positioned to lead these efforts, creating a network of support that reflects the love and grace of Jesus Christ. It is the church’s calling to forge new partnerships, deepen relationships with neighbors, and witness to the transformative power of God’s love.

Questions to reflect on your community and potential partners:

  • What organizations are engaging the community?
  • In what ways are these organizations already serving the community?
  • Are there gaps between what is offered and what is needed?
  • Where is there potential for partnerships with other groups?
  • Who are the people being served? What are they saying?
  • What community leaders (school administrators, city leaders, neighborhood association leaders) could offer insights on the community/neighborhood?
  • Identify gathering places, groups, clubs, and neighborhood organizations in the community. Where do people go in your community (restaurants, pubs, gyms, dog parks)?
  • Make a list of places, groups, or clubs in which members of the team participate.
  • Identify those in your sphere of relationships within those places or groups.
  • Identify assets or gifts that a person has as you listen and discern.
  • Make a list of the names and possible gifts and interests.
  • Are there opportunities to connect that person and his/her gifts with someone who shares the same? Is there an opportunity for relationship and connection?

Starter questions:

  • What’s something that you love to do?
  • When situations are tough or you’re feeling weighed down, what lifts you up?
  • What’s a hobby or favorite thing to do that people might be surprised to learn about you?

Neighborhood/community questions:

  • How did you come to live in this neighborhood?
  • How has the neighborhood/community changed over time?
  • What’s your favorite thing about the neighborhood?
  • What’s something exciting that has happened in this neighborhood?
  • What’s one thing you’d change?
  • What about the community do you most enjoy? What are you excited about?
  • What are your main concerns? What keeps you up at night?
  • What are the unmet needs in this community?
  • How could people work together to improve the community? (Where is this happening already?)

Other great questions:

  • One thing people need to know about this community is ________
  • What are your experiences with _____ in this community? [fill in specific issue]
  • What changes have you seen in the community?
  • What are the best things that have happened in the community over the past year?
  • What local groups or organizations have you been involved with?
  • Who else should we be talking with?

Questions for specific input:

  • If you want input on a particular issue or area of ministry (e.g., kids, seniors, housing, mental health):
  • What are the challenges here related to_____?
  • What is one thing that could make a difference for _____?
  • What suggestions do you have for anyone wanting to get involved with _____?
  • Who else is working on _____?
  • Who do you know that might share their experiences or expertise with _____?

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