Church Collaboration

How Congregations Can Work Together for Mission

Option 2:  Parish Model

How Does This Site Define Parish Model?

Parish Model describes a situation where two or more churches form a joint structure to support  specific ministries or to share staffing. The resulting parish is sometimes called a "cluster". The governance structure is typically a non-profit corporation or a joint board. This non-profit or board often hires and supervises the staff and pastor (or pastors) involved in the parish ministry. Each congregation, however, keeps its own facility and identity. The section on "Parish Model Lite" below describes a less structured version of the parish model.

As we saw with the shared campus model, some of the most creative collaborators are rural churches. Multiple-point parishes (sometimes called "yoked churches") are common in areas with low population density. Rural multiple point parishes are outside the scope of this site, but we want to highlight one example, the Healing Waters Parish in southwestern Minnesota. The Healing Waters Parish has three pastors that serve six churches in Yellow Medicine County. Average attendance at the churches ranges from 5 to 80, with a combined total of about 200. The Parish sponsors a joint youth program and occasionally worships together, but each church maintains its own building with its own worship service each Sunday. We've heard of a few non-rural churches that have considered this same approach but have not heard of any that have actually adopted it. Send a note to this site if you know of an example.


Inspiring Case Study:  Edmonds-Lynwood Lutheran Parish in WashingtonJeremiah youth at 2008 retreat

In 2003 four Lutheran churches in suburban Seattle formed the Edmonds-Lynwood Lutheran Parish to focus on youth programming and Christian education. Shortly after the parish started the three Edmonds churches consolidated into Edmonds Lutheran Church. At the instigation of the parish youth, one of the unneeded church buildings became a community youth center called the Jeremiah Center. The Edmonds-Lynwood Lutheran Parish also sponsors Living Waters, which raises money for clean water projects in several third world countries. Here are some links for more information: 
           Edmonds-Lynwood Lutheran Parish
           Jeremiah Center
           Case Study by Church Future


Other examples of the Parish or Cluster Model:

 The Ascent, Golden, Colorado, successful 7-church joint youth program. Includes Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Community church, Evangelical Free and Episcopal.
New City Parish, Los Angeles, started in 1993 with 5 churches, now 9, all ELCA. Provides many services and ministries in urban Los Angeles.
Vibe, St. Paul, MN, joint confirmation and high school youth program started in 2000, 5 ELCA churches
North Star Mission Cluster, Northwest Minnesota, Ten ELCA churches and ministries in Beltrami County, Minnesota shared youth programs, a Christmas cantata, interns, pastoral support and other cooperation for over 10 years. Director's salary partially paid by the ELCA. Now in transition with a revival planned for the spring of 2009.
Spark, St. Louis Park, MN, 1 large church and 3 small churches in suburban Minneapolis. Called two pastors, each of whom worked half-time for Spark and half-time as the pastor of one of the small churches. One half-time pastor worked with young adults and one served older adult ministries. This arrangement ended after about a year but Spark continues to sponsor young adult ministry.
Columbia Basin Lutheran Area Ministry Strategy Team, Eastern Washington, in formation stage.
Atonement-Our Savior's, Racine Wisconsin, attempt at shared pastors that ended after one year.
Upper Juniata Conference Parish, Pennsylvania, 5 churches, under formation.
Calvary-Centennial United Methodist Churches, Fredrick, MD, -- two UMC churches a block apart who carry out exciting ministry together. The Fredrick NewsPost has an interesting article about this cooperation.


Track record of the Parish Model

The track record for the structured parish model is a mix of some great successes along with stories of struggle and disappointment. It sometimes takes years of meetings to get anything off the ground, and some of the parishes that have formed have sputtered out. It is tricky to put together an organizational structure that doesn't require endless coordination meetings, and it isn't easy to engage the broader membership of the churches so they see the benefits of cooperation.

Parish Model Lite

In the "lite" version of the parish model two or more churches share a program without setting up a separate organizational structure. Joint confirmation classes or youth programs are the most common examples. In some cases leaders from each church share responsibilities for staffing the joint program, while in other situations one church provides the staffing (a youth worker, for example) while the other church contributes a share of the salary expense. These examples enjoy some of the benefits of the parish model without as much administrative overhead.

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