Church Collaboration

 How Churches Can Work Together for Mission

How to Explore Collaboration

You are reading this because you suspect that some form of collaboration might be a good move for your congregation. But how do you find prospective partners and how do start the conversation? There is no “” for churches, but here are four steps to get started.

1. Consider potential partners

An Episcopal church in Minnesota has a facility with expensive structural problems coupled with aging and decline. It considered a Shared Campus with two nearby churches but decided that merger would be a better choice. The leaders of this church listed the five closest Episcopal churches and arranged for members to visit each one at worship. They then met with the clergy and leaders of the prospective partners that appeared viable, followed by shared worship and fellowship with the two that seemed to be the best match. After visits, meetings prayer and discernment they started merger talked with one of the churches. 

Another approach is to initiate informal conversations with the leaders of nearby churches that might be possible partners. These leaders often know each other and start with some measure of trust. Sometimes pastors approach each other to gauge interest in partnering. It’s smart to start by talking about partnership instead of a specific option like merger.

A great way to identify prospective partners is to ask your conference or synod to sponsor a “Church Opportunities Workshop” and invite churches that might be looking for new solutions. This workshop describes all the possible collaboration and non-collaboration options with more case studies and much more detail than this web site. The workshop enables leaders to sit informally with the leaders of other similarly-situated churches to get to know each other. More information about a Church Opportunities Workshop is at


2. Honest Assessment

Before you approach a partner it’s a good idea to take a frank look at your own church. It’s also a good idea to ask prospective partners to do the same as you start talking together. This assessment doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process—you can do a good job with discussion at two or three council or board meetings along with some homework. Assemble a few key facts and hold frank conversations on these basic  topics:

  • Trends in giving and participation over the past few years. Measuring participation is becoming trickier because a drop in worship attendance doesn’t always mean that participation is declining. Even faithful members are tending to worship less often these days.  Look at attendance in the context of the trend in giving units—attendance decline may not be as significant if the number of households that give regularly is stable. Membership is a poor indicator because people who leave churches don’t usually cancel or transfer their memberships. The trendline of new members is very  important, however. The ratio of deaths in the congregation to baptisms is a good future barometer. After you assemble the trend numbers put them in a spreadsheet so you can create graphs. When you track key trends over the past few years you can make a good guess where you might be in the future if nothing changes.

  • As part of these discussions list your strengths and weaknesses as a congregation and identify the  demographic changes in your neighborhood.

  • Talk about how members live out their faith, and how effective the congregation is at faith building. Collaborations that are grounded in a commitment to share God’s love are often effective. Collaboration for survival is a lot of work for an iffy outcome.

3. Identify the viable options.

This site—and a workshop if you can arrange that—can be a good way to narrow the dozen or so options into those that seem best for your circumstances. Both—or all—the churches should participate in this step. One option might stand out, but keeping two or three on the table gives you more flexibility and members won’t be as apt to feel like the leaders are trying to cram something down their throats.

At this point joint worship services and opportunities for joint fellowship are invaluable, to give members a chance to know each other and see the similarities and differences in the congregations.

4. Form a joint team and start the process

Each church should have an equal number of members on the team along with the pastors. We’ve found that about 6 people from each church—or 5 if there are 3 or more churches—seems to work best. Make sure that the team includes at least one board or council member and that team members represent different groups in the congregation.

At this point an outside coach or consultant is invaluable. An outside consultant can keep the process fair to all parties, and an experienced consultant can keep your collaboration from the pitfalls that others have faces.  Your conference or synod may have some recommendations, and you can feel free to contact Dave Raymond at or 612-227-0526.

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