Coach your tribes: how nonprofits and churches can all get along, part II

Many nonprofit ministry presentations descend into local churches like UFOs and leave the same way, with nary a crop circle left behind.

What I mean by that is that when the typical nonprofit is invited to speak at a local church, the focus is typically on the speaking opportunity itself, rather than on how the speaking opportunity can best fit into an overall strategy for that church. I’m referring here to a strategy related to the cause the nonprofit is tasked with espousing–a strategy that needs to be in place before the presentation and that must cover the period extending long after the presentation is over.

During the visit, the nonprofit too often focuses on trying to tactfully harvest interested members of the congregation (especially so-called ‘good major donor prospects’) to speak with more in depth at a later date. (‘And can we set up a table with our brochures and talk to people after service? We promise not to be a cult.’)

When the speaking engagement is conceived of in this way, the nonprofit walks away with its new referrals; the church walks away until it needs a speaker for Missions Sunday next year or for the pastor’s vacation; and the two groups have, at best, a warm feeling about each other and a vague commitment to ‘keep in touch’ and ‘work together’.

But the church should never be looked at as a breeding ground for potential donors.

Instead, as we discussed in the previous post, the church is a tribe. (It’s actually much more than that. This is the Bride of Christ we’re talking about here! But my point is that it’s at least a tribe.)

As such, Transformational Giving invites us to look very differently at our relationship with churches and other organizations–a category that we call ‘partners’ (in distinction from ‘champions’, who are individuals.)

At minimum, that means that before we ask a church to let us speak, before we accept an invitation when a church invites us, before we open our mouths to speak in front of a church, we and the church ought to know and agree clearly and explicitly how this presentation fits into a wider ‘involvement map’ for the church and the cause that the nonprofit is tasked with espousing.

My dear brother Tim Rickel at World Gospel Mission told me about a recent ‘Missions Sunday’ to which he was invited to speak. Putting the ideas we’ve been talking about into practice, he called the pastor and said, ‘Pastor, what’s your thinking about how my speaking and this Missions Sunday can help you accomplish your church’s overall goal related to missions?’

‘Oh, we’ve been doing Missions Sunday for 20 years,’ said the pastor dismissively. ‘You only need to show up and speak.’

‘Well,’ said Tim, gently pushing back, ‘It would be helpful for me to know how my speaking can best help you achieve your goals related to growing your congregational impact on the cause of missions. How does Missions Sunday fit into that overall plan?’

‘You know,’ said the pastor reflectively, ‘I’ve honestly never thought about that question.’

So the challenge is on both sides of the altar, so to speak. Nonprofits too readily seek and accept opportunities to speak in churches because they see churches as donor petri dishes. Churches too often readily seek and accept outside speakers without an overall plan into which the speaker fits.

End result?

  • Many, many miscommunications that result in a general and well-deserved climate of suspicion on the part of churches toward nonprofits.
  • Less ‘profitable’ visits by nonprofits to churches. The extractive mentality, no matter how well it’s executed, is simply resulting in less extracted these days.
  • Worst of all, there are tons of missed opportunities for churches to grow in relationship to the cause, which is the scriptural mandate. Tragically, churches defer to the specialized, professional ministry of nonprofits and abrogate their biblical responsibility: namely, to be the primary means by which God’s purpose toward the cause championed by the nonprofit is accomplished in the world! Far too often, in other words, churches see themselves as supporting nonprofits, rather than the other way around.

So how can nonprofits coach the tribes know as churches?

Bob Moffitt offers twelve profound suggestions on page 354 of his book, If Jesus Were Mayor. (It’s easy to pass over one or more of the following suggestions. Don’t. Each one is a gold mine. Drill deeply. Dwell and prayerfully meditate on each one. Then create a partner development strategy that accomplishes as many of them as possible.)

Here’s Bob’s list (note how it’s divided into three overarching categories, just like we recommend you create in your maps for champions–see the Coach Your Champions book for all the details):

The parachurch can equip the local church.

  • Train it in the tasks for which the parachurch has a mandate
  • Build skills–such as problem-solving, nonformal education techniques, planning, or evaluation
  • Assist it to develop its own vision–instead of urging it to adopt the parachurch’s vision
  • Offer consultation as the church implements new vision and skills

The parachurch can encourage the local church.

  • Share a vision from God’s Word regarding its specialized ministry
  • Walk alongside to help if the local church runs into difficulties or stumbles in the implementation of its vision
  • Offer a covenant relationship of prayer–sharing tasks and burdens
  • Foster reciprocity, so the local church also ministers to the parachurch

The parachurch can network the local church.

  • Like it with other local churches that have similar visions
  • Network inexperienced local churches with experienced churches, for the purpose of training
  • Introduce it to local government and business relationships
  • Introduce it to other local or international organizations with skills and resources that could help local churches carry out their visions

And here ends the quote from Bob. Now, back to me:

If the relationship between nonprofits and individuals needs to change (and, boy, does it ever), then the relationship between nonprofits and churches and other tribes needs to be completely blown up and rebuilt from scratch. Honestly, there may be no greater issue facing nonprofits and churches in our generation than this one.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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2 Responses to Coach your tribes: how nonprofits and churches can all get along, part II

  1. Pingback: A day in the life of a Director of Partner Development « Transformational Giving

  2. Pingback: The Partnership-Beats-Pity reading list for Development Professionals « Transformational Giving

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