15 years ago we set out to build quality relationships in neighborhoods. Integrating a spiritual component was foundational to creating the type of relationships among residents that would last and go deeper than current typical neighborhood relationships. At first, our challenges were focused on how to integrate a church in a master-planned community without narrowing its market focus, having the project dismissed as a cult or specifically church denomination focused.
We effectively addressed those issues through our Wheel of Life program model, which offered several program options focused at a balanced lifestyle. Having 5 program options, with spiritual being one option (along with family, recreation, education & career, and health & wellness), allowed people to feel they had a choice in what they attended, so spiritual programming became an option, like a Jazzercise class, and that issue went away. Integration of the spiritual spoke achieved, we then ventured into a different challenge…..can you integrate several churches into a community and help them to succeed in the neighborhood? How would they get along?
Overall, we have found that churches, at the end of the day, work together to further the Great Commission they are challenged with carrying out. Through sharing facilities, space in newsletters promoting their church activities, and partnering on large events, church leaders realize Who they serve, and are bonded together through shared vision of the Great Commission. That being said….it hasn’t been all baptisms and birthday parties, either.
Same God=Same Target Market…..
Not exactly true. We have a great non-denominational partner in Community Christian Church that had grown from 30 to over 1,000 in the community. Our first multiple church partnership was a Latino based church. Based on the demographics we were located, along with absence of Latino speaking churches, it was both logical and inevitable that we partner with a Latino church to better reach that portion of our community in our spiritual spoke. As this was not a ministry focus of CCC, the target market was different enough so that there was no tension between the two groups. The Latino church grew to eventually require larger space than we could provide, and moved out into the community in another space. We have since helped another Latino start up in the same space.
We also had an opportunity to partner with a compelling non-denominational church, where the primary demographic of the congregation was African-American. This partnership was a bit more tenuous, as there was no language barrier, and our primary partner had a significant number from that demographic already attending. They were a bit taken back by our new partnership, which offered a midweek service that our current partner was not offering, along with space for leadership training. With the Great Commission as glue, the two were able to work together reaching an even higher percentage of those in the community, until the congregation again out-grew their space needs and took over a large available warehouse to meet their space need. We celebrate these move-outs as great successes in community programming, looking for the next seed we can help scatter!
Independence is the key…..Shared Mission, Separate Organization
As a Christian nonprofit organization, we share the vision of Great Commission, while maintaining multiple partners to get there. Churches do not have that flexibility. After all, donors are donors, and there are only so many tithes out there. Churches seem supportive of one another until their attenders start going to another church in the neighborhood, and then their tithe goes with them. This is when it gets tricky, and having a separate organization with leadership from the entire community (not all from the same church), becomes very important.
So, to recap, churches (children) CAN get along in a neighborhood (sandbox) trying to live out the Great Commission, just as long as they are willing to share demographics, facilities, and special events/activities (toys)…WOW….integrating churches is like watching kids play in the same sandbox. As long as they willing to share, things will be just fine.