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When Churches Say No

There are a lot of leaders I talk to who have a hard time understanding that there is a lot of competition in the ministry world.

I recently got a text from a friend who was involved with the new nonprofit. He was sharing his frustration because every church they had talked to said they weren’t interested in helping. They had gone through the process of putting marketing materials together, preparing a nice presentation, and they were well rehearsed and prepared. And yet the church still said no. This happened in church after church after church. My friend’s frustration culminated in a statement — “I just wish churches cared more about what we were doing.”

I felt for my friend. They had worked hard to build some good church partnerships and were really struggling to get traction. What’s unfortunate is that most ministries feel the same rejection from churches that they’d like to partner with. When we’ve had conversations with clients about this and ask about the relationships they have with churches, many of them have shared similar experiences. Churches don’t have time for us, they don’t care about what we’re doing, etc. You get the idea. 

I think we could all agree that if you’re in that position of leading a ministry outside of the church, trying to build partnerships with the church can be difficult, frustrating, and exhausting. 

From the Church’s Perspective

Every church has a desire to help people. Part of the makeup of the church is to serve. Churches, specifically church leadership, are not only trying to serve the needs of one, they’re trying to serve the needs of many different perspectives and preferences. These are served through programs. Many churches as they have grown have adopted a program within a program approach. You have an adult ministries program and in that you might have men’s, women’s, small groups, discipleship, mentoring, and the list goes on. Then you might have other programs that sit under that as well. This is happening across most areas of the church. This is a lot for senior leadership to manage. For a pastor especially, they are having to navigate the things they are trying to implement on their own with the preferences of their staff, the needs of the staff, the ideas people on the board might have, the ideas people in the congregation might have, and all the things people wish would be done differently. Pastors are dealing with this all the time. 

So when an external or outside ministry comes to a church and asks, “Will you support our initiative or our program?” a pastor has to evaluate where that sits in relation to the overwhelming number of things that are already on his list to be considered and/or implemented. Now imagine that it’s not just one outside organization coming to the pastor. It’s several dozen or maybe even more. There are exponential considerations that are now going to the pastor’s mind. “If I implement this program for someone on our staff, that minimize our ability to implement this for someone in our congregation … or what about this ministry or that ministry? … or what about this external organization that we care about but we don’t really have a good place for them?” You can see how exhausting and complicated it gets.

What You Should Do

In order for an outside ministry in a local church to work well together, they need to have a partnership where one is truly helping the other in a reciprocal manner. An organization comes to a church and asks, “Will you support our program financially and/or send people to us?” is setting themselves up for the church to say no. In contrast, it’s better to come to the church saying, “I think we can partner with you and help you accomplish what you’re struggling with. It would help us be more effective as an outside ministry, and it would help you as a church be able to implement something that you care about.”

Right there, multiple problems have been solved in one moment and it’s not about one organization blindly supporting another organization. This is entirely about collaboration and partnership. And when those things are done well, everybody wins.

Take These 3 Steps

This article is directed primarily to those who are leading ministries that sit outside of local church. Pastors, we hope the perspective on this is helpful to you as well. Here are three things that external ministries need to consider before approaching a church. 

One – not every church is a potential partner for you. 

It’s easy to assume that just because a church is around the corner from your organization or that you know people there that they are likely partner and supporter of you. That is not the case. In fact, a higher percentage of churches are probably not a good fit for you. So it’s important to know this so that you’re not disappointed.

Two – do your homework. 

Going into a church with your hand out expecting something in return will probably not give you the result you’re after. Knowing who you’re talking to, knowing where the needs are, and having a conversation as someone who wants to serve and support the church is far better than coming in to pitch your ministry.

Three – keep it simple and concise. 

After you’re ready to start talking about your ministry, make it easy to remember. Pastors are busy people and they don’t have time to navigate messaging that’s unclear. Spend the time to be prepared so that you present well and answer questions clearly.

What I really want to say is keep going. Don’t give up. This doesn’t mean your ministry isn’t meant to be or you misunderstood God’s calling. Creating a ministry doesn’t happen overnight. Remember to depend more on prayer than yourself, and thank God for every closed door. And who knows — it might open back up in a few years when you least expect it. 

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