Cooperation is not a common word we use in the life of the church. While we would all agree that there is generally a desired spirit of cooperation, there is not an intentionality of cooperation. This is also true when it comes to small churches cooperating with one another. Again, there is not necessarily resistance to the idea. It is just not something that is naturally intentional or top of mind for most church leaders. Small church leaders are more likely to be bootstrappers determined to make it on their own.
Churches do sometimes come together and collaborate in ministry. Collaboration is when groups of people work together for a common goal or purpose. The emphasis is on work. The word “collaboration” comes from the Latin word com, meaning labor. Churches that collaborate come together in their labor for a common purpose.
Churches may collaborate to collect food for a local food pantry. In doing so, they come together for a common end goal. With the work completed, they return to their own unique ministries until they come back together again.
Cooperation is different from collaboration. When churches cooperate, they do so for a joint effort. It is more than just shared labor. It is cooperation with a new vision. There are verses from Ecclesiastes that are often read at weddings because they talk about the power of two becoming one.
“Two are better than one,
because they have a good reward for their toil.
For if they fall, one will lift up the other;
but woe to one who is alone and falls
and does not have another to help.”
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NRSV
The scripture refers to the need for developing close friendships and relationships. As the proverb concludes in verse 12 (“A threefold cord is not quickly broken”), we celebrate the strength of being intertwined. In the context of a cooperative ministry or parish, this is true as well. Two or more churches are stronger when they are intertwined when two become one. There is no longer “my ministry” and “your ministry”; it is now “our ministry.” It is no longer simply shared work. It’s a new vision for God’s work with greater impact!
In the book, An Effective Approach to Cooperative Parishes: A Congregational Guide to Discernment and Implementation, co-author Jason Stanley and I lead congregations to consider the remarkable power a cooperative ministry can tap. There is tremendous leverage the small churches will have through cooperative parish ministries that are just not possible as stand alone churches. Sure, collaboration is a good thing, but cooperation is a great thing! Cooperation has the power to be the small churches’ multiplier – kingdom multiplier!
If your church is interested in an organic approach to cooperative ministry, consider these first three steps:
- Pick up a copy of An Effective Approach to Cooperative Parishes: A Congregational Guide to Discernment and Implementation. If it speaks to you, consider step two.
- Gather a small group. Work through the book together. Process some of the questions at the end of each chapter. Test the waters within the group for the openness to cooperative ministry. If there is an openness, consider step three.
- Consider joining a Cooperative Ministry/Parish Cohort with other leaders led by one of the authors of the book to journey alongside your church leaders as you consider cooperative ministry in your context. Let us know you’re interested in a Cooperative Parish Cohort here.