Fairhaven has also helped the churches they partner with by sharing resources, ideas and ministry principles, including tips on how to put an event together, run guest services and handle finances. One church that contacted Fairhaven in need of $10,000 left with advice on making a $20,000 adjustment in how to do things and eliminated the financial need altogether.
Most of the help Fairhaven provides other churches is for one-time projects, but one long-term need it met was to pay the health insurance premium for a pastor whose church could not afford it. Smith says, “We want to make sure we have a long-standing relationship with them. We don’t want a hit-and-run kind of situation when we’re helping a church.”
While many of the fastest-growing or largest churches have merged with other struggling churches, that isn’t the only way to multiply. Smith summarizes Fairhaven’s relationship with its partner church: “We want to be two churches working together, proving to the city that we can cross racial and economic walls and pull them down in the name of love and in the name of hope.”
BridgePoint noticed a local church was struggling and asked how it could help. Initially the response was, “No, everything is good.” But after trust was developed, BridgePoint was able to help the church with a new sound system and air conditioning for its facility.
Leaders at another church approached to see if BridgePoint would buy their property, but Whipple sensed that wasn’t the real problem. They then admitted they couldn’t make their payroll. When BridgePoint wrote a check to get the church through the rough time, the leaders asked what it would mean for BridgePoint. Whipple answered, “It’s not about us. This is about keeping you alive because there needs to continue to be work where you are, and if you close your doors, that’s a loss for the kingdom.”
Whipple adds, “Sometimes, it’s not about physical things. It’s just letting them know they are not alone.”
For CedarCreek, most of the churches they partner with are church plants. Their partnership involves not only financial support but also friendships. The church has helped another local church with sound and lighting systems, supplemented the pastor’s pay and provided a car. They also send people to work in the church’s clothing and food ministries.
“We want to come alongside and help them be successful,” Hutmacher explains, “because we really feel like, as a whole city, we are going to be successful when they’re winning, as well.”
When Red Rocks was experiencing faster growth in attendance than in giving, they were hurting financially. Then they met the staff of a church worse off than them—and that church desperately needed to fill an open staff position. Even though Red Rocks couldn’t hire the people it needed, its leaders realized they could change the whole dynamic of another church if they helped with its hire. They sent almost all they had to the other church.
There have been times when Red Rocks knew a handful of local churches were struggling financially, so it sent those pastors a Christmas bonus. Johnson explains, “We want to make sure we’re taking some financial risks that don’t directly benefit our church.” His advice to other churches is the same advice he gives to people in his church: “Start being generous now before you feel like you can actually do it.”
For BridgePoint, partnering with other churches and ministries is a two-way street. The staff invites other churches to join in ministries such as outreach to the homeless, building beds for children, outreach in the sex-trafficking industry and serving in schools. The church also assists the work of a local Dream Center and different recovery organizations, plus points people to Celebrate Recovery groups at other churches.
Whipple explains, “We discovered a long time ago you don’t have to be good at everything, but you find out who is good and you come alongside them.”
Whipple feels the biggest hurdle in partnering with other churches is fear. Church leadership may feel afraid that if it sends their people to another church, those people will stay. “We really try to send people back,” he says. “When they discover something here, our encouragement is, ‘Go back, tell you church about it, get involved, share this there, implement it there.’”
“The biggest challenge,” Smith adds, “is to make sure you’re actually making systemic change and not doing something that simply makes you feel good but actually hurts the community because you’re not doing anything of value. It’s hard because you don’t want to create a dependency—you want to establish a relationship that is authentic.”
Johnson admits, “One of the hardest things to do is to actually support a church in your city—and [it’s] even harder to support a church in your city that reaches the same demographic as your church does.”
A local church similar to Red Rocks went through an unforeseen struggle, and Red Rocks responded by helping pay the other church’s mortgage.
“That was maybe one of the tougher tests because we were helping a church that was reaching the same people,” says Johnson. “And truth be told, if that church would’ve folded, more people would have come to our church. We always say we’re on the same team, but sometimes it is harder to live that out.”
Reaping the Benefits
BridgePoint had seen evidence that another church in St. Petersburg was fractured, isolated and very turf-oriented. As it worked to tear down those walls through partnerships with other churches and ministries, BridgePoint’s people have come to see all the congregations as one church.
“When our people are able to see that being fleshed out, it encourages them and gives them energy to continue to do that in their daily lives,” Whipple says. “When they get to see that actually work and see how God can use that, it’s fuel.”
One of the benefits Fairhaven Church has received through assisting other churches is the realization that generosity is not stagnant. “Generosity begets generosity,” Smith explains. “As we’re able to be generous to other churches, they’re in turn generous to other churches. And it just keeps going. It’s something that can be paid forward.”
The very thing that Fairhaven sought to help others with, they found in their own church. Smith explains: “The greatest thing that we’ve discovered is that brokenness is everywhere. That brokenness has been uncovered within the congregation here at Fairhaven, where people have discovered their own brokenness in helping people in their brokenness. That has been phenomenal.
“Every church has a need. For some churches, the need is financial. For some churches, the need is getting people out of their comfort zones. When you get churches together to empower each other and to serve side by side for a long period of time, that brings great joy.”
These stories could tempt some readers to contact one of the generous churches mentioned in this article in the hopes of getting something from them, but that would be missing the point. The example these churches have set is not about getting, but about sharing for the sake of the kingdom of God. They are making a great impact for the kingdom through both centripetal and centrifugal forces. They are looking to grow their churches and disciple their people, but they are also seeking ways to reach out and help other churches for the good of God’s kingdom.
Scott McConnell is executive director of LifeWay Research.