Degrees of Collaboration

Excerpted From
Together for the City
By Neil Powell and John James

There’s not only a variety of types of collaboration but also degrees of collaboration. Remember the goldilocks zone? It’s possible to find the right zone, neither too hot nor too cold, for you to flourish in the movement and play your part. One good way to understand the degrees of collaboration available is to illustrate them as four concentric rings.

1. Listeners

Moving from the outer circle in, this is first degree of collaboration. Some individuals and church representatives position themselves on the edge of the movement, almost eavesdropping. Collaboration requires trust, and it can take time to establish whether a movement is something worth belonging to or not. It’s possible simply to turn up and listen in to most of our gatherings; in fact, it’s actively encouraged.

For 2020 Birmingham, there are a number of folk we will see only a few times a year, perhaps at a conference or a workshop, who are attempting to discern at their own pace if this movement is for them. It may be tempting to disregard this outer circle as beyond the parameters of collaboration, but we want to recognize that these people are very welcome, and we trust that it’s beneficial for them to connect in this way. We don’t place expectations on them. If a movement is to remain organic and spontaneous, we must be open to the DNA code being caught and multiplied without any further relationship with the movement center and regardless of whether churches become participating players in a recognizable way. However, listening is often the gateway for them to move inward toward deeper levels of involvement.

We could name a number of people who are currently listening in to what we’re doing, attending the planters forum, having significant conversations behind the scenes, and figuring out what it may mean for them to move toward a deeper level of involvement. It isn’t appropriate to tell their stories at this point. However, many participants and influencers within 2020 Birmingham first started to engage by listening in to what was happening.

2. Receivers

In one sense, listening is a passive form of receiving, but for receivers there’s a desire to connect relationally with others within the movement because of a conviction that this is something to join. 2020 Birmingham continues to offer more ways to receive input, such as the planters forum, a monthly gathering for prayer, support and encouragement for planters; Incubator, a two-year-long, one-day-a-month training course for planters; Next Generation evenings, where keen members and future leaders gather to gain insight into the vision and values of 2020 Birmingham; and connecting with another church within the movement through a mentoring relationship.

Again, there is no expectation that any individual or church must pay the group back. There are some who belong to 2020 Birmingham for whom giving is not an option. There are some for whom the movement was a stage in the development of their plant, but there is little in the way of an ongoing relationship. It’s key to the principle of generosity that those who wish simply to receive are welcome to come and do so. If this serves the kingdom of God, it is to be celebrated.

3. Participators

Many who first simply come to receive begin to see how they may play an active part. Participation isn’t dictated from above; it’s something that people begin to work out for themselves as they see a need and want to meet it. Key to the health of the movement is a growing body of knowledge. As movement members increase in experience, they have wisdom to share.

At our monthly planters forums, participation is actively encouraged as we discuss evangelism, discipleship, church organization, cross-cultural mission, contextualization, growing multiethnic churches, estate ministry and so on. No one individual is an expert, but the greater the participation, the richer the shared knowledge. Participation is about adding value to aspects of the movement as you imbibe the code and begin to make a contribution.

4. Influencers

Once people are participating in a movement, it doesn’t take long before they identify areas in which it can be improved, strengthened and resourced in ways that serve the cause. At this point, a partner moves from simply participating to actively influencing the development and direction of the movement. This involves building on a foundation that has already been laid or extending what the movement can do.

There should be room in a collaborative movement for listeners to become receivers, for receivers to become participators, and for participators to become influencers so that the movement can continue to multiply.

Of course Jonathan, Neil and Andy are key influences within 2020 Birmingham. However, many others quoted throughout this book have moved from the edge to the center, taking responsibility for particular aspects of the fledgling movement and helping it grow. People also are growing in influence in their particular areas of ministry. They’re training others in discipleship, evangelism, church revitalization and cross-cultural mission. They’re telling their stories to inspire and help others. Some are simply stepping up and serving behind the scenes.

One of our prayers is that as more people make their way to the center of 2020 Birmingham, there will be an increasing level of diversity among the influencers. It has been important to give people who clearly have expertise in certain areas permission to lead.

We’re always grappling with what it will mean for us to grow into a movement that truly impacts the city as a whole, not only with church planting but also with other specializations—such as justice and mercy ministries, and faith and work initiatives—that would create something of a gospel ecosystem. This will mean inviting others serving within the city to join and to exercise influence within the group.

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Excerpted from Together for the City by Neil Powell and John James. Copyright © 2019 by John James and Neil Powell. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

Neil Powell and John James
Neil Powell and John James

Neil Powell is pastor of City Church in Birmingham, U.K., and founder of 2020 Birmingham.

John James is pastor of Crossway Church in Birmingham, U.K.