Collaboration can take many forms. Sometimes a cluster of nearby churches band together to deal with a social justice issue in their community. In other cases churches share staff, either with informal arrangements or by joining as a formal parish. The ELCA advocates a form of collaboration called Area Ministry Strategy where several ELCA congregations work together for greater effectiveness.
These partnerships hold great promise but the track record is mixed. The most successful efforts seem to be those with an informal structure but a strong passion for one cause. Formal structures are harder, maybe because of the effort needed just to keep the structure going.
Parish Model describes a situation where two or more churches form a joint structure to support specific ministries or to share staffing. The resulting parish is sometimes called a cluster. The governance structure is typically a non-profit corporation or a joint board made up of representatives from the participating churches. This non-profit or board often hires and supervises the staff and pastor (or pastors) involved in the parish ministry. Each congregation, however, keeps its own facility and identity.
The parish model for sharing staff has been vital for a number of rural congregations but is more difficult in urban or suburban settings. David Raymond has personal experience with partnerships like this, and he conducted detailed case studies of two Twin Cities collaborations, one based on the cluster model and one using the parish model. He has a passion for successful partnerships and an awareness of some not-obvious pitfalls that these partnerships can face.
A Shared Campus occurs when two or more congregations, almost always with different denominations or identities, jointly own and use one facility. The concept of ownership is key—Shared Campus is different from the common landlord-tenant shared building situation. In a Shared Campus each congregation keeps its own identity and usually has its own worship services, but janitorial, maintenance, and office staff are shared. Youth programs, outreach efforts and other ministries are often joint as well.
In earlier times the Shared Campus model, then usually called a federated church, was pretty common, especially where rural areas were becoming developed. Some churches today still have “federated” in their name and still share their facility. The Shared Campus model is not common today, but those that exist work very well. The Madison Christian Community, a Shared Campus involving with UCC and ELCA congregations, has been going strong for over 40 years. Springhouse Ministry Center in Minneapolis is a newer example that involves three congregations Two of the congregations sold their outmoded buildings and invested the proceeds into remodeling the third building into a beautiful and highly functional church facility.
With both the Parish Model and the Shared Campus Model some of the most creative collaborators are with rural churches. Multiple-point parishes (sometimes called “yoked churches”) are common in areas with low population density. The church buildings are typically miles apart, small and relatively easy to maintain. If they merged into one building many members would face long drives to church.
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