Creative Collaborations

Informal collaborations often involve joint youth programs, justice efforts, or social service outreach. Sometimes one pastor serves two churches without a formal structure. Each church separately engages the pastor in a part-time position.

Sometimes nearby churches join in a formal Cluster to explore ways to cooperate and engage in joint ministry, usually to serve the community better. Some clusters describe themselves as a “parish”.

The Parish Model describes a situation where two or more churches agree to a more formal structure to share a pastor (or sometimes pastors) and other staff. The governance structure is typically a joint board or a non-profit corporation made up of representatives from the participating churches. The board hires and supervises the staff and pastor or pastors that jointly serve the parish. These arrangements are sometimes referred to as multi-point parishes or yoked churches. Each congregation pays its share of parish expenses but keeps its own budget, facility and identity. Yoked churches are common in rural areas with smaller, easy-to-maintain buildings and distance between the churches. If they merged into one building some members would face long drives to church.

A Shared Building or Shared Campus occurs when two or three congregations, almost always with different denominations and identities, jointly own and use one facility. Existing congregations remodel the most suitable facility and sell the facility or facilities that are no longer needed. 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 pastor, its own identity and its own worship services. 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 was pretty common, especially in rural areas.   The Shared Campus concept is less common today, but it can be a way to deal with outmoded hard-to-maintain buildings and budget pressures. Sharing one building has big environmental benefits as well.

Two Shared Campus examples are still going strong after over 40 years. The Madison Christian Community is a partnership between UCC and ELCA congregations in Madison, Wisconsin. Genesis of Ann Arbor (Michigan) is a partnership between an Episcopal church and a Jewish temple. 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.

David Raymond has personal experience with several partnerships like this and he conducted detailed case studies of two significant Twin Cities collaborations, one based on the Cluster Model and one using the Parish Model. He is currently a consultant with a shared campus partnership in Minneapolis. He has a passion for successful partnerships along with an awareness of some not-obvious pitfalls that these collaborations can face.