Not all field partnerships are made the same. Below are some criterial that are helpful to make your church to field partnership more effective and to avoid some common errors.
1. The right field leadership. This is by far the most important criteria. If the field leadership (missionary) is not pursuing you for partnership or if he somehow implies that he is doing you a favor by organizing the project for you rather than excited about a partnership to reach people together, pass him over and find another leader. Projects take organizational ability; if the missionary is all “vision” and no administration make sure that he has an administratively skilled team member. If you don’t know the field leader at all, only make small, short-term commitments or get a reference from a trusted friend rather than taking grab bag. Once you find a solid leader, keep going back to the same place so that you don’t have to keep learning a new culture and city on every trip.
2. Connection with a local church. This one is unexpected. Believe it or not, it isn’t that unusual for field leaders to have a very weak connection to local churches. The main hope of fruit from the project remaining is connection to a local church. It is sometimes too hard for missionaries to work cooperatively with local pastors. It is easier to go out on their own and create their own independent projects. If a field leader doesn’t center the project on helping a local church start or grow, have him explain to you how he expects the fruit from the project to remain outside of a local church.
3. Match of your church resources and a strategic need. Try to find projects that leverage the strengths of your church. If the project is evangelistic, be sure you send the church’s best evangelists. Try to find projects that use strengths that you already have at home.
4. Be careful with finances. Financial connections should enhance local contributions not replace them. Even in a poorer situation, let local people have the dignity of contributing something to meet their community’s needs. If they ask you for money, consider a matching contribution to funding raised locally. Sometimes projects are thought to be strategic by local people only if foreigners fund them. Avoid these.
5. Work among the unreached people group. With all the needs in the world, when all else is equal go for work among an unreached people group. When possible go for a people group that is less than 2% Christian.
6. Use the USA test. Imagine a group of foreigners coming to your town and doing the proposed project. If the project makes no sense in your city, it may need revising.
If you’d like, comment on the above or add criteria that have been helpful to you.