Collaboration: towards effective missional outcomes

By Stephen Harrison, Executive Director, Parishes and Other Mission Agencies Commission

Recently I had the experience of needing to ask for help. For some time, I had been trying to get back into shape, lose a bit of weight and eat healthier. When I was younger these things were easy, but after several failed attempts, I realised I needed help. And, asking for help made all the difference.  

I wonder if you have had an experience like this before. Getting help made me realise that there are many things in my life that would be addressed more quickly and effectively if I just simply asked for help. 

Many of the challenges we face in the Church might also be addressed more creatively and effectively if we recruited more people to help us solve them. So why don’t we do this more often? 

From a personal perspective, I like the idea that I am self-sufficient and smart enough to solve my own problems. Admitting I need help means being vulnerable and this can be deeply uncomfortable, especially for an introvert like me. 

Based on conversations I have had, I think parish clergy and lay leaders have similar concerns. If we admit that everything isn’t peachy, what will people think of us? On top of that there may be issues of trust to overcome. If we work together with the parish next door, do we worry about losing people to them? 

The idea of collaboration can be anxiety inducing, but the rich benefits are absolutely worth it. Collaboration enables us to have access to a diverse range of problem-solving ideas; it shares the burden of needing to have all the answers; it generates greater creativity; and, it releases resources for mission. 

But where do you begin? 

The first place is with building relationships. A good relationship with those you hope to collaborate with is essential. A degree of trust needs to be developed if deeper levels of engagement are to occur. 

On the Internet you will find various descriptions of collaboration levels. These can help direct us to how we might begin and progress. 

The first level is about networking. The focus at this level is on having conversations with others and on building relationships.  

The next level is about cooperation. Here you are engaging in a deeper level of communication. You might begin to share with others some of the issues you are facing and how you are seeking to address them even if you don’t work together to solve them. 

The third level is focused on co-ordination. This might involve sharing more information about ministry challenges and how you might support each other in a shared task. For example, services to a local nursing home might be shared on a roster basis. 

At the coalition level you might begin to run events together. Decision making and resources would be shared. Each would contribute to running the event, but may still run their part separately. 

Full collaboration is marked by mutual trust, by co-creation of activities, with consensus decision making. At this level you are fully engaged with one another. 

Where do you see opportunities to collaborate with others? Whom might you collaborate with for more effective missional outcomes? It could be a parish, but it could also be other groups in the Diocesan, or the wider, communities. 

If you are already collaborating with others, please let us know about your story so we can share it. 

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