Partnership or Sponsorship?

Feb 24, 2016 | Missionary Care, New Wine: The future, The Way I See Things

I have written before about how I believe we need a new paradigm for doing missions—especially for how we finance it. Recently I read this quote and it raised several questions for me:

Although we in North America talk much about partnership, in reality we’re talking about sponsorship.*

  • What is the difference between partnership and sponsorship?
  • What difference does the difference make?
  • Which term more accurately describes the way we currently do missions?
  • Is one better than the other?
  • Is one right and the other wrong?
  • What would biblical partnership look like in the realm of missions?
  • What would “partnership development” look like in each paradigm?
  • How do each of them affect missionary attrition?

I want to dig into these questions, and I want your input. We are falling behind in reaching the unreached, partly because we are using an ineffective strategy, and partly because attrition is gutting our harvest force.

This will be the first of a series on the topic, and I hope you join in the discussion. Buckle your seatbelt!


*Ron Blue, quoted in The Sending Church Defined, by Zach Bradley, p. 112


  1. Chip

    I’ll bite. Mainly because my organization trains us, ingrains in us, that we are looking for “partners.” We ask people to partner with us, we have a team of ministry partners, we try to form partnerships.

    But, I’ve long been disenchanted with this. I’m looking for supporters. And I want to call it that!

    I don’t want, and especially don’t need, “partners” calling or emailing to be influential in my work. In my mind, partners have say in what gets done, when, how and even who does it.

    I need supporters, people who come behind me and my family, pray for us, give to us and leave us free to do the ministry God has called us to in the manor He goes about leading us to do it.

    I haven’t had a lot of “partners” seeking to be influential in our work, but I do think this wording leaves harmful expectations for their involvement.

    I know a lot of people disagree with me on this, but I’m tired of misleading supporters with my wording. I want them to be celebrated for what they are doing – lifting us up and supporting us in our work for the Lord!

  2. Lori

    The thought that real partners might interfere with my ministry also popped into my head. If my ministry involved a real partnership, that would mean that I would have a greater responsibility to report back to the team and the team’s desires and opinions would carry more weight. When you are already doing the grunt work, it seems too much to also be answerable to others and to allow them to have an opinion in what I do. I think it’s more fear than anything because I haven’t actually had anyone do that. I just don’t like the idea of it. In that light, it’s understand if missionaries were to object to a change in the paradigm.

    But I guess that’s the problem with me thinking of it as “my ministry”. In reality, it’s not my ministry. It’s a common goal of the collective Church and so much more can be accomplished through a group effort rather than through the efforts of one.

    And the truth is that the more that my supporters are invested in what I am doing, the more helpful they have been and the more than I appreciate them and even turn to them for input. I wish there were more of them. When the rubber meets the road and I am in some kind of crisis, a partner will reach out to rescue me, whereas a sponsor would be more likely to cut the project altogether.

    My only question is when you are involved in a job that is so distant from those who partner with you, how is it possible for them to take on more of the grunt work?

  3. Dave

    There are various types of partnerships, even in the business world. The idea is not that everyone has equal say on every matter. The idea is that everyone has an equal commitment to reaching the goal. Each partner has a role and it is essential that everyone “stays in their lane” if the race is to be won.

  4. Lori

    In which case, having a clear goal that everyone buys into is super important!

  5. Dave

    Bingo, Lori! We did not do so well with that. A number of our supporters thought we worked in Taiwan (instead of Thailand). It would be hard to imagine that they knew much about our actual work (in spite of our writing about it). We rarely heard from ANY of them, but the ones who did respond, who had obviously read what we sent, we worked hard at developing a deeper relationship.

  6. Anonymous

    I can understand some of the fear in the comments above. When one of our sending churches decided to “get more involved”—were they thinking partnership?—we experienced a rush of demands and rules… then no contact again. But what Lori said is really appealing: “When the rubber meets the road and I am in some kind of crisis, a partner will reach out to rescue me, whereas a sponsor would be more likely to cut the project altogether.” I think that’s the real bottom line and difference between partnership and sponsorship.

    I’m looking forward to reading more here and seeing where this series goes. (And maybe I’ll be able to comment later without being anonymous.)

  7. Dave

    Thanks for weighing in, Anonymous. Without a doubt it is tricky (at best) to transition from sponsorship to partnership. Partnership needs to be part of the DNA from the very beginning. More discussion on the way…!

  8. David Grissen

    Our ‘sponsors’ or ‘partners’ or whatever you call them will decide how much they want to be involved with us as we march along.  It seems it’s wise to focus on our own responsibility in the work we do, and one of those is communicating effectively with our partners.  Here’s a tool that could help? 

    Why not view our ‘tribe of followers’ as being in a ‘funnel.’  On top you have those lightly engaged.  The more they interact with us as we go along informing them of prayer requests, financial needs, other needs, victories, defeats, hindrances, breakthroughs, etc. the lower they move in our partnership funnel.  As they interact with us, we should be communicating back special with them.  We could have several categories in our funnel and know who’s where: top: general followers; (2) general engagers (3) one-time donors (4) periodic donors (5) anchor donors.

    These people can be designated in special ‘communications lists’ within Google, MailChimp, or some other provider.  Communications can be ‘targeted’ to each group meeting their needs. In other words, we engage them in partnership at the level they choose.

    If you like this concept, I’ve developed it in depth and in a total ‘partnership development’ model of support in my course, Dynamic Partnership Development, at  There’s a diagram on the website showing the overall concept.  (With you for full funding!)

  9. Dave

    That is a model we followed for years, David. Thanks for sharing that with everyone. One question I want to explore is, Is there a way to have a narrower funnel with a higher percentage of people who are more deeply engaged?