Partnership vs Sponsorship

Feb 25, 2016 | Fundraising, Missionary Care, New Wine: The future, The Way I See Things

Yesterday we started a discussion about the paradigm in which we conduct missions, missions fundraising, and missionary care. It was prompted by this quote from Ron Blue:

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

So what exactly is the difference between the two? And why does it make any difference? Let’s start with some definitions.


Partnership:  A relationship between individuals or groups that is characterized by mutual cooperation and responsibility, as for the achievement of a specified goal.

Sponsorship: One that finances a project, event, or organization directed by another person or group, such as a business enterprise that pays for radio or television programming in return for advertising time.**


Did you notice the primary characteristics of each?


  • Mutual cooperation
  • Mutual responsibility
  • Achievement of a mutual goal


  • Finances (funds) the work
  • Work directed (and carried out) by someone else


Partnership means that everyone has “skin in the game.” Responsibilities may be divvied up, but every partner has a vital and strategic role. And every partner has a clear understanding of the common goal, along with a desire to see it reached. Community is critical to success of the project. Every member must do their part if the goal is to be reached.

Sponsorship is detached. While a sponsor may show deeper interest in the project, he is not required to. As long as he continues to provide the funding the project has the potential (supposedly) to move forward. He is not usually involved in the forming of strategy or implementation of plans. He is a vicarious participant, at best, while the one sponsored carries the real responsibility for achieving the goal. This reduces missions to a spectator sport.


The Great Mission was given to the Church. I don’t believe that vicarious involvement was in God’s mind when he issued it. More on that next week.

In the mean time, what do you think? Which of these two paradigms would you say describes the current primary approach to missions?


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



  1. Lori

    I have to admit that with regard to the two missionaries that I support, it’s definitely a sponsorship. I’m not a part of any of their sending churches, which I think is a significant detail. One rarely writes and I feel like I really don’t know what is going on in their lives. The others are good communicators and I feel more connected to them but I still don’t do much other than send in my money and send them a gift card for Christmas. I guess I don’t have a very skin-in-the-game kind of attitude. What can I do to develop that, especially with the ones who are communicating? I guess I could start by asking them what they need. The problem is that if what they need is finances, I can’t give much more right now.

  2. Dave

    Think like an advocate. Ask them how you can help promote their ministry.

  3. Anna

    This is a good explanation.  🙂  I’m going to use it in the future.

  4. Laura

    It’s interesting that you are writing on this topic. A new church recently wrote us about supporting our ministry—great news! We personally know the pastor, but have never been to the church or city. I asked the pastor what kind of relationship the church was hoping to have with us, which is essentially the heart of this topic. Is the church hoping to sponsor or partner? maybe it was odd of me to ask straight up like that, but it beats them dropping us in a few years because we didn’t live up to their expectations.

  5. Lori

    I think it’s great that you had the courage to be direct. I wonder what their answer will be?

  6. Dave

    Laura, I think you hit the nail on the head. It is essential that senders understand and establish the right type of relationship with sent ones. Effective missionary care rarely flows out of sponsorships.