Have you ever been frustrated by a friend who invited you out to lunch only to discover their real motive for the invitation was to sell you cosmetics or vitamins? Did the luncheon built on false pretenses grow your friendship, or did it disappoint you that your friend had been less than totally honest with you?
I sometimes wonder if our churches feel the same way. They receive a call from their local pregnancy center asking if the director could stop by for a short visit to say hello, only to discover the real motive was to ask for a donation, to be included in the church budget, or to do a baby bottle promotion.
While the church should be our natural partner in helping to save babies from abortion, our relationship must be based on trust and respect for each other's ministry. That means we take the time to get to know each other, build friendships, and learn what goals we have in common. It also means that we are totally honest when making the appointment. Building strong partnerships with local churches is far too important to sabotage the results by not treating everyone we meet with respect and total honesty.
What is the all-too-frequent approach a center takes in approaching a new church? We write a letter of introduction to a new church, describe the work of the ministry, and ask if the church will distribute baby bottles on a given Sunday. The church doesn't respond, and we write them off as uncaring.
Perhaps we ask for a meeting with the pastor of First Baptist Church. We are unsuccessful in our request; we continue to call the secretary; and after several calls, we finally get a meeting. The pastor is friendly but non-committal, and we walk away saying it's hopeless. The church just doesn't understand and will never support us. We scratch that church off our list and go on to Second Baptist where the same scenario is repeated. What's wrong with that picture?
No one took the time to prepare. I know the answer, because all too often as development director for a center, that scenario describes the way I went about approaching churches. I didn't take the time to get to know the church before I walked in with my hand out wanting something. I didn't take the time to build a relationship.
So where do we start in building that relationship? During my years with the North American Mission Board, I asked this question of several former pastors who were now staff members at the Board. Their answers were varied, but most of them included some or most of the following suggestions:
- Remember that building a relationship is a long-term process. It will not happen overnight.
- Before approaching the church, take the time to find out as much as you can about it—size, staff members, the right person with whom to meet, the denominational stance on abortion, and if you have a volunteer or donor who attends the church. Start with the ones that research shows to be the most likely to support your ministry.
- Your first contact with a new church will most likely be through the church secretary. If time permits, stop by the church in person rather than trying to make an appointment by phone. Introduce yourself and your ministry, and ask to set up an appointment with the appropriate staff or lay person to tell them about the services your center can provide to the church's members. In all likelihood, that person will not be the pastor. If it's a large church, you will want to meet with the staff person or volunteer who shares your passion for helping women. Therefore, your best appointment is probably with the most influential woman in the church—the women's staff person, the wife of the chairman of the deacons, or perhaps even the pastor's wife. Until you have a conversation with a staff secretary, you really don't know who that person is. Once you have the name of the appropriate person, tell her the church secretary suggested you call her. If possible, invite her to lunch or a cup of coffee, preferably at the center in order to show her the ministry. The beginning of a real relationship will then begin to happen.
In the next issue, we will talk about how to prepare for and conduct the initial meeting that will lead to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the local church.
Elaine Ham is Founder and PRC Business Coach for Plans For You, Inc., a consulting company she and her husband Tom founded in 2000 to train and assist pro-life organizations. The highly successful company has helped raise over $65,000,000 in operational funds for over 1,300 organizations through their Baby Bottle Boomerang program. Elaine trains pregnancy centers in evangelism, fundraising, board management, and other areas tailored to fit your center's needs. She can be reached at Elaine@plansforyou.org or by calling 770-401-5216.