Commercial and bureaucratic hindrances collided with an uncontrollable reality: the faith of many players.
There needs to be a radical and broad new level of commitment to common working.
‘There is no other way society will achieve large-scale progress against urgent and complex problems, unless a collective approach becomes the accepted way of doing business.’
Stanford Institute of Social Innovation Journal, Spring 2012
Manuel Castells, the most frequently cited sociologist of our day, states in the preface to his landmark book, The Rise Of The Network Society: ‘Because networks do not stop at the borders of the nation-state, the network society constituted itself as a global system, ushering in the new form of globalization characteristic of our time.’
The evaluation of effectiveness [in mission networks] is essential to stewardship and is part of the nature of God: planning, executing, and then evaluating. Shortly after what many call the birth of the modern ministry partnership movement in 1986, there was an evident need for evaluation.
Since then, experience of the last 30 years has identified three broad categories that can and should be evaluated:
- The scale of the challenge
- The nature of the network: its development and the effectiveness of its organization and operation - The nature of the network’s outcomes: specificity and realization of stated objectives
By 1990, the emerging partnership movement was evaluating each of these three sectors of information at varying levels of depth and consistency.
1. The challenge: both scale (numbers) and where and who?
The majority of international ministry partnerships over the last 30 years has been focused on some aspect of frontier evangelism. Providing a framework for strategic evaluation was the focus of the early effort of groups such as the Joshua Project, the US Center for World Evangelization (now Frontier Ventures), Operation World, and the research arm of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. There exists an increasingly definitive database of the ‘unfinished’ challenge as these groups share information and continue to refine methodology. Currently a global network of researchers regularly track progress and share information to update the databases.
2. The nature of the network
Here, two issues emerged:
a. Key elements of effective partnership development could be defined and documented. In other words, progress toward a potentially effective collaboration could be evaluated. These elements are broadly grouped into assessment of three ‘stages’ of development:
- Exploration (research and due diligence) · Formation (the critical go/no-go stage based on consensus)
- Operation (clear vision, achievable objectives, and full partner engagement)
b. Key indicators of partnership operational effectiveness were defined. These shape the likelihood of the partnership realizing its primary or other specific, related objectives. Among those agreed key indicators are:
- Levels of prayer support
- Clarity and specificity of objectives
- Strength and continuity of leadership/facilitation
- Limited achievable, measurable near-term objectives
- Clear definition of timelines and responsibility
- Effectiveness of internal communications
- Levels of partner engagement
- Commitment to regular network evaluation
Examples of both evaluation tools and of objectives set and realized in the two broad categories above can be found here.
3. The nature of the network’s outcomes: realization of stated objectives
As the partnership/collaboration movement matured, of particular significance was the realization that time and ability to achieve certain objectives was a critical consideration.
Collaboration objectives and the potential for their evaluation fell into a range of short to medium term objectives as well as longer- term ones. Naturally, the formation and effective operation of partnerships fell more within the influence of those working to launch and sustain these partnerships.
The ‘big picture’ outcomes often related to enormously challenging Great Commission issues. Typically, these outcomes called for change of centuries old patterns and complex variables that were not directly influenced, much less controlled, by the partnerships.
Recommendations on ways forward
1. There needs to be a radical and broad new level of commitment to common working, acknowledging that effectively addressing challenges such as the fulfilment of the Great Commission can only be done collaboratively. Inresponse, ministry leadership, field personnel, Boards of Trustees, and kingdom investors need strongly to affirm, support, and engage in practical collective action.
2. Based on widely acknowledged secular research, funders need to take a serious look at their investments in single ministry, single strategy approaches, as opposed to collective approaches such as effectively operated ministry networks and partnerships.
3. Kingdom investors must get behind specific initiatives to develop common language, categories for evaluation, and standards of documentation and reporting. Their efforts will have a disproportionate impact, certainly ‘getting the attention’ of field ministry leadership.
4. A global, coordinated documentation of developing and operating partnerships similar to the documentation done from 1990–2000 would provide extraordinary dividends for both operations personnel and kingdom investors alike. This is an ideal opportunity for real collaboration.
5. Working discussions should be launched between funders, ministry leadership, and seasoned partnership practitioners to explore practical action on common vocabulary in defining the nature and specific elements of critical sectors of ministry operations and collective efforts and common standards for evaluation of kingdom-focused collaborative initiatives.
Phill Butler has worked in over 70 countries as the founder of three faith-based, international non-profit organizations: Intercristo, Interdev, then visionSynergy where he now serves as Senior Strategy Advisor. He is the author of the book Well Connected: Releasing Power, Restoring Hope Through Kingdom Partnerships, now in circulation in eight languages.
This article appeared in the January 2017 edition of Vista magazine. It is an extract from ‘Is our collaboration for the Kingdom effective’ by Phill Butler, which originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis and is published here with permission. To receive this free bimonthly publication from the Lausanne Movement, subscribe online at www.lausanne.org/analysis.