Preventing Inter-Church Conflict with Written Agreements
Relationships between American and immigrant churches are more likely to break down because of smells in the kitchen than because of language barriers or doctrinal disagreements. Just as wise dating couples discuss as many aspects of marriage as possible, wise churches plan in advance for commonly seen issues that arise in church relationships. The best way to prevent disagreements between churches before they arise is to compose a written agreement.
It probably doesn’t need to be a legal document or Memorandum of Understanding, but a simply written (and possibly bilingual) document that states both parties’ responsibilities. It should be based on an understanding that the ultimate owner of the church facility is Jesus Christ, and that all will strive to best manage the facility Christ has entrusted to them according to principles with which both parties agree.
And it should be based on an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Because 1 Corinthians 13:7 tells us that “Love believes all things, hopes all things”, believers should give each other the benefit of the doubt when property damage or other issues inevitably arise.
Composing a written agreement is the 3rd of our 7 keys to facilitating healthy relationships between American and immigrant churches. You can read the entire list in a previous blog.
Instead of providing you with a default template to fill in, we feel it best to list the issues that most commonly arise so your congregations can write agreements that best fit them. Here are some questions you should address:
- What parts of the host church facility and parking lot will the guest church be able to access?
- At what times will the guest church have weekly access to these facilities? Will they be able to request special one-time events? How much advance notice does the host church request for such events? What persons from each congregation need to be notified?
- Who will receive keys or access cards to the church? Can they make copies and distribute them?
- Will the host church require the guest church to carry its own liability insurance? If so, who will pay the premiums?
- What areas of the host church facility will be open to the children of the guest church? Does the host church have a policy forbidding unattended children on its grounds?
- Does the host church require those engaged in children’s ministries to pass a criminal background check? Please understand that this is a sensitive issue for those who do not yet hold a green card or citizenship.
- What are the host church’s guidelines for the use of heating, air conditioning, sound systems, computers, lighting and other equipment?
- What are the host church’s expectations of the guest church regarding cleaning after each use of the facility, disposal of trash, and liability for spills, stains and damage to facilities?
- What access will the guest church have to the use of the kitchen, refrigerator and dining areas? What expectations does the host church have regarding aromas in these areas?
- Who are the point persons in each church who will communicate regarding all of these issues? If there is need for translation, who will serve as translator? What means will these parties use to communicate—text, email or other means?
- Who is responsible to communicate these expectations to the members of each congregation?
If you address these issues, you will be ahead of most congregations as they launch into relationships with other churches.
If you are in an existing relationship with another church and do not yet have such a written agreement, it’s wise to wait for an opportune time to raise the issue. Proposing such a detailed document when none has existed before may communicate mistrust or disappointment to your sister congregation. In Key #1 we shared that the most important aspect of a connection between churches is a shared spiritual passion, lived out by prayer gatherings between pastors. Perhaps during such a meeting, when both sides are being affirmed and edified, timely opportunity will arise to suggest a written agreement.
As the American church discusses these things with its immigrant friends, it should be aware of the power gap between them and of different cultural perspectives regarding time and communications. We will turn our attention to these issues in upcoming blogs.