As the Western church becomes increasingly missional, in the social sense, partnerships with non-profits are increasing. There’s a lot of sense to this. However, we must be leery of thinking that social partnerships with non-profits produces missional churches. In fact, we need to be more thoughtful about the “if”and “when” we partner with non-profits, especially if our churches are driven by missional communities.

Tim Chester’s blog entry on “shifting missional foci” is spot on for determining the focus of missional communities. Austin City Life has discovered that if we lock into a strategic social partnership, without being willing to revisit or review our missional emphasis, we run the risk of not following the Holy Spirit. God could  be doing something very significant in an area that we refuse to examine because a MC is already committed in one place. The question that “shifting missional foci” raises, then, is what criteria do you use to evaluate your missional focus? Do you pull out of a long-term partnership? When? Why? How do you do that without offending the non-profit you are working with? These are important questions for both MC leaders and church planters to answer.

To be sure, non-profits often have more wisdom, experience, and legal structures to facilitate effective social mission. However, we have come to the conclusion that working with a non-profit just because you believe in their vision and work isn’t sufficient. For example, if you have to drive 30 minutes to serve you may be neglecting needs in your own community. ACL is in the process of recalibrating our City Group missional foci along increasingly localized lines. By focusing more on “neighborhoods of the city” as opposed to the “city of neighborhoods”, missional communities can more effectively renew the peoples and cultures of your city. For us, this means that we won’t be “non-profit driven”, but will try to follow the Spirit as missionary communities in our own neighborhoods.

So the question is not should we partner with non-profits, but when and where should we partner with them. Sometimes it will be best to not partner and other times it will be best. In all this, I believe the quality of missionaries in our churches needs to go up and default reliance on existing social structures go down. What do you think?