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Sister Churches and the Friendship Principle by Faith & Leadership

As researcher Janet Kragt Bakker puts it, "Just as having a sister doesn’t mean you have a good sibling relationship, so too having a sister church does not automatically entail a good sister church relationship." In this article, Bakker draws on her research to explore how congregations in North America can foster more fruitful relationships with congregations around the world whom they consider "sister" churches. The answer? Friendship.

Like bad sibling relationships, unhealthy sister church relationships can be dominated by conflict, with patterns of bad behavior on both sides. But even with good intentions, I’ve found, North American congregations in these relationships are especially prone to err.

Often, they give lip service to the idea of sharing power with their partners but “know better” when it comes to which curriculum to use, what color to paint the chapel and how to cook the rice.

They may generously finance projects but forget to ask their partners whether they even want a given project—while making sure to ask for receipts.

Decision making is often ill-defined, or decisions are made unilaterally by the partner with greater capital. The wealthier partner either assumes that money is of no consequence or uses money to control the relationship.

Sometimes Northern partners use Southern partners as accessories to exotic experiences; Southern partners can use Northern partners as bank accounts.

North American participants may place their partners from the global South on a pedestal for being “beautiful” or “happy” despite abject poverty, or place them on a footstool for being “bad with money” or “unmotivated.”

Conversely, participants from Southern churches may elevate their Northern partners for connections to “the good life,” or look down on them for “decadence” or “individualism.”

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