Church mergers are an option many congregations consider during a time when their attendance is in decline. These type of arrangements can often be a great blessing and result in some genuine growth in many areas. I have read of many church mergers that worked out well and a church merger may be exactly what the Lord would have your congregation accomplish. However, I have personally known of two that didn’t work out well at all. These situations left in their wake untold damage to both congregations, their ministers and the communities.
Before Proceeding With A Church Merger
Before proceeding with a church merger there should be some clearly defined terms and understanding between both congregations or trouble will no doubt arise. So, before moving forward, it’s always good to be as informed as possible and to do so thoughtfully and prayerfully. Equip yourself with a good understanding of what it will mean to your congregation. I realize that every church merger is different because of the congregations involved, the motive behind the merger and the individual circumstances. In any church merger it is very easy for the receiving church to lose it’s identity by the influx of different theological, leadership, worship, music and ministry styles. This can breed resentment and controversy. Make sure that you and your congregation know the issues, vote on the issues and establish negotiables from non-negotiables.
4 Reasons Not To “Combine” Activities Too Soon
I don’t recommend doing combined or “trial” worship services or fellowship activities until the items below are negotiated and settled upon.
- Not A Good Test. Combined worship and activities are simply not a good test of “compatibility”. Let’s be honest, it’s natural for everyone to put on their “best face”, especially if one group has more to gain than the other.
- Unnecessary Anxiety. It’s too easy for emotional attachments to form quickly. If the merger “falls through” on a major issue, as some of those I’ve listed below, it can create additional emotional anxiety for both churches.
- Possibility Of Departure. Due to the possible bonds created with the people and their ministry philosophies of the other church, some many actually leave one congregation to join the other, leaving an already struggling church with even less members.
- Still Division. Even if the merger is “successful” you’ll no doubt face the “us” and “them” issue down the road. I have seen congregations have a “successful” merger, and yet remain two separate congregations under one roof. At the beginning all went well, but differences arose of minor issues and individuals from both former congregations wound up leaving the new merger.
There are probably other models regarding church mergers, but these are the two that immediately come to mind. Let’s look at some of the things that should be considered before doing a merger. These certainly aren’t the only considerations but are only listed to provide food for thought.
Clarifying The Term “Church Merger”
First, the term “merger” can be rather subjective and so clarifying the matter is very important at the onset, before any serious discussion can begin. The two main types of “church mergers” are :
1. The creation of a new church by the dissolving of two equal churches
2. The assimilation of a smaller or weaker church into a stronger church
Performing A Church Merger By Dissolving Two Equals
In this model a new church is formed, both churches are dissolved along with the church names. Due diligence must be performed regarding legal and financial issues and new documents must reflect the change. A new name must be selected and a new constitution, doctrinal statement and mission statement must be written. Old membership roles are dissolved and individuals must officially join the newly created church. And, new officers must be selected by the new congregation.
Performing A Church Merger By Assimilation
In this model one ministry must be completely dissolved, including leadership and membership roles, and assimilated into the receiving church. The outstanding financial and legal matters of the dissolving church must be settled before the assimilation can occur, unless otherwise agreed upon. The dissolving church membership must go through the process of officially joining the receiving church. The receiving church must be sure that each individual being assimilated fully understands and are in agreement with their constitution, doctrinal statement and mission. The dissolving church membership must be clear on their roll in the receiving church.
10 Crucial Questions To Answer Before Merging:
- What are your motives for a church merger?
- Do you have a steering committee to facilitate the change?
- Do you have clearly defined steps for the church merger?
- By what percentage of votes will the congregation proceed through each step?
- What are your contingency plans if there is a breakdown in the process?
- Is there full financial and legal disclosure on the part of both congregations?
- How will any outstanding debts be handled?
- Do you have clear guidelines regarding the leadership positions and functions before proceeding?
- Do you realize that there are other factors regarding compatibility, especially those involving individual preferences?
- Most importantly, do the congregations agree on doctrine, worship, music and ministry style?
A church merger can be a great blessing, but to avoid unnecessary conflicts do some homework first, pray for guidance and proceeded in carefully laid out steps.