I am a fan of church mergers. It takes Kingdom-minded people to be willing to humble themselves and carry through with the blending of two separate churches. I am always impressed with the people involved. I believe we will see even more of them in the future.
Although I do not have the expertise of my friends Jim Tomberlin or Warren Bird (I highly recommend their work and book on the topic), I have been a student of the “movement” for more than a decade.
It is a long story for another post, but it was learning about church mergers (and in part this video) that eventually led me to leave a very successful church plant and pastor an established church. We were able to accomplish a successful church merger.
Just recently my son, Nate successfully led the merger of two churches. I can tell you, biased of course, that it might have been one of the best handled I have observed.
I have also walked with a number of friends through church mergers.
Churches merging together could result in saving both churches and it is one way healthy churches are growing today.
In my experience and observation, there are some common practices among mergers that are successful.
For clarity sake, many times merger is the word used and it is actually an acquisition. Either way, the same pieces come into play.
Here are 7 essentials in church mergers:
Budge on non-essentials.
Every pastor has a vision for what they want a church to be. The truth is, however, not everything matters. Be willing to let go of those things which are preferences, but simply not mission critical.
For example, I watched my son move services to the room of one of the churches he helped merge. It wasn’t the room he actually preferred, but it was one that satisfied the most people. And it has worked.
Don’t budge on essentials.
Some things do matter and they are worth holding out for. One that we simply couldn’t budge on, for example, was who held title to the building. While this was the messiest one to navigate through it was one of the most important. If one church is going to invest significant resources into another there needs to be an incentive to do so.
We once lost the opportunity to merge with another church, because they wanted us to agree never to pave any more parking. It wasn’t something we could guarantee long-term. In fact, they needed new parking immediately, in our opinion.
Honor the honorable past.
There will be things worth remembering and celebrating. If there’s not I would probably reconsider merging.
Soak up wisdom all you can.
Learn all the history you can. Listen to people who have been in the church for years. They may not even like the changes that need to be made, but they have valuable insight into the church upon which you can build. I have also found that people are less resistant if they feel they have been heard.
Take your time.
As much as you can, go slowly through the process to make sure you cover everything. This isn’t always possible. Sometimes you need to move fast. We once moved in a matter of a couple of months. And there is such a thing as opportunity cost if you delay too long.
But time is a valuable commodity and should be used well. Stretch it out when possible.
Build on individual strengths.
Find common strengths in both churches that you can share. Don’t assume one church has all the answers.
For example, if one church has a feeding ministry that has existed for years and it works, two churches together might make the ministry even stronger.
Make sure documentation is legal and clear.
This is the hard part. You want to handle this delicately and with grace, but you also have to handle the legal and business aspects in a way that protects all parties.
For certain you need an attorney and you may need a professional audit done. Invest in getting professional help, even if that is a mediator between the church’s leadership.
(If you are in the process of merger talks and I can help in a consulting capacity, please let me know.)