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I was having lunch with a friend the other day whose church is contemplating merging with another church in their area.
She had concerns about the possible merger and had lots of questions. I shared that church mergers need to be considered carefully.
What if another church initiates a merger?
Their pastor was approached by the leadership of the other church and was offered the invitation to merge churches.
Their ministry had experienced significant church growth and had outgrown its current facility.
The other church has a larger facility that could accommodate its membership – which makes the merger appealing to them.
She asked me what I thought, and these are some things I suggested that she and their board consider before making such a big decision.
In most mergers, one organization takes the lead, and the second organization gets absorbed by culture, policies, practices, and leadership.
Taking time to consider all aspects of a merger can help to ensure it is the right decision for both churches and translates into a smooth transition.
Merging Churches – 10 Things to Consider
1. Church Doctrine
The body of Christ encompasses lots of people. However, even within the Christian faith, there is a lot of diversity in beliefs, practices, and cultural norms.
Most of the differences don’t have anything to do with the deity of Jesus, but there are doctrinal differences that sometimes create church conflict.
For example, one should consider how each church views controversial issues such as abortion, gay marriage, or gifts of the spirit.
It is imperative that (to successfully merge two bodies of believers) they are doctrinally on the same page.
2. Church Culture
The culture of a church dictates social norms.
Blending two different cultures can sometimes create conflict because social norms, even slightly different, can affect how a church community makes decisions, communicates, and behaves.
Questions to ask might be:
Will the church be contemporary or conservative? For instance, are church services formal or casual? Traditional or contemporary in its programming?
What are the expectations for members? For instance, are members required to attend a new membership class? Are members required to tithe? Are members expected to volunteer?
How are members involved in decisions? For instance, do members vote on decisions made on behalf of the church? Do members vote on the annual budget?
What will the worship experience be like? Is the music hymns or contemporary Christian music? Is worship loud or quiet?
Are there different demographic audiences? For instance, does the church cater to young families, or is the church made up of primarily older adults? What programs are offered for each demographic?
These differences could be a source of conflict, making it important to define the culture before the merger.
3. Church Governance
Consider the governance and rewriting the bylaws and articles of incorporation to adequately represent both churches.
Questions to ask might be:
- What will the process be to merge the two governing boards?
- How will church leadership roles be determined?
- What will the new hierarchy look like?
- Will the merger impact church employees or volunteer leadership?
Figuring out the governing model will greatly influence the merger and set the leadership direction and decision-making authority for the church.
4. Church Assets
Both churches should consider if there will be a total merger of all assets or if each maintains its own financial identity.
There can be issues with either scenario but coming to terms with how assets will be handled is crucial.
This step would require bringing in outside help to objectively assess and value assets.
5. Church Mission and Vision
People who are called into ministry are operating out of a vision and mission from God.
This mission provides a specific direction for what the church is to do, who they are to reach and the approach to spreading the gospel.
Church missions may be slightly different.
This doesn’t make one right and one wrong, but it does create a tension for which mission will be followed when the two churches join together.
6. Church Leadership
You will need to determine who will assume leadership of the joined churches.
Someone must take lead responsibility. Your team will need to determine who that lead person will be and the role others will take.
This will be an important and sensitive conversation.
Volunteer leadership should also be considered.
Consider if there are strong leaders in the volunteer realm. Ask, how will those positions be considered and how you decide who takes lead?
Basically, what will the new decision-making process look like and who will become the identified leader.
7. Employee Compensation
Combining compensation models is always a source of tension in a merger.
It should be determined before the merger what the combined approach will be for compensation and benefits of church employees.
Use a third party to wade through issues and to provide some objectivity through best practices.
8. Church Communication
The way church communication is handled is a cultural thing, and determining an agreed-upon communication process, is critical to a smooth transition.
How a church culture communicates can vary greatly, so take the church communication process into consideration as you sort through issues.
For instance, create a timeline for communication to both churches and share the same information, the same way, and at the same time to avoid miscommunication and misunderstandings.
9. Church Vote
Consider if church members get a vote in this, or is this a board decision?
This question should be considered very carefully because you want to bring everyone on board and don’t want to lose members in the process.
You need to remember that people who support a church often feel like they should have a say in major decisions.
Create a process to discuss and debate issues with members. This step can be culturally healthy and worth the time investment.
10. Church Location
A church’s location can have a major impact on its ability to serve its members.
You might want to discuss things like:
- Will the churches move to one or the other campus or will the two churches combine assets and move to a completely new campus?
- What would be the facility requirement of the joined congregations and would either of the current church campuses meet those needs?
- Will moving to a new campus result in losing church members because of distance?
- Are both groups in agreement on resource allocations to facilitates? For example, is a designated youth facility an investment both parties want to make?
Is a Merger Always the Right Decision?
There are definite advantages and disadvantages to both large and small churches.
Small churches allow the pastor to know the members on a personal level and allows him to shepherd them on an individual basis.
Larger churches have more resources that can provide programs and services that might not be financially doable by a smaller church.
Either way – time, consideration, counsel – and lots of prayer should go into a major decision such as a merger between two churches.
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