Church Merger: Are You “Better Together”?

Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, Lahishin, Belarus

Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, Lahishin, Belarus

If you are part of a small church and you’re thinking about merging with another  church, you may want to pick up a recent publication called “Better Together”  by Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird (Jossey-Bass, 2012).  This book has some valuable advice about the potential for church mergers that couple a “lead church” with a “joining church”.

It is written primarily to independent, evangelical churches, and most of the examples come from younger, healthy congregations (“lead churches”) that grow their ministry’s effectiveness by joining with smaller churches (“joining churches”).  The mergers often result in one congregation being folded into another, or, in some cases, a multi-site church using two or more buildings.

Some useful nuggets in this book include a chapter on how to determine if your church is a good candidate for a merger, and practical lists of administrative and staffing issues to address in carrying out a merger.  I appreciated the stories about multi-site churches (in which a unified staff leads congregations in several locations).  This is an emerging model for ministry being experimented with.

Here are some reasons the authors believe churches should consider merging:

  • To be better together than each church is individually
  • To begin a new church life cycle
  • To reach more people and make a greater difference for Christ
  • To better serve your local community
  • To maximize use of church facilities

They also point out that many mergers fail because two desperate churches in decline try working together as a last ditch effort to stay open.  These mergers are “motivated more by survival concerns than by vision.”

If you are from a denominational tradition that values lay-led ministry, some of the merger stories in this book may rub you the wrong way.  The churches cited tend to be strongly pastor-led and free of the encumbrances of denominational oversite. (The authors claim a merger can be completed in a year or less…on which planet, I wonder?).  They also fail to adequately address the unique sense of community that is formed in congregations with deep roots, and how difficult it is for these churches to relinquish their identities.  Nevertheless, Tomberlin and Bird have some practical things to say about why some mergers  have not worked in the past, and how they can work in the future.

I would recommend this book to anyone considering a merger, even if you have to “translate” the guidance offered for your own situation.  Just be sure you keep the most important question in front of you:

Can we accomplish more effective ministry together than we can separately?

*Photo by Y. Yaroshko, licensed by Wikimedia Commons

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