When I started researching churches that had declined, sold their buildings or closed, I couldn’t find many happy stories about church mergers. Some judicatory leaders would say dismissively, “Oh, we’ve tried those, but they never work very well.” In one urban area, I found a cluster of churches that had chosen what they called “blending”–informal mergers in which one church sold their building and migrated en masse to another church, taking their assets with them, but without enacting a legal merger. Some of these “blendings” have worked out fine in the long term; one resulted in disappointment over the management of financial legacies.
Some of the misgivings I’ve heard about mergers include:
- One church always resents giving things up to merge with the other;
- When two struggling churches merge out of desperation for survival, they generally become ONE church desperate for survival, which is not really an improvement;
- Although two churches might share denominational roots and geographic location, they may be light years apart culturally or theologically, or may even have some enmity between them in their past.
These kinds of comments made me reticent about suggesting churches explore merger. But recently, I am seeing more positive stories of successful mergers. Here’s an article about two Episcopal churches in Akron that discerned the call to gradually merge their churches and sell one of their buildings. It seems to have worked because each congregation was sensitive to the others’ differences and needs, and they took their time developing common ministries and worship before they made a final decision. One sign of their success is that a substantial number of members have joined since the merger occured ten years ago.
I have a couple colleagues who are currently working on a merger project. They have painstakingly formed joint exploration groups to study how different aspects of their two ministries might become one.
And a 2012 publication, “Better Together”, by Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird, suggests that new approaches to merger may hold some promise.
There is more for me to learn about mergers. (This may require adding a chapter to my book!). Let me know if you have a happy or sad merger story to share.
Thanks to Joe Duggan for sharing the above story on his Facebook page: Congregational Seasons.