Sunday, August 23, 2009

How do you merge a church?

It's a question I'm going to have find out the answer to because it's a question I'm now facing. The Grange Free Church have approached North Shrewsbury Community Church about the possibility of combining forces. This is both exciting and daunting. Here are just some of the questions I'm considering, feel free to chip in with your thoughts.
  1. There are legal issues. Two existing trusts and charities need uniting. This will be complicated and possibly time consuming. It may also be the least of my worries.
  2. There are relational issues. For starters my Dad is the pastor of The Grange and while he is a humble man, I'm still learning humility and both will be needed. My Grandma is a founder and active member of the church. In addition to that and more importantly the members of the churches need to get to know each other and build trust, friendship and community.
  3. There are financial issues. Resources will need re-considering, budgets will need re-writing, salaries and staffing will need reviewing. In addition to wise planning and sound stewardship we will need to resource a fresh plan for vision & growth.
  4. There are leadership issues. New leadership will need to be accepted, positions relinquished, new roles taken up. In every area we will need people to value mission more than position and the think first of the church as a whole rather than me in my role. Leaders (and I'm talking about myself here) will need new degrees of leadership skills and abilities to see this tough challenge through.
  5. There are style issues. The two churches have very different demographics, very different cultures and very different worship styles. From this diversity, unity needs to emerge that is neither a compromise that satisfies no-one nor a take-over that leaves some wounded and bruised, but a fresh discovery of the call of God on a new people.
  6. There are generational issues. The old will need to accept the young and the young accept and honour the old.
  7. There are theological issues. There always are. In the fundamentals, I already know we have broad agreement but it's unlikely to be those things we trip over instead it will be whether we can agree to disagree on the same things or whether we discover theological fault lines that we just can't cross.
  8. There are evangelistic issues. This could be very time consuming, can we keep on reaching out while we manage this process.
  9. There are practical issues. Where will we meet? When will we meet? How will we meet?
  10. There are spiritual issues. We need to continue to hear God, to know His will and to be honouring in our decisions and our methods.
Doubtless there are more issues and as we go along, I'll fill in some details. For those of you who pray, any prayers for us as we step along this journey would be much appreciated.


Al Shaw on 24 August 2009 at 05:15 said...

The late John Wimber used to say that there is no such thing as a church merge.

One of the churches always has to die.

Sorry if that sounds negative. But I think it's worth hearing that from someone with a lot more experience than most of us have on the matter.


Phil on 24 August 2009 at 09:10 said...

Thanks Al - Wimber is probably right in that you can't keep doing what you've always done. Some things have to go.

Peter Kirk on 24 August 2009 at 09:55 said...

I can't help wondering why your two churches would want to merge, in any formal sense, rather than just work closely together and pool resources.

Is it because one of the churches is nearly dying and has become unviable? If so, in practice that one would in effect have to die - following John Wimber's dictum. Or an alternative might be an agreed transfer of resources (people and financial) from the viable church to the unviable one to make two viable churches. Or you make a building sharing agreement without any kind of formal merger.

Is it because the two churches are located right on top of one another and so working with the same target group? In that case it might make sense for one of them to move to a less well served area as a kind of church plant, with the other facilitating the move e.g. by buying up some of the redundant facilities and by offering some of its people who live in the new area.

Is it because Shrewsbury already has too many good live churches? A good problem to have, but somehow I doubt it.

Is it because of some doctrine that big churches are better than small? I think if you look at the statistics you will find that two small churches work better in terms of growth and outreach than one big one.

Or is it because both are small and can't see any other way to grow, or to avoid withering away? That sounds to me like a step of despair. Assuming that there are still plenty of non-Christians in your city, the way to grow is to reach out to them, not to merge with other Christians.

I hope this doesn't sound presumptuous. But it seems to me that a merger, with all the difficulties you have foreseen, needs to have a very clear reason. Otherwise it will be a major distraction from your joint life and witness.

Also I remember what happened when two denominations merged to form the United Reformed Church. Significant minorities on either side refused to join up and the result was three new denominations rather than one. So you need to make sure that the vast majority on either side are behind any merger, or you might end up with three new churches instead of one.

Phil on 24 August 2009 at 10:23 said...

Hi Peter
Thanks for the comment - rather than responding to your questions in a comment, I'll do that in a later post.

Anonymous said...


Can I suggest that you talk to Ian Galloway of City Church Newcastle about this? Back in 1994 / 1995 He was involved in a highly successfull merging of two churches, Covenant Church Tyneside and Kingsland churches which came together to form City Church Newcastle.

They had all the usual issues to deal with including the two churches being in different streams and having a slightly different theological focus.

God really blessed the church which went from two small churches to a not so small church which then exploded across the city to become a major force for God in the north east.

This church has since planed out churches or people to Glasgow, edinburgh, northumberland, perth (scotland), dundee, and aukland (NZ)

The merger was done with love, compassion and care and a great deal of teaching!



Phil on 24 August 2009 at 14:52 said...

Thanks Alistair, you're the second person today that recommended I speak to Ian. I shall be wise and do exactly that!

Jason said...

Hey mate,

There is a church in Bristol that has successfully brought together three separate churches. It is healthily growing two years after the 'launch'. No doubt there are many other churches that have done similar things down throught the centuries.

Of course in all cases the pre-requisit is God given vision and continued revelation and guidance. Without God given vision the answers to the issues you listed will be without purpose for this scenario anyway.

Once you are sure of God's vision for this you will be able to work through all of those issues and many more with the confidence, peace and wisdom that only comes when you are walking in step with God and His purposes.

Praying for you mate!


Anonymous said...

I am involved in a merger, maybe...still in the discussion involves a church that the demographics have changed 82% black, we have tried outreach to no avail...children but no parents...the merger would be with a church 10 miles away that has a smaller church but a mortgage that they cannot afford...The demographics are much better 50%..We have the money to make the payment and the property to sell and pay off the mortgage...hopefully we can assure that the old building will become a black church serving the community and eventually purchasing from us....if we can accomplish both things.. I think that it will be successful...I do agree on one thing, this has to be based on forming a new church..they have no pastor so this is not an issue but we have to be like a marriage leave and can not be 2 bodies under contract or a learners permit...insanity is thinking you can continue to do the same thing with a different result. Mergers are possible between submitted Surrendered Christians..not power hungry individuals.

Richard Burgess on 27 June 2011 at 09:04 said...

Last year we felt the Lord clearly guide us to merge our church with another in the town. It wasn’t something we were looking for, or necessarily needed.

To cut a long story short, we felt God speak to us at the beginning of July 2010, we then processed this as elders, shared what we felt God was saying with the church at the end of August (which came as a complete surprise, yet the Lord had already began to prepare some for a change), discussed, prayed, compared our philosophy of ministry, opened all lines of communication in order to hear from and help the church, had the leaders of Gateway come and share with the church followed by a question and answer session, met one on one with those who wanted to, had a couple of joint Sunday meetings and then completed the merge on January 1st 2011.

The interesting thing is how it has surprised others (the church has a good history of the blessing of God), and it seems that most have wondered why we did it (it seems that division is more accepted!) but there’s no doubt that God was and is in it, he has graced and guided all the way, and it couldn’t have gone better.

The result is we now have a church with a wider gift mix, and we feel we can do more together than we could apart.

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