As some churches today find that they are no longer sustainable, they seek alternatives for the future. One of these options is merging with another church. This happened with my home church in Mobile, Alabama, about three decades ago. They found themselves unable to continue to minister in the neighborhood where they were located and merged with another congregation that welcomed their resources—both financial and personnel.
I have also seen the aftermath of several church mergers—both successful and unsuccessful. I am not an expert on church mergers but became involved in a text exchange this week with a colleague on the subject.
As we texted back and forth on this, I reflected on the mergers that I have observed and realized pretty quickly the key factor in a successful merger. The key is, “Does this merger have a clear mission?”
If the motivation is primarily survival, the possibility of success is limited. The survival motive is usually based on one of these ideas:
“If we can just get an infusion of new blood, we can continue to do the things we have always been doing.” This person is in denial. The value of blood transfusions doesn’t do much for a body with a terminal disease.
“A merger will maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses.” If both congregations are already in decline, their result of their consolidation will probably produce one weak church in the place of two weak churches (see terminal disease above) rather than a strong church.
“Our problem is not mission but resources. Combining our resources will make us stronger.” This is the idea of painting over a crumbling wall. Assuming each church already has a mission, then the mission of each is either wrongheaded or inadequate. Unless both are willing to throw out the goals they have pursuing and adopt entirely new ones, a successful merger and a healthy church are unlikely.
There are church mergers between a strong church and a weaker church, but most mergers are created from two churches on the edge of survival. Each group must be willing to be “born again” with a new mission and purpose if the outcome of the merger has the possibility to thrive.
In the case of a stronger church and a weaker church merging, the identity and culture of the stronger church will most likely predominate because they are already doing something right. The challenge then becomes assimilating the new people and helping them buy into the new culture. That is a topic for another day.