The overwhelming majority of Churches of Christ have less than 150 members. Although many of these congregations are the only Church in their community, many communities have several congregations. In my own town, many of our members drive past two or three other Churches of Christ to attend my home Church. This is very common. One can’t help but wonder what dynamic drives this behavior? I mean, the advantages of merging should be obvious to all: greater efficiency, greater depth of talent …
I can think of several reasons that churches would want to be this way. Why not merge?
- The most common reason, I think, is that we like being part of a church that reaffirms our doctrinal biases. We don’t like to hear sermons we disagree with. We don’t like being around people who threaten our certainty in our beliefs. In other words, as a Movement, we tend to insist on a rigid uniformity of doctrine. We don’t really know how to merge churches where the leaders have even slightly differing doctrinal views.
- Merger is seen by many as failure. And, in fact, some churches have been motivated to merge by loss of members or lack of money. In short, pride often gets in the way.
- Many church leaders enjoy their position and fear a loss of influence that may result from a merger. It’s in fact true that mergers often upset the power structure and dilute the influence of some groups.
- Many church members enjoy knowing all the other members and feel uncomfortable worshiping with people they don’t know well. It’s impossible to know everyone in a large church.
- Church mergers often require a new building, which costs money.
- Two churches have two preachers. The new church won’t need but one. Churches often, and very properly, adore their preachers and hate to fire a man for doing a good job.
Some of these reasons are purely selfish and should be rejected as flatly un-Christian. On the other hand, there are very real, very practical difficulties with the problem of differing doctrinal positions or with having to lay off capable, loyal ministers. We’ll return to these questions.