Question for the Readers Re a Church Merger

I received this email yesterday. I thought it would be helpful if the readers were to weigh in with ideas —

I came across your entry while doing a search for “church of Christ” merger.

I currently work with a small group of 50 here in [the Bible Belt].  Within 7 miles of us are 3 smaller congregations (15 to 30 members) and I want to explore the option of merging these congregations into one new work.  Of the 4 congregations none have elders or deacons, one doesn’t own a building, and there is little to no activity in the other three congregations.  As a full-time preacher my focus is not just on my local congregation but on what’s best for the kingdom and in this situation it would be best for the kingdom if we all join together.

Do you know of any other resources that will help guide me as I seek to bring these groups together?

Any advice to offer?

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to Question for the Readers Re a Church Merger

  1. Alan says:

    I don't know of any specific resources for that. It's not done often enough to produce many such resources.

    I'm not sure there is an inherent advantage to having one large congregation rather than several smaller congregations. Note that on another current discussion on this blog, it is being contemplated whether to create a new church planting in the same general area — a move in the opposite direction from what this minister proposes.

    I'd suggest approaching the merger with each congregation as a separate proposal. Even if the leadership of the two congregations agrees to merge, each individual member would still make their own decision about whether to be part of the combined congregation or not.

    Merging won't solve the problems in individual Christians lives — their sin, their commitment, the challenges in their lives. It might make it easier for members to hide in the crowd, not addressing those things and not being productive in the work of the church. It might force leadership to be more distant from the average member.

    While the move can be seen as a merger, it may turn out to be one congregation absorbing the other. The smaller congregation may lose its feeling of closeness and family. It will feel different in the larger combined congregation. People's roles will change. Some may lose a role they have held for years. And they may be delighted, or dismayed by that.

    If there are issues between these churches (doctrinal, personality, whatever) those issues ought to be addressed whether or not they merge. If there are no such issues, then they should have a high degree of unity whether or not they merge.

    All that being said, there can be advantages to merging. I'm familiar with a few situations where congregations have merged. They do now have more combined resources, and can try some things they could not try separately. But there are downsides as well.

  2. Joe Baggett says:

    This is actually a pretty typical scenario these days. The merge is only to avoid the inevitable….closing down. If you look in Mac Lynn’s book churches of Christ in the USA 2006 over half the congregations have less 98 members with attendance only being a fraction of that. Most of these congregations about 6500 of them have predominantly older members and are almost exclusively white middle class. I would ask you to break free from any delusions of denial and think what the future holds for them. Here is a reality. If they don't go out and make a significant number of new disciples of the younger generation faster than the existing membership dies off they will close down. It is fact! No merger or anything else can change that reality. For instance Texas has had a net loss of 85 congregations.

  3. Kent says:

    I faced a similar situation in my previous ministry in Louisville, KY. My congregation was running around 40-50 and there were a couple other congregations in close proximity to us who were similar. All of us were dormant. We explored merging but what always came out was there was something that one of the groups was not willing to give up. Before I came aboard, my congregation was set to merge with another congregation but that congregation was not willing to give up their minister and start anew as a merged church with a new minister. What I am saying is that when churches merge, all parties have to be willing to give up things so that the new, merged church can start out fresh and not as two congregations meeting in the same building. And that is another thing, too. If you merge you really should move to a completely new place for both churches.

    I have actually experienced a merge in my life. When I was 12 the church I grew up in in Abilene, TX merged with another similar church across town. We started meeting at their building and took on their name. In reality, we did not merge. We all left our old church behind and joined their church. There is nothing wrong with this, but I remember that it did produce quite a bit of resentment in our people who made the move. We did not feel as though they gave us much of a voice and before too long many of the people who made the move ended up leaving. Merges are tough. In theory they sound good but when you get down to the nitty gritty and start talking about different things you realize how difficult they might be.

    What I told our people in Louisville when they would bring up the possibility of a merge is that unless the mindset of our church changes with a merge, then the result would be the same. And the same goes for the congregations that we would be merging with. The churches as individual parts are dwindling and are not doing anything actively. What makes a person think that by merging this is going to change all of a sudden? That's flawed thinking. That's thinking that there is some magic in having a bigger number on the attendance board and it is simply not true.

    Merges are possible but there are a lot of risks and more often than not they don't work. For my money, the conversations we need to be having more is how to let a church die because there are a lot of churches out there that need to die and would be better off doing so. But we don't like to think about those types of things.

  4. The problems described here sound like the problems involved with divorce and remarriage — something with which few churches of Christ have any experience.

    But the advice is sound.
    * find a new place to meet
    * be sure to have open business meetings where everyone is invited to participate
    * everyone needs to be looking out for everyone else's interests, rather than their own

  5. Craig Smith says:

    As long as we cling to our traditions and petty preferences instead of doing God's work, our congregations will continue to decline. We have a similar situation: several small and dying congregations. I suggested to our elders a few years ago to talk to the other elders and congregations to at least socialize. The elders told me to mind my own business. I grew up in a "country club" church that was more interested in their click than in spreading the word. What are preachers preaching? All I hear is soothing words that are not meant to offend. I don't think that is how Peter preached. I can't remember the last time I heard a sermon on vanity. Or greed. Or courage. Damn the pettiness. We are at war.

  6. Richard says:

    I researched this thoroughly, long ago. I interviewed church leaders who had been through mergers, studied several cases, read everything I could about mergers (churches, businesses, academia), put together a merger, and worked with churches that had merged earlier. Eventually I wrote my doctoral dissertation on church mergers. You can read the abstract here:

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