Church Mergers: The Unintended Consequence of the Multisite Movement
Around 2009, my friend Warren Bird, then at Leadership Network, called and asked if I was seeing a lot of mergers in my multisite church consulting. I was, and he was seeing the same. “God is doing something,” Warren said. “We ought to write a book about it.” A couple of years later, we published the book, Better Together, Making Church Mergers Work.
Originally, like many pastors and church leaders, I had a vague, negative idea about church mergers. We didn't see it coming when we started thinking about multisite during my years at Willow Creek Community Church, but mergers have become an unintended consequence of the multisite movement.
Four Waves of the Multisite Movement
Here are the four waves of the multisite movement, culminating in today's growing trend of mergers:
1. A Need to Acquire Space
The first wave of the multisite movement began with megachurch pastors who found themselves out of room and out of space. They were trying to solve a good problem. Multisite was a solution that helped to solve a space or zoning restriction. But it evolved from there very quickly.
Have you experienced a church merger? Take the Church Merger survey by Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird and share your experience.
2. A Strategy to Grow Churches
Multisites quickly became a new growth strategy for healthy churches of all sizes. We know that the average church that goes multisite has an attendance of about 1000 people. These are larger churches that benefit from a healthy growth strategy.
3. A Revitalization Strategy for Stable But Stuck Churches
Many churches are not in trouble, not in danger of closing their doors, but they’ve been around for decades. They are often well resourced and have a lot of influence in the community. But often, churches that have sustained for so long start to level off in their growth. Many of these churches around the country are discovering that they can leverage their resources and good influence in the community to extend their impact beyond the immediate walls of their parish. Through a multisite model and process, they can grow and revitalize their home base.
4. A Rebirth for Struggling Churches
Here is where mergers apply. I call it a rebirth or resurrection strategy for struggling and declining churches. There are 250,000 churches nationwide that are plateaued, dead, or dying. With 320,000 Protestant churches nationwide, a quarter of a million of them are in trouble. Some are discovering that they have more options than they may have originally realized. They can close, or struggle to survive and eventually close, or they can choose to have a second chapter, a new birth, by joining with another church that is flourishing. They become a multisite campus and have a rebirth of their church. Different than a merger, this is really two churches coming together and remaining in two locations but embracing a shared vision for their future together.
Merging two churches can take many forms. You can learn more about this in my book, Better Together. Mark Jobe also teaches on an approach he calls "Restart."
As we reflect on the 250,000 churches that are facing growth and survival challenges, I believe the merger trend will eventually outpace the multisite trend. Currently, there are about 8,000 multisite churches nationwide. Many of them are interested and even proactive about church mergers as part of their growth strategy.
Help us learn more about the impact of church mergers in the U.S. by taking our church merger survey. Your input will be invaluable, and in return, you'll receive lots of great resource to help grow your church.
For more on church mergers, read, "4 Questions to Ask If You're Considering a Church Merger."