Should My Church Merge? 4 Questions to Help You Decide
In our consulting work at Multisite Solutions, we get weekly calls from churches asking two questions: So, why should a church merge? Should we do this or not?
When I talk with the two churches involved, usually two senior pastors or a senior pastor and a board member, I ask them to reflect on four questions to help them answer the big question: Should my church merge?
- Would my congregation benefit from this merger? Would my individual congregation be better, healthier or stronger by joining with this church?
- Could we accomplish more together than we could separately? Would we find more ministry synergy, created by the two churches joining with common vision and purpose?
- Would our community be better served by us working together? By joining forces, can we make a bigger impact in our surrounding community, and not just for our individual congregations?
- Could the Kingdom of God be further extended by us joining together? Would uniting help us make more and better disciples of Jesus?
Learn what church mergers are and how they can be used for the good of the Kingdom.
Continuing the Conversation
If you can answer "yes" to one or all of these, then it's a good indication that you ought to seriously consider the merger. In partnership with Leadership Network and Barna, we surveyed churches that had gone through a merger in the past 20 years. We documented those findings in the book, Better Together. Here are a few additional considerations and lessons we’ve learned:
- Over 40% of multisite campuses have come through a merger or acquisition of a church building. Mergers can be an effective part of a multisite strategy.
- Every merger involves a lead church and a joining church. We describe it like a dance, with a lead and a follower. You can't have two leads in a dance or you're stepping on each other's toes. Even when the churches are similar in health and size, one leads and the other joins. It is important to establish up-front who is the lead church and who is the joining church. Sometimes the joining church thinks they're the lead church because they have a bigger building or they have been around longer. Sometimes they may even have a bigger congregation, but they have peaked and are on the way down, while the smaller congregation is healthier and on the way up.
- The majority of mergers involve a name change. Churches may find that their denominational name tag carries some baggage in our culture today. Others change their name based on the need for multisite names to be more agile as they consider future sites. Naturally, the name change can be a very emotional part of the process for the joining church.
- The majority of mergers in our survey were initiated by the joining church, but that pattern is changing. More often we are beginning to see a shift with more lead churches initiating the merger conversation.
Trends on the Horizon
- Lead church-initiated mergers: More leading churches, strong churches, are initiating the merger conversation instead of waiting for a declining church to knock on the door of a growing church asking, "Can we join you?"
- Church plant mergers: This is an unintended consequence of the church merger movement, but it's becoming a strategy for church planters.
- Succession mergers: More retiring pastors are discovering the wisdom of identifying their successor before retiring in order to help their church have a more seamless and less disruptive pastoral transition process. When there is not an internal successor an increasing number of retiring pastors are finding their successor by leading their church to merge with another church in the community.
- Pastor search mergers: When churches find themselves without a senior pastor, many are finding their next pastor through a church merger. This is actually less risky than the traditional pulpit search committee looking for someone from out-of-town who no one knows beyond a resume; or whether the new pastor or their spouse and children will be happy in their community. But a local pastor whose ministry and reputation are well known and who already fits culturally is a great candidate for a church looking for a pastor. The new pastor not only brings their family to the role; they bring a whole church!
- Denominational-driven mergers: Every denomination has more churches in decline than growing, but they all also have healthy, growing churches. Denominational leaders are seeing mission-driven mergers as a way to help their strong and struggling congregations have better outcomes than the survival-driven mergers of the past. There is already more denominational proactivity in brokering mission-driven mergers and making church facilities available to growing multisite churches.
About Jim Tomberlin
Jim Tomberlin is founder and CEO of MultiSite Solutions, a company that has assisted hundreds of churches in multiplying their impact through intensive multisite, church merger and multiplication consultation since 2005. In 2019, Jim merged MultiSite Solutions with Tony Morgan and The Unstuck Group to expand its capacity to assist more churches. Jim is the author of 125 Tips for MultiSite Churches, Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work, and Church Locality: New Rules for Church Buildings in a Multisite, Church Planting and Giga-Church World. He resides in Colorado Springs, CO and holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Georgia State University in Atlanta and a Masters of Theology (Th.M) from Dallas Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Deryl, have three grown children and eleven grandchildren.