noun: a combination of two things, into one.
synonyms: amalgamation, combination, union, fusion, coalition, affiliation, unification, incorporation, consolidation, link-up, alliance
Church mergers are occurring in an unprecedented way today across North America. These mergers are more mission-driven and future-focused as opposed to the failed mergers of the past that were more survival-driven and focused on preserving the past. Mergers that have a multisite outcome report a higher success rate and satisfaction factor than mergers that unite into one location. Every merger involves a lead church and a joining church. The merging of churches is a delicate dance where one leads and the other follows. Should two churches consider merging? Here are four questions to help you answer that question:
1. Would our two congregations be better together individually?
2. Could we accomplish more together than separate synergistically?
3. Would our community be better served together?
4. Could the kingdom of God be further extended by joining together?
There are many potential benefits of a church merger, but there are also many opportunities to step on each other’s toes in the merger dance. Most church mergers need a guide that both congregations can trust and who knows how to facilitate the delicate conversations that need to occur for a successful merger. Mergers typically take an average of seven months from the initial conversation between the two churches to completion.
There are a lot of moving parts, but a church merger dance can be broken down into three basic moves. While this process is more art than science each move addresses a specific question. The time frames can vary, but generally they fall into the following stages:
1) Is this merger possible? (1-2 months)
The church merger dance typically begins with the two senior pastors or acting leaders of their respective congregations. The majority of church mergers are initiated by the joining church or sometimes by a denominational official.
If both church leaders become convinced that a merger is worthwhile to consider, then the two senior leadership teams are brought into the discussion to explore the possibility. If the senior leadership of both congregations concludes that the potential benefits of merging outweigh the drawbacks of remaining separate, then the merger dance can begin.
2) Is this merger feasible? (1-3 months)
The focus of the feasibility stage is for the two boards to determine congregational compatibility. Every church merger has 25 distinct issues to address to determine if the two congregations are really better together. The lead church needs to take the initiative in addressing the 25 issues. Usually there are three to five issues that are potential roadblocks to a merger, but all need to be addressed. (The list of 25 Issues is available in the book Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work.) The key to successful mergers is establishing the post-merger leadership team and integration process before the merger is recommended and approved. This stage culminates in a decision by both leadership teams to merge or not to merge.
3) Is this merger desirable? (1-2 Months)
This phase begins with a recommendation to merge to both congregations accompanied with a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document distributed and posted on both church websites. As in the 25 Issues, the FAQ document is primarily initiated and driven by the lead church. This is followed by congregational town halls at both congregations with small group and individual meetings culminating in a congregational vote or poll by the joining church, if not both congregations. The majority of church mergers that make it to a vote usually pass with a 75% or better approval by the joining church. It usually takes one to three years for two congregations to move through the “yours, mine and ours” phases of a merger. The more thorough the pre-merger conversation, the better and faster the post-merger integration will occur.
CHURCH MERGER FAQ
One of the most helpful tools for communicating a church merger to a congregation is a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document and made available to a church’s entire constituency, both online and in print. Here are some typical questions that a church merger FAQ addresses:
- How did this merger idea come about?
- Why are we considering a merger?
- What are the benefits of this proposed merger?
- Who will be our pastor?
- Will our church have a new name and what will it be?
- What will happen to the pastor and staff?
- What will happen to the church board and committees?
- What will happen to the church’s facilities?
- What will the worship services be like?
- How will the budget and finances be managed?
- How will current membership be transferred?
- Will our denomination and affiliations change?
- What will happen to our supported missionaries and organizations?
- What will the merger cost? Can we afford it?
- Who will decide if this merger happens?
- If the merger happens, what will change?
- What is the timeline for this proposed merger?
- What will happen if the merger doesn’t go through?
- What are my next steps?
Though these are the typical stages and timeframes for the merger dance, church mergers are messy. Toes will get stepped on.
No two church mergers are alike. Each one has a unique set of circumstances and fingerprint or “church-print,” but all will go through similar stages. Some will go back and forth through these stages, some will go faster and others will take longer. The important thing is to work through these stages carefully and build relationship through the process. The operative word is to “over-communicate” as thoroughly as possible with integrity and humility.
Most church leaders need someone to help them navigate the unfamiliar territory of the church merger dance. Coaching churches through the church merger dance has become a major component of our consulting at MultiSite Solutions. We can help assess the potential of a church merger and assist in navigating the delicate process.