There is a growing trend of church mergers happening across the country. Nearly forty percent of the multisite churches in America today derive at least one of their campuses through a merger with another church. As a result navigating churches through the merger process has become a major component of our consulting at MultiSite Solutions. Senior Associate Wade Burnett and I interact in this interview over the costs of church mergers, using his own church merger experience as a guide:
Wade, how did your church merger come about?
I was serving on the leadership team at Crossroads Church which I helped start around the table of my law practice. It was a young and growing congregation located near the campus of Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana.
A number of people in our church family had been part of a split at a church across town fifteen years earlier. I had the incredible privilege of partnering with the new pastor of that church to lead a reconciliation process. At the end of a powerful worship service celebrating God’s restoration of so many broken relationships, we began to ask what this reconciliation meant for the future of both congregations.
A prayerful conversation over the ensuing months eventually resulted in both churches voting almost unanimously (98%) to merge and form The Bridge Community Church. We became a multisite church of 1,400 people in a town of 20,000.
How difficult was it to become one church in two locations through a merger?
Even though both congregations voted overwhelmingly to merge and form a new church together, we were like one large blended family, a church version of the Brady Bunch. As you shared with us at the beginning, going multisite by birthing a new campus is like having a baby, but multisiting through a merger with an existing church is like adopting a teenager. Both are challenging, but an adoption is more challenging than a birth.
What were the biggest challenges to overcome?
The hardest decisions in the merger related to staffing, but the most difficult decisions to actually implement almost always came back to systems. Most of our challenges were directly related to inheriting two of everything. When you begin the conversation with two different church management systems and two different systems for weekend services and two different budget processes and two different approaches to volunteers and two different perspectives on almost every other operation of the church, it can be a lot to learn, evaluate and decide. It would have been easier to simply start fresh on everything, but we really felt compelled to bring the best of each church forward into a new season. To accomplish that, we had to dive deep into the weeds of the actual practices and systems at both churches to see what was really working.
What were the costs of merging two churches?
The hard costs of moving from two churches to one were just north of $50,000. In addition to the legal expenses related to things like corporate filings, property ownership, insurance and benefit packages, we also ended up installing a brand new church management system and purchasing another brand new system for recording and delivering sermons to more than one location on the same day. We created new staff roles for important areas of church life like communication and social media. The remainder of the hard costs related to necessary changes in areas like signage and new website development. The checklists that MultiSite Solutions provided in these areas were invaluable for us.
What advice would you give to a pastor considering merging with another church?
At the end of the day, a church merger is a stewardship issue. The most important question is “are we making the best decision for the sake of His Church and the furtherance of His Kingdom?” Is this the best stewardship of the financial, physical and human resources entrusted to us at this time?
Mergers are built on trust and faith. Trust is earned by demonstrating genuine love and concern for the joining congregation, not just their facilities, assets, or increased attendance. Faith is extended by the joining congregation when they believe the lead church is trustworthy. Mergers have to be approached as two teams humbly uniting around the same vision. Successful mergers are not about us, but about extending God’s kingdom.
Humility goes a long way. As one pastor said in your book Better Together who led his church through a merger, ‘The largest room in the world is the room for improvement.'
[Editor's Note: If you are interested in learning more about church mergers, check out Jim's helpful website, Multisite Solutions, several other helpful articles from Leadership Network and Enrichment Journal.]