Serial Mergers and Merger Churches Networks
National surveys afﬁrm that there is a deﬁnite trend since the 1990s toward a greater number of mergers. This is happening among churches of all sizes, with the typical example being in the attendance range of one hundred to two hundred after the merger
However, large churches are rapidly becoming new players in mergers, especially in multiple mergers. Some are even pursuing a pathway of intentionally adding merger after merger as a way of reaching more people and extending their impact. Most, though, are like Seattle-based Mars Hill Church, where Mark Driscoll is teaching pastor, which opened ten different new campuses between 2001 and 2011 (they refer to each campus as a church). Four of those churches were mergers. Mars Hill has a vision of ﬁ fty such multisite churches by 2020, a portion of which will come through mergers.
Other very large churches have created large networks of merger churches. Oklahoma-based LifeChurch.tv, where Craig Groeschel is lead pastor (who also wrote the Foreword to this book), offers three levels of how it welcomes other churches to partner with it. The broadest level is called Open, and it makes a wide range of the church’s resources available at no cost to anyone who will use it in a noncommercial application to lead people to Christ. The next level is called Network, in which churches connect with LifeChurch.tv through a recurring weekend experience that features free video teaching messages. The most closely aligned level with LifeChurch.tv is called United. Churches that practice this level of partnership join with LifeChurch.tv in reaching people around the globe. They become a LifeChurch.tv campus. Their pastor becomes a campus pastor of LifeChurch.tv. By late 2011 the church had ﬁ fteen different campuses, ﬁ ve of which came as mergers.
North Point Community Church, a church based in greater Atlanta, where Andy Stanley is senior pastor, does not use the word merger. Leaders there prefer instead the term strategic partners. Their idea is to share best practices and encourage leadership development. Some local partners may become campuses of North Point, which means they link themselves to the other campuses ﬁ nancially and organizationally. The strategic partners beyond Atlanta are independent congregations who share North Point’s philosophy and are licensed to use North Point video sermons and other materials.
For New Life Community Church in Chicago, where Mark Jobe is pastor, six of its ﬁ rst ten campuses were mergers, which they call Restarts. Three were congregations that had been established over one hundred years previously. New Life is now training other churches, especially urban ones, in how the legacy of faith can be powerfully honored and given fresh passion through a Restart.
Other churches actively solicit merger partners but do so regionally. For example, Eagle Brook Church, led by Bob Merritt, is looking for partners in the greater Minneapolis–Saint Paul area as it seeks to establish a ring of campuses around the entire metroplex. Likewise The Chapel in Grayslake, Illinois, is seeking to build a hub of merger churches around the suburbanrural outer edge of Chicago.
Bay Area Fellowship in Corpus Christi, Texas, where Bil Cornelius is pastor, invites church planters in particular to merge their congregations with Bay Area Fellowship as a way of spurring each other on to greater missional focus.
Granted, megachurches like Mars Hill, North Point, Eagle Brook, The Chapel, and Bay Area Fellowship represent less than 1 percent of North America’s churches. Yet the innovations they introduce and popularize often have a ripple effect across churches of all sizes. “One factor in the spread of new ideas is what Diffusion of Innovations author Everett Rogers calls their observability,” says Dave Travis, managing director of Leadership Network and coauthor of Beyond Megachurch Myths.15 “Some people hear an idea, grasp it, internalize it, and immediately start implementing it, but an even greater number of people have to see it ﬁ rst to understand. Once they see the model and its favorable results, they may decide that it has merit and value for them. Larger churches, due to their visibility and inﬂ uence, often platform new models of ministry, which are then spread and adapted across the social ecosystem of smaller churches.”
Clearly, larger churches are blazing a trail of extending their reach and multiplying their impact through intentional merger strategies that many other churches will follow in the days ahead.
Jim Tomberlin is founder and senior strategist of MultiSite Solutions, a company dedicated to assisting churches in maximizing their redemptive potential through intensive and insightful multisite and church merger consultation.
Over three decades of diverse ministry, Jim has pastored a church in Germany, grown a megachurch in Colorado and pioneered the multisite strategy for Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. Since 2005 he has been consulting and coaching churches in developing and implementing multi-campus strategies.
As the @MultiSiteGuy Jim continues to track multisite developments and has become the nationally recognized expert on multisite church. In addition, he has become the @MergerGuru on church mergers with nearly a third of his consulting currently involving merger issues.
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.
Follow him on his blog at http://multisitesolutions.com/blog.
Jim resides in Scottsdale, AZ 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 nine grandchildren