Over the next several days we will be sharing the first chapter of Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird’s book ‘Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work’. Check back often for updates – the first of eight parts is below.
GOD IS DOING SOMETHING NEW: Biblical Basis for Mergers
It’s deﬁnitely a new day for church mergers. According to Leadership Network research, 2 percent of US Protestant churches merge annually1—that’s six thousand congregations. More signiﬁcantly, another 5 percent of churches say they have already talked about merging in the future—that’s ﬁfteen thousand more. These churches—plus tens of thousands of others elsewhere around the globe—are sensing that they could fulﬁll their God-given mission better together than separately, and they’re exploring new ways to join forces for the advancement of God’s kingdom. You may not use the word merger. You may call the idea a restart, replant, partnership, adoption, collaboration, consolidation, satellite, uniﬁcation, reuniﬁcation, or even something more indirect like joining forces, repotting, or building a legacy.
Whatever label you use, the core idea is two or more churches becoming one— the combining, integrating, and unifying of people, structures, systems, and resources to achieve a common purpose: doing life and ministry together as a vibrant, healthy expression of Christ’s body, the church. However you describe them, mergers are happening with an increasing frequency. And unlike the results in previous generations, many church mergers today are producing positive growth and admirable fruit. Increasingly, they are becoming a vehicle for unifying local congregations around a shared mission that is producing more effective spiritual and social impact.
Eleven Merger Contexts In addition, mergers are showing up in a wide variety of contexts, each situation offering a slightly different beneﬁt. Here’s our sense of the top contenders:
• As long-established churches merge, many enter a growth cycle marked by fresh vitality, new spiritual energy, intensiﬁed community engagement, and joyful momentum—and most important, an increase in newcomers, in decisions to follow Christ, and in baptisms.
• Other long-established churches, facing dim prospects about their future, are delighted to discover that a merger can translate their considerable heritage into a terriﬁc foundation for a new or next generation.
• New churches that are growing and are in need of facilities are ﬁnding them through a merger with a congregation that has facilities with perhaps room to spare.
• Other new churches that are struggling can be merged into another church, or if there is a nearby parent church, merged back into the parent church, whether into its original campus or as a new multisite campus.
• Churches that had formerly separated are being reuniﬁed through mergers, having decided they can do more together than apart.
• There is a growing desire among church leaders to become more racially and ethnically diverse. Some are seeing mergers as a way of diversifying their church and becoming more multiethnic.
• Multisite churches report that they get one out of three of their campuses as another church merges with them and becomes one of its campuses.
• Mainline and denominational churches are using a merger approach to assist nearby struggling congregations in their
faith family, nurturing them back to health and vitality, some as long-term relationships and some as only temporary adoptions.
• Among megachurches almost one out of ﬁ ve have experienced a merger, most through a smaller church joining a larger church, but sometimes even two large churches joining.
• Some megachurches are developing national networks mostly composed of church mergers. These megachurches have an intentional strategy that encourages and facilitates church mergers.
• An increasing number of churches of all sizes are seeing mergers as a way of ensuring a smooth succession transition as their pastor retires.
Future chapters will provide examples from each of these contexts. Taken together, however, mergers encompass a wide spectrum of types of churches. The range of mergers includes strong, stable, stuck, and struggling churches. Many are motivated by survival, but an increasing number identify “mission” as their primary impetus. All mergers involve one church that we call the lead church— the church representing the dominant or primary culture that will continue through the merger—and one or more joining churches— whose congregations will be lifted or otherwise shaped to become more like the lead church. Sometimes the lead and joining churches are very similar in their look, feel, health, and approach to ministry, but more often there is some level of distance between them. Part of the merger process involves major transformation, sometimes on the level of a death, burial, and resurrection, for the joining church to grow into the identity of the lead church.
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