Relationship: The Key for Church Mergers

Godly pastor

I have had the privilege of working with the Chapel, a multisite church in the Chicago land area for the last 4 years. I started with them in 2009 to spearhead this "experiment" to see if we could launch more campuses, help more churches, and reach more communities with a proactive merger strategy. Within 2 ½ years we launched four campuses, mostly through mergers.

I also discovered three merge options that we were able to connect with other churches that would be a better fit. Those Kingdom wins thrill me (and the Chapel) just as much. I'm in the midst of my fourth matchmaking in the Chicagoland area right now! Since then I have been able to coach churches in other parts of the country on this approach as well.

The key to all church mergers is relationship.

Setting the Strategy for a Church Merger

Before I started with the Chapel, two of their four campuses had come through what I call "reactive mergers" A church approached us with the idea of becoming a part of the Chapel and we weren't even multi site yet! We didn't even know what a merger looked like at that point and we were just reacting to the opportunity before us. But after going through it twice, the Chapel loved the approach. So the idea was, "What if we had an intentional strategy that could create Kingdom win/win scenarios by partnering with other churches and being proactive about inviting churches into the conversation?"

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I am passionate that every church should consider partnering with another church and creating a Kingdom win/win in a community before exploring other options. Let me give you an example of why. We were approached about merging by a church that had declined to 20 people but they still had a great homeless ministry and a beautiful, almost debt free building that they were going to have to put up for sale soon. We weren't a good fit for them, but I discovered that 2 blocks away a new church plant of 150 would be launching in 6 months in a rented school auditorium. This church plant would have been the final deathblow for this little congregation.

The beautiful end of the story is that instead of becoming their competition they became their new life. We were able to connect them and they launched together. Everyone is happy but it took several phone calls to vision cast to the church plant of why they would even want to consider this. They really didn't see the value in dealing with this struggling church at first. But it was great to hear from the church planter later about how amazing the process and the merger experience was for both sides.

The Key to a Successful Church Merger

The key to all mergers is relationship. The more relationships you have with other churches and their pastors the more opportunities will arise. The best proactive merger strategy comes out of a heart to help other churches. We have helped far more churches with whatever resources with can that do not end up merging with us than that have. But one interesting tip is that I have found one of the most helpful ways to build instant relationships is the old fashioned drop in approach. Stop by, introduce yourself and set up a time to go for coffee and start building relationships with other pastors.

This process of initiating the merger works well whether you are a growing church looking for space or a struggling church needing help. If you are a church that is stuck, in decline or just not reaching your full potential, consider approaching other churches about combining forces. Thom Rainer says that 100,000 churches are on the brink of death in the United States.

Can you imagine the potential of 100,000 churches being revitalized through partnerships with growing churches? I have been able to walk with several smaller churches and help them find their best merge partner. Their heart for the Kingdom and willingness to change and bless someone else was inspiring. And then to see them watch their church become all it could be? Doesn't get any better than that!

Tips for Approaching a Church Merger

There are usually two groups looking to initiate the conversation. One is the stuck or declining church looking for help. Top tips for this group include:

  • Look around in your area and see what churches are growing that you respect. Don't be afraid to make the phone call or send the e-mail to ask if they can have coffee with you and hear your situation.
  • If one church isn't interested, contact another. This idea of partnership is still really new for everyone. Don't be discouraged if a larger church doesn't see your potential. Keep talking and asking. New church plants as well as multi–site churches tend to be more excited about partnering so make sure to contact them.
  • If you are interested in merging than be open to radical changes. Almost every stuck church initially conveys this mindset, "We want to grow but we don't want to change." Any partnership or turnaround situation will involve a lot of change.

The other group is usually those looking to start or expand their ministry. For these churches here are some tips:

  • Look for ways to bless other churches regardless of if your church benefits. Can you give away curriculum and other resources? Can you provide pulpit supply to a church without a pastor?
  • Love and honor every church you encounter. Realize every church has something you can learn from as well.
  • Only look for win/win scenarios. If your church will win, but the hurting church loses somehow then walk away.
  • There are lots of ways to partner from offering to rent space, share space or ownership, offering strategy or resource help at one end of the spectrum all the way to becoming one church at the other end.

If both sides keep in mind, "What's best for the Kingdom?" and "Could we be better together?" then God's best usually emerges.

Kristy Rutter works with New Campus Development for the Chapel, a multisite church in the greater Chicago area and as an Associate of MultiSite Solutions where her expertise has assisted churches around the country—those wanting to explore the possibility of merging with another area church, but not knowing how to initiate those conversations.

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